RAND Report on Reducing the Risk of Extremist Activity in the Military

In recent years, news headlines have highlighted the involvement of current or former U.S. military personnel in protest violence; supremacist groups; the January 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol; and other forms of violent extremism spanning different political and ideological spectra. The threat of extremism is not new, but the proliferation of social media has made it easier for radical ideas to spread quickly and for extremist groups to organize, even reaching into the military community (e.g., service members, military spouses, military dependents, civilian employees, and contractors) to expand membership and gain operational capabilities.

In response to policy concerns regarding military personnel involvement in violent extremism, RAND Corporation recently issued a ‘Perspectives Report‘ titled Reducing the Risk of Extremist Activity in the U.S. Military. Although the vast majority military personnel and their families are not extremists, the report notes that “even a small number of people engaged in extremist activities could damage the U.S. military’s reputation, its force, its members, and the larger community.”  Current U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) policy places a significant amount of responsibility on commanders to not only identify  violations of policies that prohibit extremist activities, but also anticipate when behaviors might suggest a future policy violation.

The authors produced this analysis in an effort to assist military commanders with this significant mission by providing highlights from research on extremism and including a framework for understanding these types of activities.

The report concludes by offering the following five recommendations:

  1.  DoD efforts to combat extremism should engage the wider military community, not focus solely on service members
  2.  Efforts to address extremism should take a community-based approach that leverages existing military programs
  3.  The Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) should continue to coordinate information-sharing between civilian and military law enforcement agencies
  4.  OSD and the military departments should employ machine-learning technologies to help detect broad, emerging trends of extremism that might affect members of the military community
  5.  OSD should continually measure existing extremist trends and evaluate programs designed to prevent, detect, and intervene when members of the military community express extremist views

For additional information on topics related to this piece, visit the HSDL Featured Topics on Domestic (U.S.) Terrorism.

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