Pentagon urged to ‘act’ against potential recruitment of unvaxxed service members by ‘extremist’ groups

The Defense Department is being urged to “act” in order to prevent former service members separated for refusing to take the COVID-19 vaccine from being targeted by “extremist” groups for recruitment.

“Over the past several days, the Defense Department has taken its first steps to separate scores of personnel across different services for refusing to comply with the department’s COVID vaccine mandate — either by being vaccinated or by demonstrating a genuine religious exemption,” write Javed Ali and Thomas Warrick, both former DHS counterterrorism officials, in a late Thursday op-ed column for The Hill.

“Given this policy, potentially thousands of other active-duty, reserve and National Guard troops may also face separation,” they write, going on to suggest that these personnel are likely to become disillusioned and angry, making them ripe for recruitment into extremist organizations.

The pair also suggest that the U.S. military could be deployed in a “domestic” capacity at some point in the near future against such groups.

“While this will be a challenge for maintaining cohesion and a team-focused culture while ensuring readiness for possible homeland and worldwide deployments, there is also a risk that domestic extremist groups in the United States will seek to ramp up recruitment, propaganda and disinformation to draw in former service members with continued resentment over the vaccine mandate and other COVID-related measures,” Ali and Warrick note. “Thousands will now have the even greater grievance of being separated from the service.”

They go on to note that former military members do not predominantly make up members of extremist groups in the U.S., though they are increasingly being targeted, adding that at least 81 people arrested following the Jan. 6 riot had military backgrounds.

The pair do not mention any left-wing groups like the Socialist Rifle Association that also include former military personnel as members.

“Extremist groups are likely already thinking about the prospect of recruiting thousands of personnel separated from the military because of their opposition to the vaccine mandate,” they wrote.

“Under the Biden administration, the Defense Department indicated that it would take a more holistic approach to combating extremism within the military and established a first-ever framework for tackling this issue,” they continued. “That includes standing up a Countering Violent Extremist Working Group last spring, which has four lines of effort, including critical pieces on training and educating existing military and civilian personnel, and enhanced screening of potential new recruits or applicants.”

The former counterterrorism officials went on to note that the Pentagon is now tracking service members’ social media habits and scrutinizing ‘liked’ content that is viewed as ‘extreme.’

Ali and Warrick suggested that the working group create a “reintegration program” to keep track of personnel discharged over vaccine refusal so they can be given an opportunity to reenlist if they decide to get the jab at some point.

“Critics of this approach may argue that it gives separated personnel the best of both worlds. But it may go a long way to ensuring a high percentage of the U.S. military is vaccinated so they can perform the essential national security functions and missions that keep our country safe,” they write.

In conclusion, the pair note that in February 1777 “at the height of the Revolutionary War,” Gen. George Washington ordered all incoming personnel to be inoculated for smallpox using the best techniques at the time.

“Fast forward almost 250 years, today’s order to military personnel to be vaccinated against COVID-19 is equally lawful and necessary to protect military readiness,” Ali and Warrick continued.

“Treating service members who have not yet gotten vaccinated with a measure of honor and dignity now – despite the individual choice they made – is the right thing to do, from the standpoint of public health and national security. It will also make it harder for extremist recruiters to turn service members against the country and the Constitution they swore an oath to defend,” they added.

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