On Monday, the Pentagon released a new definition of prohibited extremist activities to provide military commanders with specific details and information to determine whether active participants in extremist activities are serving in the armed forces.
According to abcnews, the Commanders will also receive instructions for determining if a service member actively engages in social media activity for similar activities.
Specified extremist activities were created by the Pentagon after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, following which Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered an unprecedented one-day standdown of servicemen, in order to address extremism in their ranks and what they should do about it.
New definitions of prohibited extremist activities are more specific than previous ones that were considered too vague. Active participation remains the focus of the definition. This is in contrast to belonging to a group, supporting an ideology, or opposing a political figure that is protected by the right of expression under the First Amendment.
“The revised instruction regroups issues into three sections: prohibited extremist activities, command authority and responsibilities and criminal gangs” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said.
“It also prohibits active participation in extremist activities and clearly defines what we mean by the term extremist activities.”
“The new definition preserves a service members right of expression to the extent possible, while also balancing the need for good order and discipline to affect military combat and unit readiness,” Kirby added.
Commanding officers will receive a “two-part test” that first examines allegations of alleged extremist activity, followed by an examination of whether active participation is present.
It will be possible for commanders to determine whether an individual is actively involved in extremist activities based on fourteen categories.
“When you go through the list that we have in the instruction you’ll see that there’s not a whole lot about membership in a group that you’re going to be able to get away with,” said Kirby. “In order to prove your membership, you’re probably going to run afoul of one of these of one of these criteria sets.”
“As an incident comes to light, and as authorities are looking at the context of that case, then that social media information could be one point among many that would be taken into consideration,” an official said to reporters.
“There has to be a knowing element to it,” a senior official added.
“There has to be sort of amplification of the message is what we’re looking at. So, somebody who just stumbled across content wouldn’t be necessarily sufficient, depending on the facts, to violate this policy.”
Dissemination of extremist materials by means of the internet is defined in the new policy as “including posting, liking, sharing, re-tweeting, or otherwise distributing content – when such action is taken with the intent to promote or otherwise endorse extremist activities.”
“Military personnel are responsible for the content they publish on all personal and public Internet domains, including social media sites, blogs, websites, and applications,” the policy continues.
“Nothing about this has anything to do with who a service member votes for or doesn’t vote for, or their personal political views,’ Kirby stated.
Yet he said if anyone in the military supports domestic terrorism or “the overthrow of the government, or you’re actively undermining the oath you took to the Constitution to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, then all that fits” the criteria of extremism.
The review revealed that around 100 service members committed substantiated acts of extremism in 2021. This marks an increase over the previous years. Senior defense officials explained that this could be due to better tracking of available data.
Defense Department officials said that the agency will use its insider threat program, which utilizes background checks to identify potential threats, more often.