News & Politics

EXCLUSIVE: The DOD's 'Extremism' Working Group Confirms Fears of a Free-Speech Crackdown

(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

On Wednesday, First Liberty Institute General Counsel Mike Berry participated in the Department of Defense’s (DOD) Countering Extremism Working Group (CEWG). Berry, a former active-duty Marine Corps officer, told PJ Media that the meeting confirmed some of the fears he had expressed in March, specifically about how the military’s crackdown on “extremism” threatens service members’ free speech.

Back in March, Berry testified that “those who would use, threaten, or advocate violence to accomplish their [political] objectives” should have no place in the ranks. Yet he also insisted, “We should reject any attempt to weaponize anti-extremism efforts against classes of people simply because those in authority disapprove of them.”

PJ Media asked Berry if “any of the discussions confirm” the fears he expressed in March.

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“Yes, specifically I am concerned by the DOD’s intent to monitor service members’ social media to identify extremism,” the ex-Marine said. “Multiple groups expressed concern about whether and how DOD will balance First Amendment rights with efforts to combat extremism.”

Various training materials used for the military-wide “stand down” to combat “extremism” issued strict warnings about social media posts.

“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,” the Marine Corps stand-down materials advise.

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, among other things.

As election lawyer and PJ Media contributor J. Christian Adams noted, one of the training materials falsely claimed that speech “that threatens to undermine our government and Constitution is not protected by the First Amendment.”

These materials, and Berry’s concerns, do not bode well for free speech and religious freedom in the military under Biden.

Berry said he did not witness any explicit bias against conservatives in the working-group meeting, but many groups made “several strong suggestions that DOD should focus primarily on white nationalism and white supremacy.” The ex-marine said “there was no specific focus on ‘conservatives,’ per se,” but many on the Left have equated mainstream conservatism with white nationalism and white supremacy.

Berry said the working group did not mention the Capitol riot, radical Islamism, or antifa. The working group also did not adopt a definition of extremism. “DOD is working on a definition and hopes to have something by late summer,” the ex-Marine said.

If the DOD aims to monitor service members’ social media for “extremism,” that raises serious free-speech concerns. In the Biden administration, “extremism” may include commonsense voting protections like the Georgia bill. After all, Biden called that bill “Jim Crow on steroids,” and he compared it to the threat of racist violence, which he said is a “through line” from the Tulsa Race Massacre to the Capitol riot.

The Marine Corps “extremism” training materials encouraged Marines to turn on their brothers and sisters, saying they “have a responsibility to report” “concerning behaviors.”

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Meanwhile, the Biden administration has launched a new “War on Terror” that demonizes conservative critics as enemies of the state. These efforts to root “extremism” out of the military fall in line with that mission, and that is terrifying.