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House Democrat demands U.S. military screen troops' social media for links to extremist groups

Rep. Speier called on Biden to issue an executive order recognizing violent extremism as a threat that should be probed while granting security clearances.
Image: DHS Warns Of Domestic Terror Threat In Coming Weeks
National Guard members and Capitol Police stand guard at Capitol on Jan. 28, 2021.Tasos Katopodis / Getty Images

WASHINGTON — A House Democrat is demanding the Biden administration vet social media accounts of military recruits and service members for possible links to extremist groups, citing an urgent threat in the aftermath of the storming of the U.S. Capitol last month.

Rep. Jackie Speier of California urged President Joe Biden in a letter to issue an executive order that would ensure that security clearances for federal employees, and military troops in particular, include a review of social media posts for any ties to white supremacists or similar violent extremists.

Speier wrote that it was "inexcusable" that authorities do not examine social media accounts when granting security clearances to military recruits or other federal employees "despite collection and reporting of other intrusive, private data, such as financial and behavioral health information. "

Speier, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, wrote she was "increasingly alarmed" by the connections between military personnel and violent extremists, and that the current approach by the Pentagon and the federal government was "insufficient to the threat from extremist movements."

The Jan. 29 letter, first reported by Politico, was addressed to President Biden, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and National Intelligence Director Avril Haines.

Former military service members and police officers were among those who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 and demanded that Congress overturn the election result in favor of former President Donald Trump. The siege left five dead, including a U.S. Capitol Police officer, who died from injuries sustained in the pro-Trump riot.

At a congressional hearing in February 2020, witnesses told lawmakers that white supremacist groups have long targeted the ranks of the military for recruitment and that dozens of active duty troops and veterans have been arrested in recent years for planning terrorist attacks and murders.

An Army soldier last year was accused of plotting with a neo-Nazi group to ambush his own unit and an Air Force sergeant with suspected links to the extremist boogaloo movement was charged with murder for killing a federal security officer in Oakland, California. Both have pleaded not guilty to the charges.

The director of the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency currently lacks the authority to review social media accounts in the security clearance process because his agency has not received an order from the director of national intelligence, the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Personnel Management, according to Speier's letter.

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The House version of a recent defense spending bill included language, proposed by Speier, that would have made supporting violent extremism an offense under the military's legal code. But the provision was dropped by Senate Republicans due to opposition from the Trump White House, according to Speier.

Biden has ordered law enforcement and intelligence agencies to study the threat of domestic violent extremism in the U.S. Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby told reporters last week that the Defense Department sees the issue as a top priority, though he added the vast majority of troops serve with honor and do not espouse extremist beliefs.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin “shares Representative Speier’s concerns,” Kirby told NBC News late Monday.

“He will be working with the Administration and with senior leadership at the Department to better understand and address the problem and respond appropriately,” he said.