Alarmed that military personnel took part in the Capitol riot in January, Pentagon officials issued new guidelines Monday about participation in extremist organizations. At the same time, the military reported that the number of active service members involved in extremism is increasing, CBS News reports. The guidelines don't prohibit joining an extremist group, per the Military Times, but they try to head off any action a member might take, generally making participation difficult. Retweets, posts, and "likes" on social media will be considered advocacy and could bring action against personnel.
"It's threading a very fine needle when we're engaging in prohibiting conduct that may be protected by the First Amendment," a Defense Department official said, per CNN. "There's always going to be this balancing that goes on." Extremist beliefs can't be prohibited, but extremist behavior can. The Pentagon also tried to sharpen its definition of extremist activity. "We believe only a very few violate this oath by participating in extremist activities," Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin wrote in a memo, "but even the actions of a few can have an outsized impact on unit cohesion, morale and readiness."
Defense officials reported identifying about 100 cases of extremism among military personnel this year. Austin said the Pentagon also will examine its screening of recruits and preparation of personnel leaving the military to keep them from being targeted for membership by extremist groups, per the New York Times. The increase in violent extremism in the US could soon be accompanied by an increase in the Defense Department, one official warned. (Read more Department of Defense stories.)