Air Force senior leaders on Thursday announced that the department will conduct an assessment on extremism in the ranks of armed forces while calling on all service members to stand against these views.
“While the First Amendment of the Constitution recognizes freedom of expression, is our obligation to stand against extremism, as we should with anything that threatens to undermine good order and discipline, trust, and our culture of respect,” reads a memorandum signed by several top leaders from the Department of the Air Force.
“We took an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. The vast majority of us—whether active duty, guard, reserve, or civilian—spends every day upholding our Nation’s laws, policies, and standards. However, there is small subset who fall short and are eroding the respect our Nation’s citizens have for its military.”
The memorandum comes after Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered U.S. military commanders to spend time talking to their troops about the threat of extremism in the service.
Chief Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Austin met with all of the military service chiefs and secretaries on Feb. 3 and told them he was ordering a “stand down” by all units in the next 60 days.
Austin had identified that the issue has been on the Pentagon’s radar for a while and has vowed to tackle it during his tenure.
At his Jan. 19 confirmation hearing, Austin highlighted the need to rid the ranks of the U.S. military of “racists and extremists.”
Saying that we “owe our people a working environment free of discrimination, hate, and harassment,” he vowed to “fight hard to stamp out sexual assault, to rid our ranks of racists and extremists, and to create a climate where everyone fit and willing has the opportunity to serve this country with dignity.”
“Corrosive behavior such as discrimination, extremism and sexual harassment or assault have no place in our formations and tear at the fabric of the Army,” acting Army Secretary John Whitley said in a video message earlier this week.
“We also have a responsibility to educate, and inspire those in the Navy, those coming into the Fleet, and those leaving our service that extremist behavior is unacceptable. Hate and extremist ideology are wedges that divide us. These actions stoke resentment and tear others down,” Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday said in a statement.
Rep. Bob Wittman (R-Va.) told Breitbart News that he believes the one-day “stand down” announced by Austin in an attempt to combat extremism in the service is an ill-conceived effort driven by partisan impulses that he called a “political purge.”
He talked about enemies within the military,” Wittman said, referring to remarks Austin made at his confirmation hearing, with the GOP lawmaker adding, “and by this, they mean extremists on the right within the military.”
“The military is the most diverse institution in America, so I don’t know why they think they’re going find a bunch of white supremacists in the military,” he said. “I think it’s kind of a Democratic prejudice against the armed forces and law enforcement in general,” he added.
Tom Ozimek contributed to this report.