Complete Survey:  Race Relations 2011


Home Up Executive Summary Military Personnel and Domestic Terrorism Historical Review Contemporary Domestic Terrorism Rising Trends of Concern Conclusion Bibliography



From LCDR Steven Mack Presley, MSC, USN, Rise of Domestic Terrorism and Its Relation to United States Armed Forces (April 19, 1996)

Coercive action in the absence of consensus - particularly those actions likely to be carried out by [a government to counter a domestic threat] - could well pose greater long-term dangers to the fabric of a democratic society than the evils they are supposedly designed to negate.

-- Grant Wardlaw, Political Terrorism

The results of the Army's recent investigation have substantiated prior assertions that extremists and hate-group members do not exist to any greater extent in the military than in American society as a whole. Even though very few active-duty personnel are involved in such groups, the high visibility of the military and the expediency with which the media pursues and reports any related activity, tends to exaggerate the actual situation. Although the direct impact of the active involvement of military personnel in extremist and terrorist groups or organizations is quite obvious, the indirect impact of these groups and organizations on readiness and morale are arguably more important. The most significant and dangerous direct impact of involvement in such groups is the potential conflict of loyalty and/or devotion to duty in the case of a situation in which government policies or actions are contrary or damaging to the cause or objectives of the extremist group with which the service member identifies. There are several significant ways that extremist or terrorist movements can critically, yet indirectly impact upon the readiness and morale of military units through individual service members. First and most obvious is the moral and personal dilemma faced by military personnel when utilized to supplement law enforcement agencies in efforts to restore the peace, including situations like that in which the Marines were used in the Los Angeles, California riots following the highly controversial Rodney King incident. The realization by active-duty soldiers, sailors, airmen, or Marines that they are utilizing military force against other Americans that are "fighting" for similar, if not shared, values; including Judeo-Christian convictions, desire for self-determination/state sovereignty, or ethnic background. The indirect impact from extremist "self-determination" militia movements on the image and public perception of the military, as an institution, can seriously impact negatively upon the support the public provides to the military, as well as the confidence they have in the military.

A second significant indirect impact on the military from extremist and terrorist groups, is a fear of the military as an instrument of an overly-powerful federal government. This fear is consistently voiced by many of the ultra right-wing groups, which, if exploited to a large enough extent, could result in reduced willingness of the American people to fund the military. Possibly the most dangerous result of extremists actions and rhetoric against the United States government, as an entity, is the amplification and exaggeration of the "cultural" divide between the military and the civilian population. An excellent example of how this very phenomena has occurred in history, and how it could easily develop again was made in relation to how the American people view the need for, or lack of a need for a massive, standing military.(78)

The historical and cultural separation of the American military from civilian institutions, and political and societal attitudes and trends, demands that an ideological insularity and neutrality from partisan politics be exercised by military leaders to ensure the maintenance of our Constitutionally mandated democratic system of government. However, when the military recruits its soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines from the civilian society, it must draw from existing sectors with very distinctive cultural norms and values. It therefore becomes necessary that a measure of consideration be given to how those cultural and social factors interact, or contrast with the policies of the military. I would submit that to fully overcome these conflicting ideologies and attitudes, open and direct discussions and a refocusing of training and indoctrination programs are the only plausible solutions. This approach is further validated by the fact that today's military, and the military of tomorrow, will be increasingly made-up of educated and highly-competent citizens that will be exposed to a vast and unprecedented array of attitudes, ideologies and cultural diversities through ever-expanding information and communication technologies.