WASHINGTON, DC – The Southern Poverty Law Center’s (SPLC) President and CEO Margaret Huang welcomed Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III’s early initiative to address the dangerous and disturbing trend of extremism in the U.S. military.
“Secretary Austin’s directive to the various service branches calling for a thorough examination of the ongoing alarming trend of extremism in the military is welcome and much needed. Unfortunately, there has been a long history of troubling ties between troops and veterans and the far-right and white supremacist organizations – a fact illustrated, once again, by several recent arrests of veterans for their involvement in the deadly January 6 mob attack on the US Capitol. Though the number of extremists associated with the armed forces who engage in criminal activity is relatively small, white supremacy ideology is disturbingly pervasive. According to a 2019 poll conducted by The Military Times, 36% of active-duty servicemembers who were surveyed reported seeing signs of white nationalism or racist ideology in the U.S. Armed Forces — a significant rise from the year before, when 22% reported witnessing these extremist views. In the same survey, more than half of servicemembers of color reported experiencing incidents of racism or racist ideology, up from 42% in 2017.
“As the service branches pause to consider how to address extremism in the military as part of the 60-day stand-down on the issue, we are urging that the Defense Department expand and clarify its existing prohibition against advocating for supremacist or extremist causes. We also urge the Department to augment and complement these prohibitions with education and training, protections for whistleblowers, chain of command oversight responsibilities, and reporting and transparency requirements.
“It is also important that the Pentagon expand existing Marine Corps and Navy prohibitions against the display of the Confederate flag and other racist symbols across all service branches, and finally to immediately rename US Army bases named after Confederate leaders.
“We deeply appreciate Secretary Austin’s early action to address hate and extremism in the military. We believe the time is right to bring about real and lasting changes that affirm that there is no place for hate and extremism in the military.”
The SPLC has been tracking the issue of extremism in the military since the mid-1980s as part of their work monitoring the activities of domestic hate groups and extremists. Last February, Lecia Brooks, SPLC’s Chief of Staff, testified at a House Armed Services Subcommittee hearing about white supremacy in the military and how to stop it.
On February 10th, the SPLC sent Secretary Austin a letter with a set of recommendations for the Department of Defense to consider.