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Luria, fellow members of Congress want military policy review because of extremist, White supremacist activity

U.S Representative Elaine Luria of Virginia Beach and more than two dozen other members of Congress sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Mark Esper.

WASHINGTON — More than two dozen members of the U.S. Congress want the Department of Defense to clarify and review the policy concerning active duty military personnel and prohibited activities.

They sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Mark Esper. In it, they said they particularly were interested in activities related to extremist and White supremacist ideology. The congressional members believed recent events raised concerns that current policies weren't sufficient and weren't enforced properly. Because of that, they told Esper that service members and the American people, as a whole, were at risk.

Among those who signed the letter was Congresswoman Elaine Luria of Virginia Beach.

In an interview with 13News Now, the Democrat said, "The fact that there's such a spike in this type of activity is incredibly alarming. And, you know, I think we need to ensure there's consistency across the services about how these types of incidents are handled."

Their letter comes in the wake of a Military Times survey earlier this year which showed that 36 percent of more than 16,00 respondents said they have seen evidence of White supremacist and racist ideologies in the military. That was a 14 percent increase over the results of a similar survey a year earlier.

RELATED: Lawmakers call rise of white supremacist activity in U.S. military branches, 'jarring'

Additionally, the letter arrives a month after the Justice Department charged 22-year old Army private Ethan Melzer with sending classified U.S. military information to members of a neo-Nazi group in an attempt to facilitate a "mass casualty" attack on his own  Army unit.

In their letter, Luria and the others wrote:

We, like many Americans, responded with horror to the news that active duty Air Force Staff Sergeant Steven Carrillo was responsible for the recent killing of two law enforcement officers in Northern California and publicly declared his allegiance to the extremist Boogaloo movement by scrawling a phrase in blood on top of a stolen car. We are equally disturbed that just days ago U.S. Army Private Ethan Melzer was charged with sharing classified information to a neo-Nazi group. Such incidents, sadly, are just among the latest instances of an active duty servicemember demonstrating allegiance to or participation in an extremist or white supremacist organization. 

The congressional members referenced a House Armed Services Committee, Military Personnel Subcommittee hearing on White supremacy in their letter. They told Esper that Robert Grabosky, Deputy Director at the U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations (OSI), testified that Air Force policy does not prohibit membership in a White supremacist organization. Instead, OSI only investigates “active participation”, such as fundraising for a White supremacist organization. 

Grabosky also testified that an Air Force service member who was found to be fundraising for such an organization only received nonjudicial punishment and remains in the military, where, presumably, this individual continues to receive warfighting training. 

RELATED: General Assembly passes bills reducing hate group, white supremacist violence

The congressional members stated that "a lax, unenforced, policy towards individuals that participate in extremist and white supremacist organizations is deeply concerning, especially as Air Force Staff Sergeant Carrillo is charged with the murder of law enforcement officers in Northern California."

They wanted Esper to address nine items and providing answers to them:

  1. Are servicemembers prohibited from membership in an organization that espouses an ideology or doctrine covered as prohibited activities under current DoD policy (DODI 1325.06)? If not, is it the position of the Department of Defense that it is acceptable for a service member to be a member of an extremist or white supremacist organization?
  2. How does the Department currently track incidents of active participation (as defined in DODI 1325.06) in prohibited activities undertaken by servicemembers?
  3. How does the Department define “supremacist” and “extremist” as referenced in DODI 1325.06? Are white supremacist groups covered by such terms?
  4. What is the current policy for service members who admit or are found to actively participate in extremist or white supremacist groups? Are they administratively separated? Are they subject to Non-Judicial Punishment? Is any action subject to the discretion of the commanding officer (i.e., not mandated or required)? 
  5. Was the Air Force aware that Staff Sergeant Carrillo was sympathetic to or an adherent to Boogaloo ideology? 
  6. What resources are devoted to addressing violations of DODI 1325.06? Are military criminal investigative organizations employed to investigate violations of this policy? 
  7. How does the Department assess potential recruits for membership in or affinity for white supremacist or extremist ideology? a. Does Department policy allow former members of such groups, or those that have shown sympathies with supremacist or extremist ideologies, to join the Armed Forces? Are recruiters trained to recognize potential warning signs in prospective recruits?
  8. What training does the Department provide to servicemembers to increase awareness about extremist or white supremacist attempts to recruit them? Do they receive counterintelligence training regarding extremist or white supremacist organizations?
  9. Provide an update on the status on the implementation of Sec. 593 of the FY2020 NDAA on the incorporation of questions regarding extremism in surveys administered by the Department of Defense, to include which surveys were modified, the questions that were added, any preliminary data that has been collected, and how these surveys are being used to assess the prevalence of racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, white supremacy and other forms of bigotry.