Report Finds Biden Admin's Concerns of 'Extremism' in Military Are Unfounded

Lloyd Austin (Getty Images)
January 2, 2024

A report the Department of Defense commissioned to study extremism in the United States military found that there is little evidence it's a disproportionate problem among service members, findings that throw cold water on Biden administration officials' claims of significant radicalism within the military.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin commissioned the report, which the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA) released last month, in the wake of the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot after it was reported that a number of participants had military records. The institute conducted its research from June 2021 through June 2022.

"IDA’s review found no evidence that the number of violent extremists in the military is disproportionate to the number of violent extremists in the United States as a whole," the institute wrote in the report's executive summary, "although there is some indication that the rate of participation by former service members is slightly higher and may be growing. IDA also found no evidence of violent extremist behavior by DOD civilians."

Though the report said that even a small number of violent extremists with military training or connections could pose a threat to the country, it said that service members were confused about what constitutes prohibited extremist activities. This confusion poses the potential for division and polarization within the military, according to the report, which could pose "a greater risk than the radicalization of a few service members."

Just over 10 percent of those who were charged in connection with the Jan. 6 riot were veterans, researchers noted in the report. Fewer than 10 of those people, however, were serving in the military at the time of the riot.

"Anecdotal accounts of military participation in violent extremist events, like the events of Jan. 6, 2021, draw public attention and may create the impression that the military has 'an extremism problem,' the report read. "Such accounts magnify the actions of a few and provide little information on the overall scope of the problem."

"Moreover these accounts frequently fail to differentiate between those who are currently serving in the military and those who have left the military (often many years earlier) or have been removed from the military for cause with less than honorable discharges," it continued. "As the Department responds to such events, it should remain cognizant of the fact that violent extremism does not appear to be any more prevalent among service members than it is in American society as a whole, and avoid steps that risk unnecessary polarization or division in the ranks."

The report comes after officials in President Joe Biden's administration expressed concerns over military participation in the Capitol riot. Less than a month after Jan. 6, Austin ordered a 60-day stand down across the Department of Defense to discuss extremism in the ranks, which John Kirby—who served as the Pentagon's press secretary at the time—called "not an insignificant problem" that "has to be addressed."