Hate symbols have been found on two Navy ships in a matter of weeks, leading the service's top officer to call for an end to what he says is unacceptable behavior that's driving a wedge of division in the fleet.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday sent a message to the entire Navy fleet on Tuesday telling sailors they "cannot be under any illusions that extremist behaviors do not exist in our Navy."
"We must better understand the scope of the problem, get after this issue, and eliminate conduct that is driven by extremist beliefs," Gilday wrote. "No doubt, this is a leadership issue. We will own this."
Gilday cited two separate incidents in which symbols of hate and violence were anonymously left in living areas aboard ships.
A sailor assigned to the guided-missile cruiser Lake Champlain admitted to leaving a noose by a Black crewmate's rack after the Naval Criminal Investigative Service received an anonymous tip about the item. Then, racist graffiti was found on a second ship assigned to the same carrier strike group as the Lake Champlain, a Navy official said on Tuesday.
The graffiti was found in one of the heads, or restrooms, aboard the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson, Carrier Strike Group 1's flagship. The incident prompted Adm. John Aquilino, the head of U.S. Pacific Fleet to visit the carrier strike group to lead a stand-down, the official said.
Gilday said the chain of command took both of those incidents seriously and immediately launched investigations, which remain ongoing.
"But there is more we must do, together, because these symbols are contrary to our Navy culture, core values, and warfighting effectiveness," he added.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin last week ordered each of the military services to discuss the problem of extremism and extremist ideology in the ranks in the form of a day-long stand-down within the next 60 days. Gilday said the Navy will hold its stand-down on April 6.
"Hate and extremist ideology are wedges that divide us," he wrote. "These actions stoke resentment and tear others down. That's the opposite of how we will treat each other as shipmates. We build each other up, we encourage each other, and we celebrate our shipmates' success."
If sailors are questioning the intentions of their shipmates, the Navy could fail in combat, the CNO added.
"We must eliminate extremist behavior and its corrosive effects on our fighting force," Gilday said. "And we must remember that we swear an oath to support and defend the Constitution above all else."
A Navy task force last week released a report with dozens of recommendations to stamp out discrimination, from who appears in recruiting ads to how the service names its ships. Gilday directed the creation of the task force last year after George Floyd, a Black man, died in police custody.
Gilday said he's certain most personnel in the Navy serve with honor, character and integrity. He called on leaders at all levels to set the tone and example for the rest of the force.
"You must model correct behavior 24/7/365 in person and online," the CNO said. " ... We must demand of each other that we treat everyone with dignity and respect. That is how we will become a stronger Navy."