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U.S. Pentagon releases new rules to tackle extremism in military ranks

  • Soldiers to be punished for advocating for extremist content online, including “liking” such content on social media platforms

The Pentagon on Monday released a new set of rules meant to curtail extremism in the ranks, updating previous guidance that was criticized as being unclear on what was acceptable behavior and what wasn’t.

The rules stipulate that service members are prohibited from actively engaging in extremist activities and could be punished for advocating for extremist content online, including “liking” such content on social media platforms.

“The physical act of liking is, of course, advocating, right? And advocating for extremist groups, groups that advocate violating their oath to the Constitution, overthrow the government, terrorist activities, liking is an advocation and that’s laid out clearly in the instruction,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters on Monday. 

The new guidelines — the results of the Defense Department’s Countering Extremism Working Group — come almost a year after the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, during which dozens of current and former service members participated. 

Following the riot, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin began investigating extremism among troops and ordered a force-wide “stand-down” to address the issue. 

The Pentagon has since identified “about 100” active duty or Reserve members that “participated in some prohibited extremist activities,” Kirby said.

As with the old guidance, the new rules don’t prohibit military members from membership in an extremist organization, but they are far more specific about what is banned behavior, including on social media.

Prohibited activities include advocating the overthrow of the government or terrorism, raising money for an extremist group, and “liking” or reposting extremist content on internet sites.

“It basically clarifies … that service members are responsible for the content that they publish on all personal and public internet domains, including social media sites, blogs, websites and applications,” a senior defense official told reporters earlier on Monday.

The updated guidance also applies a new, two-part test to determine whether someone should be held accountable for any questionable behavior: first deciding whether their actions are considered an extremist activity, and second, whether that person “actively participated,” senior defense officials said.

New training will teach service members what activities on social media are prohibited, Kirby added.

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