Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Defining extremism in order to combat it

Captain Keith S. Gibel, an active-duty U.S. Navy JAG, writes in Lawfare on the importance of generating a workable definition for extremism. His definition, "[a]n inflexible ideology that instills hate or fear, and advocates, promotes, facilitates or condones violence, to advance its primacy over alternative or competing views," focuses on an extremist's inability to compromise and use of violence to dominate other's viewpoints. 

He calls upon leaders to explain the deleterious effect such an ideology has on unit cohesion. And he argues any solution must emphasize empathetic leadership, and not rest disproportionately on criminal prosecutions.  It's a workable definition: clear, concise, and easily understandable by all servicemembers regardless of rank or education. Hopefully if this definition is adopted, it can reduce extremist activities in the military. 

But I use his article to state once again my fear that the military will have difficulty combatting extremism successfully and remaining an apolitical institution. And between those two competing interests, the military should combat extremism and be unafraid to face accusations of political bias.

Personnel inside and outside the military understand the DOD's emphasis on combating extremism is a result of the January 6 riot at the Capitol. During my two-weeks of active army time last month, I steered away from a conversation from a fellow officer who disparaged the emphasis on extremism training, and who also minimized the violence at the Capitol during the Electoral College vote count. 

Despite my reluctance to engage and challenge his beliefs, I still believe the military as an institution needs to be more direct and clear about combating extremism; which inevitably means confronting the significant portion of the Republican Party that is radicalizing against democracy. For just one recent data point, an estimated 46% of Republicans support the state legislatures overturning the 2020 vote. 

To further illustrate the point, Captain Gibel's extremism definition works aptly to characterize the Capitol rioters. They recognized violence, and the threat of violence, as the last available means to install their preferred candidate.  The erected gallows, the chants to hang Mike Pence, the violent rush to the Senate Chamber to stop the legal counting of votes, were all designed to dominate their foes through force, to thwart the peaceful transfer of power. 

So the current and former members of the military who participated in the Capitol Riot, who fought against democracy on January 6, are violent extremists. Commanders and DOD personnel should not shy away from this particular example when discussing extremism. We all know that is why we're doing this training, and why commanders at all levels are discussing extremism. I am sympathetic, and I understand everyone's reluctance, considering I have not overcome the discomfort of openly discussing political issues in uniform myself. But this is not a problem that will go away with time if we collectively ignore it. The former commander-in-chief continues to insist the 2020 election was stolen from him. 

The oath to the Constitution that military members take is an oath for representative government; in essence, an oath for democracy. If, as Captain Gibel writes, we need empathetic leaders to bridge divides to develop unit cohesion, those leaders need to focus on the primacy of our representative government. An effective military must be filled with individuals who respect the supremacy of civilian control over the military, as well as the civilian's authority to choose their own leaders. If naming and combating agitators to democracy endangers the apolitical military, then that is the fault of a political party that possesses values inconsistent with this country, not the military's.

1 comment:

  1. What is to be done about extremist Reservists? Consider this July 7, 2021 continued-detention decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit involving a man who was at the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol:


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