The Pentagon’s anti-extremism initiative is in no way about troops’ individual political beliefs, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Sunday, pushing back against critics who have questioned whether the effort could inadvertently target conservatives.
In an interview with ABC’s “This Week,” Mr. Austin said the military is focused on dangerous, extremist beliefs that are not compatible with the values of the armed forces.
All branches of the military are in a 60-day “stand-down” ordered by the secretary, a period in which units stationed all over the world set aside one day to discuss extremism, racism and discrimination.
“They’re having some really in-depth conversations with their troops on values, on the oath that we took, on the importance of unit cohesion. This is not about, you know, political parties or political beliefs,” Mr. Austin said. “This is behavior that can really tear at the fabric of our institution, and so we want to make sure that our troops are reminded of what our values are, reminded of the oath that we took coming in.”
He added that “99.9% of our troops embrace those values and are focused on the right things and are doing the right things each and every day.”
Mr. Austin ordered the stand-down shortly after being confirmed as defense secretary. The effort comes after dozens of military veterans and at least several active-duty service members reportedly were part of the mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
More broadly, the anti-extremism push is aimed at identifying service members who actively participate in white supremacist or other extremist groups, especially those who may be willing to engage in violent, anti-government attacks.
As the nation’s first Black defense secretary, Mr. Austin also said it is incumbent upon the armed forces to ensure everyone is afforded equal opportunity to move through the ranks.
“You have to ask yourself, you know, why it took so long to have an African American secretary of defense,” he said. “What we want to make sure happens going forward is that I am not the last African American secretary of defense, that we create those opportunities in our ranks for African Americans and Hispanics to rise to the very highest ranks in our military.”
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