Violent extremists are an increasing threat at home and overseas
By Lee Porterfield
Violent extremism poses a critical threat to the United States and its military operations, both at home and overseas. While acts are not limited to a single political, religious, ethnic, cultural or ideological background, there are devastating effects for both civilian and military communities which can impact Army readiness.
Violent extremism occurs when individuals support or commit ideologically motivated violence to further political goals. Because it manifests in different ways, violent extremism is divided into two categories:
— Terrorism: The unlawful use of violence or threat of violence, often motivated by religious, political or other ideological beliefs, to instill fear and coerce governments or societies in pursuit of goals that are usually political.
— Hate Crimes: A criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender or gender identity.
There is no definitive profile of a violent extremist. Just as a range of violent acts are included under the umbrella of violent extremism, those perpetrating these acts vary widely in their beliefs and characteristics, and there are a variety of motivations that pose danger. However, the mere advocacy of political or social positions, political activism, use of strong rhetoric or generalized philosophic embrace of violent tactics may not constitute extremism and may be constitutionally protected.
The following guidance exists to assist Soldiers in understanding what actions in support of extremist organizations or activities are prohibited for military personnel:
— Participating in public demonstrations or rallies that promote extremist causes and ideas.
— Attending a meeting or activity with the knowledge that the meeting or activity involves an extremist cause when: on duty, in uniform, in a foreign country (whether on or off duty or in or out of uniform), it constitutes a breach of law and order, it is likely to result in violence, it’s in violation of off-limits sanctions, or it’s in violation of a commander’s order.
— Fundraising activities.
— Recruiting or training members (including encouraging other Soldiers to join).
— Creating, organizing or taking a visible leadership role in such an organization or activity.
— Distributing literature on or off a military installation, the primary purpose and content of which concerns advocacy or support of extremist causes, organizations or activities and it appears that the literature presents a clear danger to the loyalty, discipline or morale of military personnel or the distribution would materially interfere with the accomplishment of a military mission.
— Receiving financial assistance from a person or organization advocating terrorism, the unlawful use of force or violence to undermine or disrupt U.S. military operations, subversion or sedition.
The best approach to counter the effects of violent extremism and radicalization is to educate the Army community and promote a better understanding of the challenges this threat presents.
The democratic principles of freedom of speech and freedom of religion (among other civil liberties) are often protected. If or when concerning behavior is observed, seek counsel and assistance from community service providers, such as local law enforcement and legal- and health-service providers, to understand the complete picture of behavior associated with an individual’s behavior or actions.
(Editor’s note: Porterfield is an Antiterrorism/Force Protection operations specialist.)