DOD moves to counter 'extremism' in ranks, top Republican warns against 'virtue signaling'

Top Republican warns DOD 'further politicizing the force'

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In a move to counter extremism in the ranks, the Department of Defense issued new guidelines Monday on what it will not tolerate from service members, but some in the GOP are concerned.

Membership in extremist groups is not prohibited by the DOD, but any form of "active participation" in such groups is explicitly prohibited.

But Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., the ranking member on the Military Personnel Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, argued that the newly updated guidelines have "only muddled the issue more."

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Rep. Mike Gallagher

Rep. Mike Gallagher (Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

"When questioned by the House Armed Services Committee in June, Secretary Austin could not define 'extremism’," Gallagher said in a statement Monday night. "These rules are ill-defined, could easily be abused, and will have the practical effect of further politicizing the force at a time when polls indicate confidence in the military is plummeting at an unprecedented rate."

While the department did not explicitly define extremism, it did outline which "extremist activities" would not be permitted. 

The updated guidelines said extremist activities are "inconsistent with the responsibilities and obligations of military service" and it made clear that constitutional protections for civilians were not necessarily granted to service members.

Military personnel are barred from advocating or engaging in activities that promote unlawful force or violence to achieve objectives that are "political, religious, discriminatory or ideological in nature."

Advocating or participating in activities that seek to violate the U.S. Constitution or overthrow the government have also been clearly prohibited. 

Gallagher flagged the guidelines as vague and urged the DOD to stop meddling in "woke virtue signaling."

But the Pentagon backed its policies by arguing that active participation in extremist behavior "undermines morale and reduces combat readiness."

Department of Defense press secretary John Kirby participates in a news briefing at the Pentagon 

Department of Defense press secretary John Kirby participates in a news briefing at the Pentagon  (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

"Second, it calls into question the individual’s ability to follow orders from, or effectively lead and serve with, persons of diverse backgrounds," the guidelines stated. 

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Adding that such actions could prevent the "maximum utilization and development of the Department’s most valuable asset: its people."

The DOD also argued that the active participation in extremist behavior actually "damages the Nation’s trust and confidence in the Department as an institution and the military as a professional fighting force."

The guidelines issued Monday were in response to a working group that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin established in April to review and update how the DOD was monitoring extremism in the ranks.

At least five active duty service members allegedly took part in the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 and another 80 of those charged had ties to military backgrounds. 

Austin acknowledged that "only a very few" in the U.S. military violate the oath they take to defend the Constitution but said, "even the actions of a few can have an outsized impact on unit cohesion, morale and readiness."

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin stands for the national anthem. 

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin stands for the national anthem.  (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

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Austin has directed the armed services to increase training surrounding what is considered an extremist activity and how to counter it. 

"The overwhelming majority of the men and women of the Department of Defense serve this country with honor and integrity," Austin said. "We owe the men and women of the Department of Defense an environment free of extremist activities, and we owe our country a military that reflects the founding values of our democracy."