Fighting extremism in the US military

In recent years, news headlines have highlighted the involvement of current or former U.S. military personnel in protests against violence, in supremacist groups, in the U.S. Capitol insurrection, and other forms of extremist violence spread across the political and ideological spectrum.This was published in a recent study in the United States.

The threat of extremism is not new, but the proliferation of social media has made it easier for radical ideas to spread quickly and to organize extremist groups, even reaching the military community (e.g. members of the service, military spouses, military dependants, civilian employees and contractors) when looking to expand membership and gain operational capabilities.

The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) has long banned members of the service from actively defending extremist activities.

DoD policy sets the expectation that commanders must detect prohibited activities, investigate them, and take corrective action. It is also up to the commanders to help minimize the risk by intervening early, mainly through giving advice.

In this perspective, a framework has been created to help commanders reduce the risk of extremism in the military.

First, highlights of extremist research are provided, including a framework for understanding these types of activities. Second, this framework is used to outline four strategies for reducing the risk of extremism in the military. And finally, a community-based approach is recommended, which leverages existing military programs to better support commanders as they fulfil their responsibilities in preventing and mitigating exposure to extremism within the military.


Five recommendations are provided to help create a strategy for supporting commanders in mitigating extremism on the military Internet.

Given the diversity of the U.S. military community, any policy or program designed to prevent or detect extremism should take into account the entire broad military community.

In 2019, there were more than 1.3 million active members, but also more than one million members of the so-called Ready Reserve, more than 200,000 members of the Reserve, almost 900,000 civilian DoD employees, more than 965,000 military spouses and well over 1.6 million member children.

Any member of these groups could adopt and promote extremist beliefs and act on them, including becoming active or passive members of extremist groups that promote racial supremacy, religious extremism, or specific social or political issues. 

Responding to the first signs of extremism is preferable to waiting until the first extremist states manifest themselves in ways that already directly affect military readiness.

Community service providers could also think of broader ways to counter the influence and impact of extremist groups. For example:

  • Provide general guidance on how to break cycles of outrage and hatred in managing personal relationships with friends or relatives who have extremist views or are involved in violent extremist groups.
  • Organize activities to dispel stereotypes and myths.
  • Organize real-time virtual questions and answers or sessions with reformed extremists to help understand the impact of extremism and how to break away from these groups.

Service providers could also alert leaders to signs of misinformation, recruitment and emerging groups which could pose a threat to the military community.


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