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Extreme Avoidance: Austin Said Stamping Out Extremism Was A Priority. You Wouldn’t Know It

By tom On Thursday, November 10 th, 2022 · no Comments · In And more news stories ,News stories ,Writing

By Tom Squitieri
Red Snow News
WASHINGTON — A list of more than 100 active members of the military who are connected to the extremist group the Oath Keepers has been largely ignored by the military branches, despite a proclaimed priority emphasis by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to deal with extremism in the ranks.

The data on Oath Keepers links — whose leader and some members are on trial right now for sedition for their roles in the January 6 insurrection — gives sharp details on more than 38,000 names on their membership list, including individuals with clear ties to police, the Secret Service, politicians — and at least 117 individuals active members of the military.

The list was published by the non-profit journalist collective Distributed Denial of Secrets (DDoSecrets) and analyzed, parsed, and scrutinized by the Anti-Defamation League.

Austin said dealing with extremism is a priority.  You would not know it by the actions — or non-actions — taken by the services in the wake of the release of the Oath Keepers data.

Austin first addressed extremism in the military in a message released Feb. 19, 2021, less than one month after he took office on January 22. He also ordered the extraordinary step of pausing all operations for 24 hours to address extremism in the ranks, a stand down that occurred that spring.

“We need your help,“ Austin told the force in February 2021. He said the extremism threat tears “at the fabric of who we are as an institution.

“It concerns me that anyone wearing the uniform…would espouse these sources of beliefs, let alone act on it. But they do. Some of them still do,” Austin said. “Help us stamp out of the ranks this dangerous conduct this ideology inspires.”

To date, only the Army has sought information from the sweeping data on members in their ranks who are connected to the Oath Keepers.

“If they (the services) reached out to us with any concerns over certain members, we of course would be willing to help them,” an ADL spokesperson said in an interview.

An examination of the information published shows this breakdown of military personnel: Air Force – 18; Air National Guard – 7; Air Force Reserve – 5; Army – 40; Army National Guard – 12; Army Reserves – 4; Coast Guard – 3; Coast Guard Reserve – 1; Marine Corps – 8; Marine Corps Reserve – 1; National Guard – 8; Navy – 15; and Navy Reserve – 5

The data is also replant with members self-identifying themselves by rank and base location — easy ways for any military investigator to do initial probes, if not more.

The lack of effort to pursue obvious leads to Oath Keepers members in the ranks is in stark contrast to the vows and actions of Austin to deal with the festering and growing grip of extremism in the ranks.

Asked on September 13, 2022, about Pentagon efforts to obtain the information on the new data on Oath Keeper links to the military, Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder, the Pentagon spokesperson, told Pentagon reporters, “in regards to those particular members I’d refer you to the services to see what if any status is on those individuals.”

Two months of questions to the service branches revealed that just the Army saying it had taken action. However, it said in an email it was not able to provide precise details of that action.

No other branch had taken action to follow-up on the vivid leaks provided in the data dump and ADL analysis.

The Army, Air Force and Navy did reply to verbal and written questions; the Marine Corps promised to respond but did not.

The lack of effort is contradictory to a pledge made by then-Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby on April 2, 2021, regarding the Countering Extremist Activity Working Group established by Austin.

One specific line of effort the working group will look at is determining how the department should facilitate better information collection, Kirby said then, to help define the scope and extent of the problem. It will also look at sharing among the service insider threat programs, he said.

For the Army, Sgt. 1st Class Anthony Hewitt, an Army spokesperson, said “Local commands were notified as the Army learned the names of current service members identified on the Oath Keeper’s data list earlier this year.”

Without specially referring to any Oath Keepers problem, Hewitt said that local commanders can institute “administrative or disciplinary action deemed appropriate… based on the specific facts and circumstances of the particular case.”

He also said that “extremist behavior is not identified by a separate code for discharges. The discharge information would fall under a separation code that is inclusive to ‘misconduct’ discharges.”

He said he was unable to respond to requests for the number of investigations or results of them.

The Air Force, in a statement, said it “is focused on building a community that is resistant to extremist ideology and is fully committed to educating and protecting Airmen and Guardians from the dangers of extremism.”

The statement said “In general, the Department of the Air Force Office of Special Investigation (OSI) does not open investigations into extremism ideology” and “If an allegation involving an Airman or Guardian is referred to their command, commanders have the authority to employ the full range of administrative and disciplinary actions, including administrative separation or court-martial, against military personnel who engage in prohibited activities.”

In 2022, the Air Force “is investigating a few ongoing cases of extremist activities. As of Nov. 3, we have had zero court-martial convictions for extremism this year,” they said in a statement.

The Navy said it is “dedicated to protecting Navy and Marine Corps operational readiness from the negative impacts of extremist activities.

“However in this case Anti-Defamation League has not shared its findings with DoN and the methodologies and accuracy of its assessments of military personnel are unclear. As always, we welcome reports of extremist behavior by military personnel to NCIS, Naval IG, or local military commanders,” it said in a statement.

Navy commanders have authority and responsibility to investigate and adjudicate allegations of extremist activities and the Navy said it is “actively reinforcing its ability to track investigations and adjudications of extremist behavior throughout the department.”

However, “at this time we have no information to share about investigations or adjudications related to the Anti-Defamation League report,” they said.

In 2022, there was one court-martial conviction related to extremism, the Navy said.

Of the 884 criminal defendants charged to date with taking part in the January 6 insurrection, more than 80 were veterans. At least five of the rioters were serving in the military at the time of the assault: an active-duty Marine officer and four reservists.

The Countering Extremist Activity Working Group commissioned by Austin in April 2021 to evaluate the extent of the problem found about 100 substantiated cases of extremism in the U.S. armed forces in 2021.

In December 2021, Austin issued a memorandum ordering “increased clarity” on what constitutes extremist behavior that could get troops discharged from the military and how commanders should proceed.

He also approved revised guidelines that add new activities to the list of prohibited actions, including “liking” an extremist post on social media.

On September 19, Ryder said the Pentagon “does not maintain a specific list of domestic extremist groups and I would refer you to federal and local law enforcement for that information.  Department of Defense policy focuses on individual activity as service members are, and have always been, judged by their individual actions.  Active participation in extremist activities violates the updated policy regardless of whether such actions are taken alone or as part of an organization.”

Eleven members of the organization, including its founder and leader Stewart Rhodes, were indicted for seditious conspiracy in January 2022.

Independent organizations that follow extremism are clear on the threat from Oath Keepers.

The Southern Poverty Law Center reported that “The Oath Keepers, which claims tens of thousands of present and former law enforcement officials and military veterans as members, is one of the largest far-right antigovernment groups in the U.S. today. The most recent is the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, when members of the group, including its leader, Stewart Rhodes, were arrested and accused of conspiring to oppose the presidential transfer of power by force.

“But we’ll make sure that we’re within range because I don’t trust the Pentagon, I don’t trust the brass, I don’t trust even the Secretary of Defense to stand behind the President (Trump),” the Center quoted from an Oath Keeper communication.

The FBI describes the Oath Keepers as a “paramilitary organization” and a “large but loosely organized collection of militia who believe that the federal government has been coopted by a shadowy conspiracy that is trying to strip American citizens of their rights.”

In its “Examining Extremism: The Oath Keepers: June 17, 2021” report, CSIS said that “The Oath Keepers are an anti-government, right-wing political organization committed to supporting and defending their interpretation of the U.S. Constitution against all enemies, both foreign and domestic. They are associated with the militia movement, an extremist umbrella organization founded on the belief that the federal government is part of an evil conspiracy intent on stripping Americans of their natural rights and freedoms.”

The Oath Keepers trial started on October 3, with the prosecution taking almost a month to present its case. Defense lawyers have begun their presentations this week. On trial are Rhodes, Thomas Caldwell, Kelly Eggs, Kenneth Harrelson, and Jessica Watkins.

Three other Oath Keepers defendants – Joshua James, Brian Ulrich and William Todd Wilson – pleaded guilty this year to engaging in seditious conspiracy in connection with the attack.

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