The fact that relatively few current and former service members have been tied to anti-government extremism does not diminish the significance of the problem, said Katherine Kuzminski, director of the military, veterans, and society program at the Center for a New American Security think tank in Washington, D.C.
“I think the initiative behind the stand down last year was a recognition that this isn’t a widespread sentiment, but that it’s damaging enough to unit cohesion, to recruitment efforts,” Kuzminski told Task & Purpose. “So, I think some of the debate that we’re seeing on the congressional side is: How many resources do you put behind rooting out a very small number [of troops] with a very large impact.”
One reason why more people with military backgrounds are turning to extremism could be service members’ objections to the Defense Department mandate that all troops be vaccinated for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), Kuzminski said. Top defense officials have repeatedly said the vaccine mandate is tied to readiness, but some service members have felt it is an attack on their political or religious beliefs.
Kuzminski said her research includes looking into whether service members who have been separated for refusing to get vaccinated will join extremist groups.
“It may have actually weeded out anti-government sentiment within the services, but it may increase their representation in the veterans’ population,” Kuzminski said.
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