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The vast majority of military personnel and their families are not extremists. But even a small number of people engaged in extremist activities could damage the U.S. military's reputation, its force, its members, and the larger community. Extremist activities can also be harmful to the individuals who are radicalized and their friends and family.

To address the problem of U.S. military service members' exposure to and potential involvement in extremist movements, the authors present a framework for understanding and reducing the risk of extremism in the U.S. military. The framework calls for recognizing and scoping the problem, preventing future extremist views and activities, detecting and intervening when observing extremism, measuring extremist trends, and evaluating intervention measures.

The U.S. Department of Defense has existing programs that support personnel and their families, promote diversity and inclusion, and prevent violence. The authors recommend a community-based approach that leverages existing military programs to better support commanders with their responsibilities for combating extremism. Such an approach would not only help prevent service members and their families from associating with extremist groups but also assist the military in responding sooner—and more effectively—if members do engage in extremist activities.

This research was sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense and conducted within the Forces and Resources Policy Center of the RAND National Security Research Division (NSRD).

This commentary is part of the RAND expert insight series. RAND Expert Insights present perspectives on timely policy issues. All RAND Expert Insights undergo peer review to ensure high standards for quality and objectivity.

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