Opposing “extremism” in the military seems like a no-brainer. As First Liberty General Counsel Mike Berry testified, “those who would use, threaten, or advocate violence to accomplish their [political] objectives” should have no place in the ranks. Yet the military stand-down briefings meant to root out “extremism” in the military arguably set the stage for something far more sinister.
“We should reject any attempt to weaponize anti-extremism efforts against classes of people simply because those in authority disapprove of them,” Berry wisely warned. Sadly, the anti-extremism briefings that the Department of Defense pushed on military branches during the recent “stand-down” order are ripe for abuse — and the “anti-extremism” effort will likely translate into a political/ideological witch hunt against conservatives.
Any PJ Media reader familiar with my work knows that I have long covered the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which uses a vague and malleable definition of “hate group” in order to smear mainstream conservative and Christian organizations and place them on a list — and a “hate map” — with the Ku Klux Klan. This inspired an attempted terrorist attack in 2012 (which the SPLC rightly condemned, but which did not lead the SPLC to remove the targeted organization).
The SPLC defines a “hate group” as “an organization or collection of individuals that – based on its official statements or principles, the statements of its leaders, or its activities – has beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics. An organization does not need to have engaged in criminal conduct or have followed their speech with actual unlawful action to be labeled a hate group.”
The SPLC twists this definition, using it as a cudgel to defame its ideological opponents and to shame them into silence. A former spokesman explained that the organization’s “aim in life is to destroy these groups.” The SPLC accuses organizations that advocate for religious freedom or against the threat of radical Islamist terror of spreading “anti-LGBT” or “anti-Muslim” propaganda. In fact, the “hate group” definition is so malleable that the SPLC uses it to brand organizations that advocate against illegal immigration “anti-immigrant hate groups,” even though migration status is most certainly not an “immutable characteristic.”
The Marine Corps extremism materials are similarly vague and malleable. A “reference card” linked on the Marines extremism stand-down website warns marines that they “must not actively advocate for” “supremacist or extremist doctrine, ideology, or causes.” Yet the document does not actually define supremacy or extremism. The document bans marines from advocating for individuals or groups that advance “illegal discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, creed, ethnicity, national origin,” or that advance “the use of force, violence, or criminal activity or otherwise advance efforts to deprive individuals of their civil rights.”
This vague definition of extremism opens the floodgates for political demonization. What does it mean to say that Marines cannot advocate for organizations that “advance efforts to deprive individuals of their civil rights”? Which rights are in question? Can Marines advocate for gun control groups that want to weaken Americans’ civil right to gun ownership? Can Marines advocate for pro-life groups that seek to undermine a woman’s “right” to abortion under Roe v. Wade (1973)?
Many on the Left demonize conservative Christians who refuse to celebrate same-sex marriage or transgender identity, accusing them of “discrimination” that violates LGBT people’s “rights.”
Can Marines advocate for women’s shelters that do not allow transgender men who claim to be women? Can Marines support a religious freedom organization that defends a doctor’s right to refuse to remove a healthy gender-confused woman’s uterus? Under President Joe Biden’s executive orders on transgender identity, these organizations would “deprive individuals of their civil rights.”
Worse, the Marine Corps stand-down materials claim Marines have a “responsibility to report” their fellows. “If you observe a Marine or co-worker exhibiting concerning behaviors, you have a responsibility to report it through the chain of command or supervision to your local security manager, and/or directly to the Insider Threat program office.”
What constitutes a “concerning behavior”? If a Marine is chatting about giving money to a Catholic charity that opposes a woman’s “right” to abortion and a transgender person’s “right” to treatment according to his or her gender identity, does that constitute a “concerning behavior”?
Another side in the Marines stand-down materials encourage Marines to “report to your chain of command any observations of conduct that may be an indicator of active participation,” which “may lead to violence.” Examples of such indicators include “identification with or support for extremist or hate-based ideology” and “possession of extremist literature or paraphernalia.”
These terms appear dangerously vague. The SPLC has branded the gospel tracts organization Chick Publications a “hate group.” Does this mean that if a Marine has Chick tracts, he has “extremist literature,” and his fellow Marines should report him?
The Marines training also forbids certain posts on social media. “Do not post, share, re-tweet, ‘like,’ etc. any materials that promote discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex (including gender identity), creed, ethnicity, national origin or sexual orientation; or encourage violence to prevent others from exercising their civil rights.”
Yes, the materials explicitly ban Marines from engaging with any social media posts that “promote discrimination based on … gender identity.” Based on the Biden administration’s definition of civil rights law, this would mean any content that refers to biological males who identify as female with male pronouns, that advocates for excluding biological males from women’s sports, or that warns against the abuses of subjecting gender-confused children to chemical castration.
The “Social Media ‘Don’ts'” slide encourages Marines, “Do not tolerate actions by other Marines that violate these rules.”
In the name of fighting “extremism,” it seems the Biden administration is trying to weaponize the military in order to root out certain kinds of conservatives. This seems to be yet another part of the Democrats’ domestic “War on Terror” after the Capitol riot on January 6. Most conservatives rightly condemn the violence and lawlessness of the Capitol riot, but many Democrats seem to think that Trump supporters and other conservatives — former CIA Director John Brennan explicitly named “libertarians” — are potential violent extremists or “insurrectionists.”
Shortly after Biden took office, the Department of Homeland Security sent out a terror alert warning of “objections” to “governmental authority.”
As J. Christian Adams has noted, stand-down “extremism” materials have spread the idea that speech that “threatens to undermine our government” is not protected by the First Amendment, even though it is.
Secretary of Defense Loyd Austin also refused to define “extremism” in his video message regarding the training.
“I’m talking, of course, about extremism and extremist ideology, views and conduct that run counter to everything we believe in, and which can actually tear at the fabric of who we are as an institution,” Austin said. He argued that extremism in the military is not new, but “what is new is the speed and the pervasiveness with which extremist ideology can spread today, thanks to social media and the aggressive, organized, and emboldened attitude many of these hate groups and their sympathizers are now applying to their recruitment and to their operations.”
He warned that extremism would “harm and harass and otherwise violate the oath that we share,” referring to the oath soldiers take to join the military.
When most Americans hear about “supremacy” and “hate groups,” they would think of “white supremacy” and the Ku Klux Klan, a true hate group if ever there was one. Yet the SPLC has demonstrated the malleability of this language, and the way that vague terms can be twisted to demonize conservatives.
Conservative members of the military need to be on their guard. Some enterprising leftist beside them in the ranks may be watching for any sign of wrongthink regarding transgender identity, abortion, or other hot-button issues. These vague guidelines open the floodgates for complaints about support for conservative Christian organizations, charities, and even churches in the interest of rooting out “extremism.” Even a well-intentioned Facebook post may land a Marine in hot water.
Is this really how America treats the brave men and women who lay down their lives for our freedom? Why can’t the Biden administration define its terms, forbid calls for violence and true white supremacy, rather than using vague terms that invite ideological abuses? Tragically, I think I know the answer.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.