Department of Defense clarifies rules against extremist actions

On Behalf of | Jan 4, 2022 | Federal Employment Law

The Department of Defense (DoD) recently updated its rules against extremist activities. However, some are concerned the rules don’t yet go far enough.

As the Federal News Network reports, at least one Representative has expressed concerns about the lack of data gathering. Even so, he applauds the DoD’s clarification of extremist behaviors. It is, he claims, a step in the right direction.

An overview of the updated rules

As the DoD notes in its report, this is not the first time it has ruled that service members and others in the DoD may not participate in certain events. Nor is it the first time the DoD has acted against extremism within its ranks. Indeed, the DoD started prohibiting specific activities as early as 1969. The rules have seen several updates since then. One update, in 1986, specifically responded to the threat of extremism made clear by the White Patriot Party’s weapons theft.

While the 1986 update prohibited certain activities, the most recent update further defines “extremist activity.” This new definition focuses on two elements—action and knowledge.

The rules ban numerous activities, such as advocating violence for political purposes, organizing extremist activities, and fundraising or recruiting for extremist groups. However, they focus on active participation and do not, as the Representative noted, target simple membership in extremist groups. And while the rules ban service members from using internet sites devoted to extremist groups, commanders must prove two things:

  • The sites are truly extremist in nature
  • The service members used them knowingly

The DoD’s report also introduces a few measures aimed at limiting extremism among service members—present, former and future:

  • Updates to the transition checklist that help service members better understand how and why they may be targeted by extremist groups
  • Updates to screening questions for potential service members
  • The commission of a study that explores the threat of extremism within all of the military, DoD civilian personnel and contractors

The DoD notes that it may have underemphasized the civilian oath of office. Accordingly, it plans to develop new policies for civilian personnel and contractors that hold them more accountable for their actions. These policies would need to consider the employees’ right to defend themselves against unjust allegations and discipline.

An imperfect solution

Written in part as a response to the events of January 6, 2021, these rules are a step forward in the battle against extremism. However, they don’t create a centralized database for extremist activities. Additionally, it is uncertain how the DoD will implement the rules. The Pentagon spokesman noted the Department and command wouldn’t actively hunt for such things as the use of extremist websites. Instead, it would rely on such activity coming to light through other reports.

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