WASHINGTON — A Maryland lawmaker on the House Armed Services Committee is criticizing the Biden administration’s opposition to his efforts to pressure the Pentagon into addressing domestic extremism in the armed forces.
Rep. Anthony Brown, D-Upper Marlboro, inserted an amendment into a House-passed defense spending plan that would direct defense officials to more closely monitor extremist activity in the military and give the secretary of defense the authority to remove from service those involved in extremist groups. The White House, however, opposed the amendment as too onerous.
That prompted Brown to air his frustrations publicly Wednesday to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley at an armed services panel hearing.
“Whether its sexual assault or racial injustice, the Department repeatedly tells Congress, ‘we can handle it, commanders are responsible, we’re studying it, we’re ready to fight tonight,’” Brown said. “We cannot wait years, let alone decades, in the face of obeisance from the Department before meeting the challenges of extremism in the Armed Forces. The time to address it is now.”
Brown, a retired colonel in the Army Reserve who served in Iraq and a former member of the Army’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps, acknowledged that Austin and Milley recognized the threat of domestic extremism among troops, “but I’m gravely concerned that too many of our military leaders do not.”
“For decades, we’ve grappled with extremist ideologies within our own ranks, here at home,” Brown said. “And there are no signs that we’re winning this fight…Please stop fighting Congress.”
The lawmaker pointed out that 12% of those charged with offenses related to the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the United States Capitol had military experience.
Brown’s measure establishes an Office of Countering Extremism to develop and implement training and other resources aimed at “identifying, preventing, responding to, reporting, and mitigating the risk of extremism” for each military branch.
But the White House on Sept. 21 issued a policy statement opposing Brown’s amendment.
“The administration shares the goal of preventing prohibited extremist activities and holding offenders accountable, but opposes (the Brown amendment) because it would impose onerous and overly specific training and data collection requirements and would foreclose other options to address extremism,” the statement said.
Brown believes the armed forces is “an attractive institution” for recruiting active or retired service members by extremist groups.
“We know there’s a problem in the military,” Brown told Capital News Service in an interview. “As long as there’s extremism in American society, the military will be susceptible to this sort of recruitment and infiltration.”
While Austin and Milley did not respond to Brown’s statement at the armed services hearing, both previously have discussed the threat of extremism inside the military.
A December report from the Defense Department’s Board on Diversity and Inclusion warned that “younger adults could be particularly vulnerable to groups that promote extremist views that run counter to the military’s mission.”
“Examining extremist organizations’ recruitment tactics and Service member radicalization can help DoD in halting these behaviors,” the report said.
“You’re telling me with an additional $25 billion that a little bit of training and a little bit of disclosure on extremism in the military is too expensive or too costly or too burdensome, then we need to reconsider how you’re using your resources,” Brown told CNS before Wednesday’s hearing. “We know it’s a real threat, they’ve acknowledged it as a threat and America saw it on full display during the insurrection on January 6th.”
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