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Pentagon updates extremism policy and says nearly 100 service members engaged in extremist activity in 2021

The Pentagon released its updated guidelines on extremist activity on Monday and said the number of active service members engaging in extremism is on the rise. The news comes about one year after some military members participated in the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.

About 100 current service members — both active duty and reserve — participated in prohibited extremist activity in 2021, officials said. They said the number was up from the "low-double digits" of previous years, which they attributed to better data collection and the rise in domestic extremist activity in society.

The updated policy, which goes into effect immediately, provides more information about what constitutes "active participation" in an extremist group and details the authorities commanders must take when encountering suspected extremist activity. 

Social media activity — posting, liking, sharing, retweeting, or distributing content — could also be considered active participation. The Pentagon won't actively monitor social media activity but will scrutinize service members suspected of promoting extremism, the officials said. 

However, the policy does not ban participation in specific extremist groups but aims to prevent meaningful participation. The Counter Extremism Working Group, which was established earlier this year by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, produced the latest guidelines. 

In February, Austin ordered a service-wide stand-down to discuss extremism in the ranks. As a result, he established the Counter Extremism group to address concerns that were raised, including how the military defines participation in an extremist group and how big is the problem of extremism within the Defense Department. 

The group also standardized checklists for service members leaving the military to require training on how extremist groups recruit former service members and who to call if contacted by one of these groups. 

A CBS News analysis found that at least 75 veterans participated in the riot at the Capitol and the Defense Department has warned that groups like the Oathkeepers like to recruit veterans

The actions include the updated policy on prohibited extremist behavior, the updated transition checklists, standardizing screening questionnaires for recruits, and a commissioned study on extremism in the ranks. The final report from the study is expected in the summer of 2022. 

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