Report | May 10, 2022

Evaluation of Department of Defense Efforts to Address Ideological Extremism Within the Armed Forces (DODIG-2022-095)

Evaluations

Publicly Released: May 12, 2022

Objective

The objective of our evaluation was to determine the extent to which the DoD and the Military Services have implemented policy and procedures that prohibit active advocacy and active participation related to supremacist, extremist, or criminal gang doctrine, ideology, or causes by active duty military personnel, as required by DoD Instruction (DoDI) 1325.06.

 

Background

This evaluation was planned and conducted to align with the DoD OIG’s focus on ethical decision-making and conduct, in the context of incidents indicating the presence of prohibited extremist activity within the U.S. military.

DoDI 1325.06, “Handling Dissident and Protest Activities Among Members of the Armed Forces,” prohibits Service members’ active advocacy of and participation in organizations that espouse supremacist, extremist, or criminal gang doctrine, ideology, or causes. However, recent surveys and incidents have raised concerns about the presence of ideological extremists within the U.S. military.

We identified nine publicly reported incidents involving active and former military members from several branches of the military who have been charged with criminal offenses related to participation in or advocacy of violent extremist or supremacist groups and ideologies since January 2020. For example, in October 2020, two recently discharged Service members linked to violent extremist groups were charged with plotting to kidnap the Governor of Michigan. In addition, the DoD has received six congressional inquiries since February 2019 regarding the DoD’s policy on prohibited activities, especially extremist and supremacist activities in the Armed Forces.

 

Findings

DoDI 1325.06 prohibits active advocacy of extremist ideology and active participation in extremist organizations. However, DoDI 1325.06 was last updated on February 22, 2012, and does not have sufficiently detailed and easily understood definitions of extremism-related terminology, including the terms “extremist,” “extremism,” “active advocacy,” and “active participation.” Officials from the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and Security, and the Military Services consistently stated that Service members and commanders do not know what behaviors constitute extremism or extremist activity. As a result, the DoD cannot fully implement policy and procedures to address extremist activity without clarifying the definitions of “extremism,” “extremist,” “active advocacy,” and “active participation.”

We also found that the DoD collects data through a variety of processes to track extremist-related activities within the Armed Forces; however, these processes are not interconnected. As a result, the DoD is not able to accurately collect and analyze Service-level data and develop a DoD‑wide understanding of extremist-related activity within the Armed Forces. In addition, senior officials cannot determine the full extent of extremist activity to adequately address the issue within the Armed Forces.

 

Recommendations

We recommend that the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, in coordination with the Department of Defense Office of General Counsel, update DoDI 1325.06 to clarify the meanings of terms related to extremism and extremist activity. In addition, we recommend that the Secretaries of the Military Departments review their extremist-related policies, procedures, and training materials to ensure conformity with the revised version of DoDI 1325.06.

We also recommend that the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and Security, in coordination with the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness and the Secretaries of the Military Departments, develop and publish standardized policies, processes, and tracking mechanisms to enable the DoD to identify, quantify, characterize, and report Service member involvement across the Services in prohibited activities that include active advocacy of and active participation in extremist groups and activities. According to officials from the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, during our evaluation the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness drafted an implementation policy and coordinated the draft policy with the Services for their review and feedback. Therefore, the recommendation is unresolved and remains open, pending issuance of the implementation policy.

 

Management Actions Taken

On December 20, 2021, the Secretary of Defense updated DoDI 1325.06. The updated policy improved the definition of extremist activities to ensure that DoD policy on extremist activities is easily understood by both Service members and commanders. Specifically, the updated DoDI 1325.06 provides a clarifying definition for the term “extremist activities” and the term “active participation.” This action fully addresses the recommendation to clarify the meanings of terms related to extremism and extremist activity; therefore, this recommendation is closed.

 

Management Comments and Our Response

Senior officials from the Military Departments concurred with and fully addressed the recommendation to develop and publish policy and guidance for identifying, tracking, and reporting service member involvement in prohibited extremist-related groups and activities; therefore, the recommendation is resolved and remains open. We will close the recommendation when the Secretaries for the Military Departments provide us a copy of their approved and published policies.

All management comments we received agreed with our recommendation to develop and publish standardized policies, processes, and mechanisms to enable the DoD to identify, quantify, characterize, and report Service member involvement in prohibited activities that include active advocacy of and active participation in extremist groups and activities. The management comments addressed the intent of the recommendation; therefore, the recommendation is resolved and open. We will close the recommendation when the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and Security, the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, and the Secretaries of the Military Departments provide us a copy of their issued policies.