Decades of Pentagon efforts fail to stamp out bias and extremism in navy, AP investigation finds

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In February, with the pictures of the violent revolt in Washington nonetheless recent within the minds of Americans, newly confirmed Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin took the unprecedented step of signing a memo directing commanding officers throughout the navy to institute a one-day stand-down to handle extremism throughout the nation’s armed forces.

The stand-down got here in response to the participation and the following arrests of a number of veterans and a minimum of one lively obligation service member, who together with hundreds of supporters of former President Donald Trump on January 6, stormed the U.S. Capitol in a melee that despatched lawmakers scrambling for security, left one particular person fatally shot by Capitol Police and precipitated hundreds of thousands of {dollars} in damages to the constructing largely seen because the image of American democracy.

Austin’s order, which additionally got here as America as a complete was grappling with how one can tackle systemic racism, was the most recent in a sequence of decades-long efforts by the navy to purge its ranks of extremists and white supremacists. Last week, in response to the order the navy issued new guidelines to take care of extremism that included social media utilization coverage updates the place liking and reposting white nationalist and extremist content material may end in disciplinary motion. The DOD additionally up to date its screening of recruits and is how one can put together troops who’re retiring from being focused by extremist organizations.

But an AP investigation discovered that regardless of the brand new guidelines, racism and extremism stay an ongoing concern within the navy.

The investigation reveals the brand new pointers don’t tackle ongoing disparities in navy justice beneath the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the authorized code that governs the U.S. armed forces. Numerous research, together with a report final 12 months from the Government Accountability Office, present Black and Hispanic service members had been disproportionately investigated and court-martialed. A current Naval Postgraduate School research discovered that Black Marines had been convicted and punished at courts-martial at a charge 5 occasions larger than different races throughout the Marine Corps.


Military to handle extremism in its ranks

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The AP investigation additionally reveals the navy’s judicial system has no specific class for bias-motivated crimes — one thing the federal authorities, a minimum of 46 states, and the District of Columbia have on the books — making it troublesome to quantify crimes prompted by prejudice.

As a consequence, investigative businesses such because the Naval Criminal Investigative Service or Army Criminal Investigative Division additionally do not have a selected hate crime class, which impacts how they examine circumstances.

“While it’s possible hate crimes have occurred, our investigations are not titled as such,” the NCIS mentioned in an e-mail. “For example, an assault on a person, regardless of the reason for the assault, would still be categorized as an assault…regardless of what motivated the crime.”

The new National Defense Authorization Act signed into regulation by President Biden on Monday directs the Secretary of Defense to make a advice to Congress inside 180 days if a brand new statute is required to handle violent extremism, however doesn’t tackle hate crimes or racial disparities in navy regulation.

The new Pentagon guidelines don’t outright ban service members from being members of extremist organizations, such because the Ku Klux Klan, Oath Keepers, or different right-wing and white nationalist teams. The rules, just like the earlier ones, solely prohibit “active participation,” in such teams, a murky coverage that civil rights organizations have raised considerations about for years. The navy describes lively participation as “publicly demonstrating or rallying, fundraising, recruiting and training members,” in addition to organizing or main organizations.

Experts interviewed by the AP say there’s additionally ongoing concern over the navy commander’s capacity to enact a variety of administrative and disciplinary actions — together with administrative separation or applicable prison motion — towards navy personnel who interact in prohibited actions.

Commanders basically have complete discretion to find out how one can tackle conditions as they come up, which specialists say has created non-uniform, scattershot enforcement, with some commanders establishing a no-tolerance strategy and others using weak enforcement of the principles.

The AP investigation additionally discovered that whereas the DOD says it considers racism and extremism throughout the navy to be a “security concern,” it doesn’t have funding that particularly helps efforts to handle extremism. Instead, navy officers mentioned the Pentagon makes use of personnel vetting applications, coaching, and education schemes, and the Insider Threat Program to “positively contribute to countering extremism within the force.”

The Pentagon didn’t reply to questions on how a lot cash it has spent or budgeted for efforts solely associated to range and inclusion, and what number of workers are devoted to it. Officials additionally didn’t reply to dozens of questions from the AP on the way it plans to implement its new pointers on extremism.

Pentagon spokesperson Maj. César Santiago acknowledged in a press release to the AP that extremism and extremist ideology can have an outsized impact on the navy drive.

But he added: “The vast majority of the women and men in uniform serve their nation with honor and integrity.” He mentioned since taking workplace in January, Secretary Llyod Austin, the primary African American to function Secretary of Defense, has taken fast motion to handle extremism. In addition to the brand new pointers on extremism, the Defense Department appointed an interim deputy inspector common for range and inclusion and navy insider threats in April.

Susan Corke, the director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project, counseled the DOD for taking key steps this 12 months, together with the adjustments introduced final week, to handle extremism. She mentioned the DOD sought the experience of civil rights organizations, teachers, and others who’ve sounded the alarm concerning the risks of extremism within the ranks for years.

But Corke mentioned it is too quickly to definitively say whether or not the up to date insurance policies will purge extremism from navy ranks.

“The devil will be in the details,” she mentioned. “I do appreciate that there is a commitment from the Defense Department to have much more consultation with outside partners and that there’s much more focus on doing additional research. So, we’re going to hold their feet to the fire.”

Corke mentioned the SPLC continues to be urgent for added reforms, together with how the navy’s command construction permits commanders to have nearly absolute command authority over subordinates, which could discourage members from reporting incidents or considerations of extremism.

Even some within the navy agree that the armed forces have to do extra. “There must be a change in motion and behaviors — components that may’t be so simply influenced by a change in navy regulation, ″ mentioned Maj. Tyrone Collier, a decide advocate within the Marine Corps Reserve, in an interview with the AP.

“Even if some legislation is passed from the highest echelons of government that says you will do this and that, will it actually get done?” Collier mentioned.


GOP senators accuse navy of “woke” agenda…

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Decades of repeated warnings

Extremism and racism within the navy are hardly new. Racist attitudes and discrimination towards folks of shade within the navy had been official insurance policies earlier than President Harry Truman, on July 26, 1948, signed Executive Order 9981, which formally desegregated the armed forces. Still, many models remained segregated till late 1954.

In the Nineteen Sixties, Black troopers in Vietnam filed quite a few complaints with the Pentagon about white troopers flying Confederate flags. Following the demise of civil rights chief Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, white U.S. service members based mostly on the Cam Ranh Bay, South Vietnam naval base, celebrated his demise by parading across the base in Ku Klux Klan-style white sheets and hoisted a Confederate flag atop the headquarters constructing, in keeping with the 1997 guide “Fighting on Two Fronts: African Americans and the Vietnam War.”

In the Seventies, extremism within the navy gained nationwide consideration when the Ku Klux Klan was discovered to be working brazenly at Camp Pendleton, a U.S. Marine Corps base in southern California. White Marine klansmen brazenly distributed racist literature on the bottom, pasted KKK stickers on barracks doorways, and hid unlawful weapons of their rooms. The hate group’s presence on the bottom got here to mild in 1976 when 14 Black Marines had been charged with assault after they broke into the unsuitable room and tried to interrupt up what they thought was a celebration of klansmen.

In June of 1986, the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Klanwatch Project issued one of many first of many warnings to the DOD about white supremacists in its ranks and urged then-Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger to bar lively obligation service members from belonging to Ku Klux Klan factions. The middle at the moment alleged it had proof, together with photographs, of active-duty U.S. Marines who had participated within the Confederate Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, a North Carolina-based Klan faction that modified its identify final 12 months to the White Patriot Party.

“It is simply intolerable that members of the U.S. armed forces, sworn to uphold and defend the constitution of the United States, be allowed to hold membership in an organization which seeks to overthrow the federal government through violent means,” the SPLC wrote.

The navy responded by saying it discovered no proof to assist these allegations and whereas it strongly discouraged membership by navy personnel in organizations “which have clear racist objectives, we also realize that our military personnel do not forfeit their constitutional rights under the First Amendment upon entry into the military service. Thus DoD does not prohibit personnel from joining such organizations as the Ku Klux Klan.”

Weinberger did concern a directive instructing service members to “reject participation in white supremacy, neo-Nazi and other such groups which espouse or attempt to create overt discrimination.”

But critics say the navy’s response fell quick and failed to satisfy the second by not instituting new, stricter insurance policies.


Veterans focus on racism within the navy

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In 1995, extremism within the navy was thrust into the nationwide highlight once more when three white Army paratroopers at Fort Bragg in North Carolina had been arrested within the homicide of a Black couple, Michael James and Jackie Burden, who they shot and killed in downtown Fayetteville. Two of the paratroopers, James Burmeister and Malcolm Wright, had been sentenced to life in jail. Another 19 Fort Bragg troopers had been discharged for participating in neo-Nazi actions.

Burmeister had made no makes an attempt to cover his beliefs: Police discovered a Nazi flag over his mattress and white supremacist pamphlets and directions for making bombs in a room he rented off base. Earlier that 12 months, Army veteran Timothy McVeigh, an anti-government extremist who earned a Bronze Star in Operation Desert Storm, parked a truck with a home made bomb in entrance of a federal constructing in Oklahoma, killing 168 folks, together with 19 youngsters.

The Pentagon, once more, pledged after the slayings to handle extremism inside its ranks. Congressional leaders held hearings and the Army fashioned an extremism job drive. But navy management mentioned the duty drive discovered minimal proof of extremist exercise within the Army.

“The SPLC has been writing to Defense Department officials about our concerns about white supremacy, white nationalism in the military since the mid-1980s,” mentioned Margaret Huang, the president and CEO of the Southern Poverty Law Center. “This has been an issue that we’ve talked about quite a number of times because it has been a significant problem in the U.S. military for many decades now.”

A 2005 Defense Department report, “Screening for Potential Terrorists in the Enlisted Military Accessions Process,” famous that the Pentagon has established quite a few insurance policies defining and limiting participation in extremist organizations. But it additionally discovered that “effectively, the military has a “do not ask, do not inform” policy pertaining to extremism.”

“If individuals can perform satisfactorily, without making their extremist opinions overt through words or actions that violate policy, reflect poorly on the Armed Forces, or disrupt the effectiveness and order of their units, they are likely to be able to complete their contracts,” the report learn. “This reality demonstrates the balance the Armed Forces have achieved between screening for extremists while respecting privacy and preserving federally protected rights to freedom of speech, religion, and association.”

In July 2009, civil rights organizations once more wrote to the DOD. This time to then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates urging the Obama Administration to take applicable measures to take care of extremists within the ranks. No sweeping motion was taken.

The pointers final week characterize a serious step on steering for troops’ social media utilization. Retweeting or liking extremist content material will now be considered as advocating the content material. The new guidelines don’t present an inventory of extremist organizations that troops mustn’t actively take part in.

Retired Air Force Col. Don Christensen, who served because the chief prosecutor for the U.S. Air Force between 2010 and 2014, mentioned the brand new insurance policies are “loosely defined,” and “lack guidance” when it comes to what organizations service members mustn’t work together with.

He additionally mentioned that the brand new insurance policies are unclear on how commanders would implement the social media guidelines.

“I understand this stuff is hard, but the like button means so many different things to different people. My main takeaway is this isn’t going to be enforceable. There’s a lot of subjectivity.” Christensen mentioned. “I also think they (the Defense Department) are naive to think it’s a small number of service members who engage in extremist activity.”

The DOD mentioned it’s commissioning a research to find out the extent of extremism within the navy.

But in its report final week, the Pentagon mentioned prohibited extremist exercise amongst service members was uncommon.

“The military itself doesn’t know the extent of the problem,” mentioned Mark Pitcavage, a senior analysis fellow on the Anti-Defamation League, who testified earlier than Congress in February 2020 concerning the risks of extremism throughout the navy, one 12 months earlier than the revolt.

Pitcavage advised Congress in 2020 that the ADL had reported 72 suspected white supremacists to the assorted branches in a three-year span, together with 38 within the Army, two within the Army National Guard, 4 within the Navy, 19 within the Marine Corps, two within the Air Force, and one within the Coast Guard, in addition to six with an indeterminate service department. The DOD mentioned it discovered fewer than 100 navy members who had been concerned in substantiated circumstances of extremist exercise prior to now 12 months.

“There’s no safe number of extremists in the military,” Pitcavage mentioned.

“It’s a national security concern”

U.S. Representative Jason Crow, a Colorado Democrat, was one of many many members of Congress trapped within the House Chamber gallery on January 6. as chaos erupted when a mob of insurrectionists stormed the U.S. Capitol.

As the mob breached the outer safety perimeter and commenced banging on the gallery doorways in an try to interrupt down the makeshift barricades, Crow urged different members amid the pandemonium to take away their congressional lapel pins as a result of he frightened that if the mob had damaged by the door, “they were going to try to kill members.”


Reps. on being trapped in the home gallery

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They had been finally rescued however Crow mentioned a dialog from that day with a fellow Black Democratic congresswoman stays agency in his thoughts. He mentioned the congresswoman thanked him for urging members to take away their pins in an effort to stay undetected by the mob however she advised Crow that as a Black lady, she would have by no means been capable of mix in, in contrast to her white counterparts.

“That was the first time in my life that I was on the receiving end of the violence of racism and white supremacy in our nation’s history,” Crow mentioned in an AP interview earlier this 12 months.

Crow, a former Army Ranger and Iraq War veteran, who’s a member of Congress’ House Armed Services Committee, launched laws final 12 months known as the Realizing Efforts for Military Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Act. It would require and create a extra rigorous range coaching program for troops, contractors, and civilian employees members on the Defense Department. The laws was handed this month as a part of the National Defense Authorization Act.

Crow mentioned final week it is too quickly to find out whether or not the Pentagon’s coverage updates are sufficient to weed out extremism, however he believes Austin is the best particular person to sort out the decades-long concern.

But Crow mentioned he is planning to have conversations with the Pentagon about its up to date insurance policies, together with the truth that members are nonetheless allowed to be members of extremist organizations so long as it is not “active” participation.

“Membership in some of these groups does give me concern and it does potentially send the wrong message,” Crow mentioned. “The military is all about trust. It’s all about making sure that you trust the person on your right and your left. Membership in some of these extreme organizations go right to the core of undermining that trust.”

Experts on extremism say the navy’s efforts to handle racism and white supremacy want to begin earlier than recruits truly be a part of the assorted providers. One key space: vetting recruit’s social media posts.

The Pentagon mentioned it has a strong screening process, together with a fingerprint test and an FBI background test. Recruits are additionally screened for offensive, racist, or supremacist tattoos.

But it does not presently “have the capability to conduct social media screenings,” DOD officers mentioned in a press release.

During final week’s press convention saying the brand new pointers on extremism Kirby additionally emphasised that the DOD doesn’t display screen service members’ social media posts for extremist content material: “There’s no methodology in there. There’s no ability for the Department of Defense to monitor the personal social media accounts of every member of the armed forces.” He mentioned when commanders are notified of issues by “various streams of reporting,” they might be anticipated to talk to troops to find out whether or not additional steps had been wanted.

Veteran teams and specialists on hate teams mentioned the navy additionally must do extra to handle extremism in these separating from lively obligation. The fashionable white energy motion was born out of the Seventies when disillusioned Vietnam War veterans started to be recruited by white energy militia teams, in keeping with analysis by Kathleen Belew, an assistant professor of History on the University of Chicago.

Under the brand new pointers, the DOD mentioned it will develop applications to organize troops who’re leaving the service from being focused by extremist organizations. Numerous research have proven that some veterans are more likely to be focused for recruitment within the white extremist fringe, in comparison with the civilian inhabitants, and they’re disproportionately concerned in acts of violence.

The most up-to-date research, an October analysis transient by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, discovered that from 1990 by the primary 9 months of 2021, a minimum of 458 prison extremists with U.S. navy backgrounds dedicated prison acts that had been motivated by their “political, economic, social, or religious goals.”

That determine contains 118 people who’re dealing with fees for his or her involvement within the Capitol revolt. Of the 458 folks, 83.6%, or 383, had been not serving after they had been arrested for committing extremist crimes.

“Overall, numerically, this is still a small but growing problem,” mentioned William Braniff, the director of the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism and a University of Maryland professor, throughout a Brookings Institute panel on extremism within the navy earlier this month.

“It’s a national security concern,” Braniff mentioned. “So, this is really creating a soft underbelly in American society. So, it’s not just a numbers problem. I think this is a problem regarding American democracy. And it’s a problem for which we have to put a preventative ecosystem in place now before the numbers do get more concerning.”

The persistence of “everyday racism”

Veterans like Reuben Keith Green mentioned it is disheartening to see the navy struggling decade after decade to take care of racism and extremism in its ranks.

Green, 64 and a retired Navy Lt. Cmdr., was a part of generations of males in his household who joined the navy. Both his father and grandfather served. But he grew disillusioned by the navy and what he believed had been damaged guarantees that every one servicemen and ladies had been equal and can be handled the identical no matter race.

He mentioned he endured and witnessed numerous acts of racism by his time within the service from when he first enlisted on Valentine’s Day in 1975 to when he left within the mid-’90s. Some fellow service members, he mentioned, proudly displayed Confederate flags and expressed white supremacist views, with no retribution. Green wrote a guide in 2017, “Black Officer, White Navy,” that detailed his private experiences. He’s additionally penned a number of articles, demanding navy accountability.

This 12 months, he mentioned he served as a visitor speaker for a Pentagon program that was a part of Secretary Lloyd Austin’s extremism stand-down.

But Green mentioned whereas the stand-down was a step in the best path, he believes the navy has but to handle the “everyday racism that is based on extremist views.”

Green mentioned he worries the insurance policies launched final week will not transfer the needle. He additionally questioned whether or not navy officers will have the ability to uniformly implement and set up “intent” behind a service member’s resolution to love or share extremist views and posts on social media.

“If my CO (commanding officer) is a member of the KKK, am I going to report discrimination or extremist behavior to him or her?” Green mentioned.

He additionally famous that not one of the insurance policies particularly tackle acts of discrimination or racism that aren’t “violent” in nature however may nonetheless have disastrous impacts on unit cohesion and repair members of shade.

“The military has let this white supremacist, racist issue fester for so long,” Green mentioned. “They’ve been trying to hide the actual truth and now it’s blowing up in their faces.”

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