Jason Beardsley: Pentagon's 'extremism' blunder – this move could make US military even more political

In 2012, it amended DOD Instruction 1325.06, which outlines activities from which military personnel are prohibited. 

The rule was reasonably clear before – it said active-duty personnel cannot “actively advocate supremacist doctrine, ideology or causes, including those that advance, encourage or advocate illegal discrimination based on race, creed, color, sex, religion, ethnicity or national origin…” It also said military personnel can’t actively participate in any groups that advocate this discrimination. 

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In 2012, DOD added the word “extremist” into the rule. Since then, military personnel have been prohibited from advocating “extremist” doctrine or actively participating in groups that advocate “extremist” doctrine. 

A few weeks ago – nine years after the rule change – DOD admitted it has no idea what it meant to add the word “extremist” into the rule. On April 9, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said officials “want better guidance about what extremist activity really is,” and that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin heard a “hunger for more information and context about what we’re talking about here.” 

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Now, DOD appears to be ready to take two new steps. The first is to define “extremism,” something DOD said it will do in the next version of the rule. The second, we suspect, is to move closer to outright prohibiting military personnel from being members of “extremist” groups – DOD appears to recognize how bad it would look to state this goal explicitly, so we expect word games that offer more confusing hints in this direction. 

These steps are a mistake that would compound the error DOD made in 2012. Here are five reasons why defining “extremism” is another move in the wrong direction: 

**Defining this term is not necessary. If the Biden administration is looking for a way to expel military personnel who participated in the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol, it already has that authority. Members of the U.S. armed forces are banned from taking place in rallies in uniform and can’t engage in activities with a group that seeks to “deprive individuals of their civil rights” if those activities are “detrimental to good order, discipline or mission accomplishment or are incompatible with military service.” If a member of the military chucked rocks at the Capitol to pressure Congress to overturn the election, that service member is in trouble today. 

A DOD definition of “extremism” will be a political definition, one that fits the Biden administration’s political point of view

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