Congress Set to Extinguish Pentagon's Anti-Domestic Extremism Working Group Created After Jan. 6

Insurrections loyal to President Donald Trump rally at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021.
Insurrections loyal to President Donald Trump rally at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021. (Jose Luis Magana/AP File Photo)

A Pentagon working group established to provide recommendations for rooting out extremism in the ranks is set to be defunded under the sweeping defense policy bill Congress is expected to pass this week.

The compromise National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, which was released last week after months of negotiations between House and Senate Democrats and Republicans, would bar any funding from going to the Defense Department's Countering Extremist Activity Working Group.

The working group released its recommendations in December 2021, and the Pentagon said at the time that the release marked the end of the group's work, making it unclear what practical effect defunding the group will have. But lawmakers including the provision in their compromise bill signals they are ready to turn the page on what became a political lightning rod.

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Congress' move to make sure the working group stays dead also comes as the Pentagon continues to struggle with extremists in the ranks. An inspector general report released earlier this month found that dozens of troops were suspected of advocating overthrowing the government over the past year.

A Pentagon spokesperson did not immediately respond to's request for comment on the NDAA provision or the exact status of the working group now.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin established the working group early in his tenure after it became apparent that some service members and veterans participated in the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection.

The working group released its recommendations at the end of 2021, and as a result, the Pentagon quickly updated its definition of extremism and tweaked classes for those transitioning out of the military to emphasize "the need to honor the oath of office and to support and defend the Constitution."

But the Pentagon's work to implement the rest of the group's recommendations appeared to stall as Republicans increasingly attacked what they derided as "wokeness" in the military.

Republicans charged that the Biden administration was using counter-domestic extremism efforts as an excuse to target conservatives and that they were a distraction from the military's purpose of preparing for war. Austin has been admonished by Republican lawmakers for the efforts at nearly every congressional hearing at which he's testified.

A report explaining this year's NDAA compromise agreement notes that efforts to implement the working group's recommendations will continue under the supervision of the under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness and the under secretary of defense for intelligence and security. Austin gave those two officials responsibility for overseeing implementation of the recommendations in a memo he released alongside the working group's December 2021 report.

This year's NDAA is not the first time lawmakers have used the annual defense bill to target the working group. Last year, the Senate Armed Services Committee included non-binding language in its initial NDAA draft that called any ongoing activity related to the counter-extremist working group "an inappropriate use of taxpayer funds" that "should be discontinued by the Department of Defense immediately."

The provision that made it into this year's compromise bill was somewhat watered down from the version that passed the House in July. In addition to defunding the working group, the original House-passed text would have required the Pentagon to submit all of the working group's documents to the House Armed Services Committee and a special committee House Republicans created to investigate government activities they disagree with called the Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government.

Defunding the counter-extremism working group is one of several provisions Republicans fought to keep in the final NDAA that take aim at efforts to make the military more diverse and inclusive.

The Senate and House are expected to approve the NDAA by the end of the week, sending it to President Joe Biden's desk for his signature.

Related: What the Pentagon Has, Hasn't and Could Do to Stop Veterans and Troops from Joining Extremist Groups

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