The New York Times devoted an editorial to what it called the threat to the country’s security by extremists, working in the US military, police or law enforcement agencies, and called for urgent law enforcement action against them.
She recounted numerous stories of killings and assaults carried out by service members or retired members of the aforementioned services, and said that they joined white extremist right-wing groups such as the BooGaloo movement, the Proud Boys, and the Oath keepers.
Increased political violence
The newspaper pointed to a steady rise in political violence in the United States: from harassment of election officials and public officials to the targeting of a Supreme Court judge to the assault of the husband of the Speaker of the House of Representatives. And of course, the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, adding that a disturbing number of Americans say political violence is usually justified or permanent, and commenting that this tolerance for violence is a direct threat to democratic governance.
She added that America needs to reduce this threat. In recent years, the majority of political violence has come at the hands of members of white far-right groups or unaffiliated followers of their white supremacist and anti-government ideologies.
The newspaper stressed that better implementation of federal state laws – which prohibit private paramilitary activity – could help dismantle some of the groups that have been at the forefront of this violence.
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They have a military background
The New York Times also commented that one of the most troubling facts about extremists is that veterans, active duty military and law enforcement personnel are a high proportion of extremist groups. One estimate, published in the US magazine Time in 2020, found that at least 25% of members of extremist paramilitary groups have a military background, adding that among the more than 900 people arrested, in connection with 6 attacks January, 135 were with military or law enforcement backgrounds.
For decades, she said, police departments, the Pentagon, and the Department of Veterans Affairs had been aware of the problem, yet had little results in rooting out extremists in service.
She reported that a report by the Defense Department’s inspector general – released this year – found that the sprawling bureaucracy in the Pentagon was unable to determine the scope of the problem because it used many reporting systems that were not interconnected, and commanders, often, did not have a clear understanding of what was prohibited.
As a result, the report concluded, “the Department cannot fully implement policies and procedures to address extremist activity without clarifying definitions: extremism, extremism, active advocacy, and active participation.
Steps that can make a difference
Experts in the field are recommending some basic steps the military should take that could make a difference, such as better training, counseling and a discussion of the true nature of extremism, beginning long before service members retire and continuing after retirement.
She added that while the military can exercise fairly strict control over the men and women on duty, civilian law enforcement agencies face a different set of challenges in dealing with extremists or sympathizers on duty.
She went on to say that Americans enjoy an almost unlimited right to freedom of expression and association, and any effort to stop extremist violence must ensure that those rights are protected, and reforms carefully organized to avoid the abuses that occurred in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks, civil liberties abuses, mass surveillance, and accelerating militarization. For the police, to name a few. But protecting freedom of expression – says the newspaper – should not stand in the way of tackling extremism in police stations.
Across the board, extremists and their sympathizers, whether they act on their beliefs or merely propagate them, undermine public trust in institutions designed to keep the country safe.