WATCH HEARING HERE
WASHINGTON – Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, delivered the following opening statement at a committee hearing on “Extremism in the Armed Forces.”
Remarks as prepared for delivery:
I also want to root out of the military those who actively participate in vile and violent hate groups. We cannot ask people to fight and die together under the shadow of racial hatred. But it’s important to remember that extremist behavior is already prohibited by the Uniform Code of Military Justice and by each service’s own regulations.
It’s also important to point out that we lack any concrete evidence that violent extremism is as rife in the military as some commentators claim. Since the start of FY20, nine soldiers have been separated from the Army for misconduct where extremism was a factor. Nine out of nearly one million.
Since 2018, seventeen marines have been separated for extremism, gang, or dissident activity. Seventeen, over three years, out of over 200,000. While I agree with my colleagues that these numbers should be zero, this is far from the largest military justice issue facing our armed services.
If this committee is going to attempt to address this issue, we need to be clear about what “examining extremism” means.
Over the past few years, other committees have grappled with the issue of extremism and domestic terrorism. They’ve run into the same problem over and over: The First Amendment. Servicemembers are entitled to First Amendment rights when speaking out of uniform and in compliance with regulations.
Frankly, servicemembers have more free speech rights than most people may realize. They may worship freely, peacefully assemble, espouse political views, and engage with civic organizations. Legislative attempts to further crackdown on domestic terrorism are going to run headlong into the First Amendment rights of our service members.
And doing so may have other consequences.
Earlier this year, 151 overwhelmingly liberal organizations, including Human Rights Watch, the ACLU, and SPLC Action, urged Congress not to expand domestic terrorism charges. I ask unanimous consent to insert that letter in the record.
The organizations said, “We urge you to oppose any new domestic terrorism charge, the creation of a list of designated domestic terrorist organizations, or other expansion of existing terrorism-related authorities.”
The letter went on to say that ample tools exist to prosecute domestic terror and violent extremism and that proposed new tools would be used against the vulnerable and political opponents in the name of national security.
So what should we do to address this issue?
Online hives of hate prey on socially isolated people. They exploit fear and vulnerability with radicalized ideologies. Fortunately, military life offers an unparalleled opportunity to stop radicalization using model leaders and peers to show the way. Empowering leaders to know their units and speak face to face with their soldiers is an exceptional method to stop radicalization before it starts. We should examine ways to encourage that interaction.
I’m not naïve enough to think everyone who needs to step off the path toward violence or hatred will do so. That’s why enforcing current UCMJ prohibitions through administrative separations, or court marshals will remain an appropriate response in some cases. Each service should keep track of these separations and examine them for patterns of conduct.
If there is better data to be had, then we should address that in the NDAA. But anecdotes and online polls should not be our guide here. Nor should we rush to create large-scale political surveillance programs to monitor servicemembers’ political leanings.
I hope our panel today can help us evaluate how the military’s unique structure presents opportunities to address this issue within the framework of the Constitution.
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