At the end of November, we reported on the continuing concerns about extremism in the military. Shortly afterwards, a new report was released that updated numbers on recent actions by veterans or active participants. In fiscal year 2023 there were nearly 200 allegations of “acts of extremism” that included 78 accused of advocating the overthrow of the US government and 44 more engaging in terrorism. The 2023 numbers were an increase over those of 2022, but still nearly 100 fewer than seen in 2021. Only 68 of the alleged acts were subsequently cleared or dismissed, leaving more than 100 open cases.
There continue to be serious problems with the military’s efforts to track and report on extremism though. Differences in how things are reported and what is reported suggest that the reported numbers can’t be seen as strongly reliable. One unidentified branch had recruiters failing to flag all the possible extremist ties while another was reporting potential associations even when the applicants hadn’t actually reported such ties. Nor have the prior efforts to address issues within the active military been effective. At the end of November, an Army nurse told Military Times that the 2021 stand-down hadn’t made a lasting impact on his life, saying “if I learned anything new, I’ve already forgotten it.” Others described it as perfunctory, a waste of time, or “an exercise in futility.” Those leaving the military now have “new slides” to look at as part of the separation counseling that encourage them to “guard against attempts to be radicalized.”
At the same time, new arrests continue to follow past actions of rebellion and extremism. In December 2023 there were reports of an Air Force Reserve sergeant being arrested for taking part in the January 6 riot and an ex-Marine plead guilty to fire-bombing a medical clinic while he was still on active duty. The new year brought the much-delayed report of the Institute for Defense Analyses that concluded that “extremism in the veterans’ community …. Currently appears to be on the increase.” It went on to call for a zero-tolerance policy and new steps to emphasize “core military values.” The report called for “comprehensive cultural change that … will require a concerted effort over a period of time.”
Whether the military and veteran communities can learn from their failure to make those concerted efforts remains to be seen. Clearly, they haven’t yet made any real changes that won’t be forgotten as quickly as the 2021 stand-down has been.