Assessing Extremism in the U.S. Military

The National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) at the University of Maryland has recently released Radicalization in the Ranks: An Assessment of the Scope and Nature of Criminal Extremism in the United States Military, a report examining criminal extremism amongst active and retired U.S. military personnel. Overall, few criminal extremists (11.5%) have military backgrounds. However, as exemplified by the Capitol riot on January 6, 2021, that number has been on the rise. The majority of U.S. military extremists are typically veterans who served in either the Army or Marine Corps. These veterans typically face a variety of hardships, including economic and psychological stressors. Active-duty service members, on the other hand, typically become radicalized through social associations.

Military member sitting depressed, head in hands.

Regardless of varying risk factors for active-duty service members and veterans, this report makes several overarching recommendations. In addition to conducting more research and avoiding the outright dismissal of service members, the report suggests the implementation of “[p]revention programs that (1) inoculate incoming service members (and future veterans) against extremist recruitment; (2) disseminate tailored awareness briefs about extremist narratives and recruitment techniques; (3) devise non punitive responses to extremism that increase the likelihood that concerning behaviors will be reported; and (4) form partnerships with the VA [Department of Veterans Affairs] and community-based veterans’ organizations to counter radicalization among past service members.” Ultimately, addressing the underlying risk factors of radicalization will not only curb the rise in extremist behaviors and strengthen national security, but will also help preserve the reputation of the DoD (Department of Defense).


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