The senators issued Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin a letter on Wednesday, expressing their concern for military personnel who could end up in the crosshairs of Austin’s “Countering Extremism Working Group,” or CEWG.
“In the wake of the U.S. Department of Justice’s efforts to silence parents protesting anti-American racial indoctrination being taught in schools across the country, we are deeply concerned that this latest effort by the Biden Administration will target service members who voice opposition to woke, Leftist ideology under the guise of protecting our ‘national security interest,’” the lawmakers said in the letter.
American troops, they noted, are a “cross-section of the country they faithfully serve.” As such, they hold “beliefs and opinions as diverse as America itself.”
“These patriotic men and women come from all backgrounds, ethnicities, and beliefs. Our military leaders should be honoring the diversity among our armed forces, not divide us by forcing false narratives that solely serve to alienate our fellow Americans based on the color of their skin,” they added.
The GOP lawmakers acknowledge that there is “no room” for extremism in the ranks. They agree that the Defense Department must use its resources to “identify and neutralize” those who pose a “real” threat of extremism.
As examples of that, they cite Saudi Air Force 2nd Lt. Mohammed Saeed Al-Shamrani, who shot three sailors to death at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola in 2019; Aaron Alexis, who killed 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard in 2013; and Maj. Nidal Hasan, who murdered 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas in 2009.
The Defense Department, the senators noted, “should focus on real threats that pose a clear and present danger to our nation – not those who refuse to bow to the woke orthodoxy pushed by Liberal elites in the mainstream media, academia, and government.”
To that end, they argued, the CEWG’s work appears to be more aligned with “an intelligence collection effort” that focuses on troops instead of “an honest effort to improve” the Defense Department.
The lawmakers pointed out that the CEWG taps algorithms to screen social media platforms, and trains military leaders on “gray areas” such as reading materials and what posts troops follow or like on social media.
“In today’s society,” they informed Austin, “the definition of ‘extremist’ is skewed to the person creating the definition.”
The lawmakers asserted that the task force’s purpose seems to be to forgo “clear, unambiguous terminology,” and create vague and subjective standards that “disenfranchise” troops from utilizing social media.
Ultimately, the lawmakers want answers from Austin, specifically about the “intelligence collection” methods the Pentagon will employ to track these alleged extremists, the plan to protect troops’ right to due process, how the CEWG will not have a “chilling effect” the willingness of troops to engage in protected political speech, and exactly how many “extremists” the Defense Department has uncovered between January 2011 and November 2021.
“It is imperative,” they concluded, “that the Biden Administration and the DoD use existing resources to target legitimate threats, not use this working group as a cudgel to harass or silence conservative members of the armed forces.”
Joining Rubio and Scott in signing the letter were Sens. Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, Josh Hawley of Missouri, Mike Braun of Indiana, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Roger Marshall of Kansas, Jmaes Lankford of Oklahoma, Mike Lee of Utah, Steve Daines of Montana and John Boozman of Arkansas.
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