Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered the military to pause and address its extremism problem

Manuel Balce Ceneta-Pool/Getty ImagesSecretary of Defence Lloyd Austin (centre) meets with National Guard troops deployed to the US Capitol.
  • Defence Sec. Austin is ordering a military “stand-down” to discuss extremism in its ranks.
  • Each branch of the military will be required to hold talks on the issue in the next 60 days.
  • The order comes after current and former servicemen took part in the Capitol riot.
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The Pentagon is ordering each branch of the military to pause their regular activities and hold talks on the problem of extremism in the ranks, after multiple current and former servicemen were involved in the January 6 Capitol riot, press secretary John F. Kirby said in a Wednesday statement.

Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin made the order for the “stand-downs” at a meeting with service civilian leaders and service chiefs earlier that day, where he called extremism in the ranks “not an insignificant problem” that “has to be addressed.”

“There wasn’t one being in the room that didn’t agree that there wasn’t a problem,” Kirby said, according to NBC News, adding that servicemembers’ involvement in the Capitol breach was a “wake-up call.”

The stand-downs will need to occur within the next 60 days, whereby “each service, each company, and each unit can take the time out to have these needed discussions with the men and women of the force,” Kirby said in the statement.

Capitol siegeSaul Loeb/Getty ImagesTrump supporters wear military-style apparel as they walk around inside the Capitol during the January 6 riot.

The Wednesday statement noted that there is still a lot of work to be done to figure out how to craft trainings and figure out what the military wants to accomplish.

“We don’t know how we’re going to be able to get after this in a meaningful, productive, tangible way and that is why he had this meeting today and that is why he certainly ordered this stand-down,” Kirby said, according to Reuters.

Extremism and racism in the military is well documented. A 2020 survey conducted by the Military Times estimated that more than a third of all active-duty troops and more than half of nonwhite servicemembers had observed first-hand acts of white nationalism or other forms of racism committed by fellow troops.


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Mark Pitcavage, a specialist in far-right groups with the Anti-Defamation League, told the House Armed Services Committee last year: “The number of extremists in the military has increased due to a higher percentage of white supremacists attempting to join the military and the development of white supremacist leanings among some currently-serving personnel.”

It is not clear how long the stand-downs would be or what authorities would do during that time.

Commanders that have previously been involved in stand-downs anonymously told US News & World Report that they generally aren’t very well executed, since some career leaders may not want to admit there is a problem in their ranks.

Austin was confirmed as President Joe Biden’s defence secretary on January 22, becoming the nation’s first Black defence secretary. During his confirmation hearings, he acknowledged a need to rid the military of “racist and extremists,” according to Reuters.

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