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Photographs showing neo-Nazi and gang tattoos hang in the gang unit office at the police station in Buena Park, Calif., February 24, 2007. (AP Photo / Ann Johansson)

Photographs showing neo-Nazi and gang tattoos hang in the gang unit office at the police station in Buena Park, Calif., February 24, 2007. (AP Photo / Ann Johansson)


The US Department of Defense has updated its screening process for new recruits to include questions about membership in extremist organizations and any “questionable tattoos” that might suggest affiliation with such groups.

In a 21-page report detailing the Pentagon’s plan to eradicate extremism from its ranks, the Defense Department explained efforts to ensure that “only the most qualified recruits are selected for the service.” The report was spurred in large part by the Jan.6 attack on Capitol Hill – which included retired and active duty service members.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III said the “overwhelming majority” served with “honor and integrity.”

“We owe the men and women of the Defense Ministry an environment free from extremist activities, and we owe our country an army that reflects the founding values ​​of our democracy,” he said in a press release. December 20.

The report listed four actions the Pentagon has taken since April and three additional recommendations for the future. It includes an expanded definition of extremist activity, which now takes into account social media and other online behavior, as well as better training for service members leaving the military who can be recruited by supremacist organizations.

Although the Defense Ministry has not listed specific organizations that would be considered extremist, the agency has identified six behaviors that constitute “extremist activity” as well as 14 examples of what constitutes “active participation” in these activities.

Knowingly displaying any sort of paraphernalia, words or symbols that support extremism or groups that are vocal supporters of extremist ideology is considered “active participation” under the new guidelines. According to the Pentagon, this includes “flags, clothing, tattoos and bumper stickers” on or off a military installation.

Officials also took a closer look at the selection process for new recruits, citing “several tragic incidents involving people with access to Defense Ministry facilities.”

The report mentions shootings at Fort Hood in 2009 and at the Washington Navy Yard in 2013, both carried out by former military personnel.

Defense Ministry officials described new efforts to track down recruits with potentially dangerous extremist ideologies, starting with updating screening questionnaires to include specific questions on whether recruits have joined ” racially prejudiced entities and other extremist groups ”.

The forms will inform recruits that any involvement in criminal gangs or extremist organizations is prohibited.

Recruiters and military criminal investigation organizations also now have access to an FBI portal containing “information on local gangs, white supremacist and nationalist groups, gang signs, extremist symbols and tattoos,” indicates the report. Officials said the portal will allow recruiters and investigators to better assess “questionable tattoos and markings that suggest propensities for extremism and violence.”

If a recruit attests to being a member of an extremist organization or wears an FBI-flagged tattoo, senior management will need to issue what is known as a “moral eligibility determination” that allows them to move forward in the application process. , said the Defense Ministry.

During a briefing, a senior defense official described the candidate selection process, which includes an interview with the recruiter, an overview of their criminal background or past involvement in the forces. order, fingerprinting, and FBI name verification.

“We are looking at that as well as the city, county and state of residence at the time of enlistment,” the official said. “We are also looking for any offensive, racist or supremacist tattoo, including those that may reflect gang affiliation. Then we have a strong partnership with the FBI’s Cryptology and Racketeering Records Unit to be able to examine the symbology as it may evolve across the United States because, again, it’s is one of the things that we have found is that it changes so quickly and it can vary a lot from region to region, state to state.

Hayley Fowler is a reporter for the Charlotte Observer and covers the latest real-time news in North and South Carolina. She holds a journalism degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and previously worked as a legal reporter in New York City before joining The Observer in 2019.