The Pentagon said it has “full confidence” in Bishop Garrison, the official leading an effort to root out domestic extremists from the military who in 2019 equated support of former President Donald Trump to support of extremism.
“The Department has full confidence Mr. Garrison can lead the Counter Extremism Working Group as it carries out its mission,” Department of Defense spokeswoman Lisa Lawrence told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “The CEWG is not concerning itself with political beliefs. Indeed, the Department actively encourages troops to participate in the electoral process.”
“The Department is focused on addressing the corrosive and potentially dangerous behavior that can be inspired by extremist ideology – behavior that harms good order and discipline and our readiness,” Lawrence added.
Garrison said in no uncertain terms in July 2019, prior to his appointment by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to lead the Pentagon’s countering extremism working group, that supporters of Trump support extremism and racism.
“Support for him, a racist, is support for ALL his beliefs,” Garrison, an Army veteran, tweeted in reference to Trump. “He’s dragging a lot of bad actors (misogynist, extremists, other racists) out into the light, normalizing their actions. If you support the President, you support that.”
“There is no room for nuance with this,” he added. “There is no more ‘but I’m not like that’ talk.”
Prior to joining the Pentagon in early 2021 to serve as a senior advisor to Austin on matters related to diversity, equity and inclusion, he worked as a director of Human Rights First, a nonprofit seeking to demilitarize law enforcement and root out white supremacy in the military.
Garrison is also a vocal advocate for the 1619 project, having defended it against criticisms from historians in a 2019 essay calling extremism and white supremacy existential threats to the nation.
The CEWG, under Garrison’s leadership, is tasked with reviewing and updating the Defense Department’s definition of prohibited extremist activities among uniformed military personnel, Austin said in an April 9 memorandum to senior Pentagon leadership.
The CEWG will also oversee military department secretaries as they update and standardize screening questionnaires for service members to solicit any current or previous extremist behavior, Austin’s memo stated.
Garrison’s working group is also reportedly designing a social media screening program to “continuously” monitor active military personnel for “concerning behaviors,” according to documents obtained by The Intercept.
The social media monitoring program is being designed to circumvent First Amendment restrictions by utilizing a private surveillance firm, a senior Pentagon official told The Intercept.
However, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said reports that Garrison’s working group is operating a social media monitoring program were false during a May 18 press conference.
“There’s no pilot program ring run by Mr. Garrison or the extremist working group to — to examine social media,” Kirby said.
“Mr. Garrison is leading the extremist working group on a number of efforts to try to help us come to grips with learning how — what the scope and scale of the problem of extremist activity in the ranks really is, and helping us divine some potential solutions, going forward,” Kirby said.
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