Today's D Brief: Stand-down for extremism; US-Saudi ties; Straits transit; ‘Underpants Poisoner’; And a bit more.

What in the world should the U.S. military do about its white nationalism problem? That’s one big question plaguing Pentagon leadership, Reuters reported Wednesday as Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin “announced plans for military-wide stand-downs pausing regular activity at some point in the next 60 days to tackle the issue.”

Said Pentagon spox John Kirby: “We don’t know how we’re going to be able to get after this in a meaningful, productive, tangible way and that is why he had this meeting today and that is why he certainly ordered this stand-down.” 

As for why, Kirby said, “January 6, I think, really not just shocked the nation, but it certainly had an electric effect here at the Department of Defense in terms of the notion that anybody active duty, let alone in the veteran community and active duty could be involved in that.”

By the way: There’s a Defense One op-ed for this. It’s from Heather Williams of RAND Corporation, writing on Monday. Its topline: “Ultimately, the war to root out extremism is going to be fought in the trenches by individual military commanders and against specific bad apples.” Williams cautions: “We need to recognize that the military cannot fully eradicate a scourge that is breeding and expanding around it. The military has a growing extremism problem because America does. Service members who embrace violent extremism are thankfully few; Americans citizens who do so are sadly far too many. As a nation we need to deal with both.” Continue reading, here

To get a better sense of the scale of the Pentagon’s challenge, consider this: “The services screen roughly 500,000 applicants each year who seek to join the military, of which about 200,000 enter as new recruits,” according to McClatchy news. And that’s in addition to the nearly one million active duty troops across the force for any given year.

And then there’s the legalese: “Until you identify very specific organizations — Proud Boys, Three Percenters, Oath Keepers, whatever, as being extremist to the point that you know membership in this organization precludes you from joining the military, or could compromise your current enlistment in the military — until you make it that black and white, it becomes very, very difficult,” retired Army. Col. Jeffrey McCausland told McClatchy. More on this very point in just a moment; but first… 

Some American paramilitary groups are behaving like genuine insurgents and secessionists. “The leader of a private Georgia paramilitary group that provided security for Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene said he has formed alliances with other far-right groups to advocate for Georgia’s secession from the United States,” the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Wednesday.

The name for this particular band of secessionists: “the Georgia III% Martyrs.” And its leader, Justin Thayer, says he’s aligned with the so-called “American Brotherhood of Patriots and American Patriots USA,” based out of north Georgia. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, a “shared victimhood narrative” seems to be animating most of these men and their paramilitary activity, Amy Iandiorio of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism told AJC. Said the leader of the Brotherhood of Patriots, “Things are different now. Everything has changed. We’ve seen our last Republican president in American history. The ballot box — we tried as hard as we could try. It’s not working.” Read on here.

DOJ to U.S. attorneys: Send whatever help you can to D.C. That’s the “urgent” internal message that was going around the Justice Department last week, according to ABC News

  • For your eyes only: The FBI has new photos from Jan. 6 that it needs your help scouring. Review those who have still yet to be charged, along with many that have, over here

The rioters who wrote "Murder the Media" on a U.S. Capitol door were recently indicted in a federal grand jury whose charges were unsealed on Wednesday. Those charges include “conspiring to obstruct the United States Congress’ certification of the results of the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election, as well as other crimes they committed to achieve that goal.” One of the two men claimed “to have founded the Honolulu chapter of the Proud Boys,” according to the Justice Department. 

And a self-described “sergeant-at-arms” of the Proud Boys extremist group was arrested “and charged in federal court in the District of Columbia with obstructing or impeding an official proceeding, among other charges,” the Justice Department announced separately on Wednesday. Two days after the riot, the newly-charged wrote on social media, “if you feel bad for the police, you are part of the problem.” Read over more of his social media activity illustrating his role in the Jan. 6 attack was anything but spontaneous, here

One interesting finding: “[P]eople who lived near Proud Boys chapters were more likely to have attended the riot or the rally that preceded it,” The Daily Beast reports off the new findings published this week.

Canada just labeled the Proud Boys a terrorist organization — putting them in league with al-Qaeda, ISIS and al-Shabab. What this means, according to the Washington Post: “Police can seize the property of the group or its members; banks can seize their assets. It’s a crime to knowingly provide assistance to a designated group to facilitate or carry out attacks. Group members may be denied entry to Canada.”

In case you’re wondering: Ottawa says the Jan. 6 Capitol attack was not the “driving” factor behind its call on the Proud Boys; but the riot did produce a “trove of information” that informed the decision. The Associated Press has more here

On the Hill today: The House Homeland Security Committee is already in the middle of a hearing about “domestic terrorism threats and the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol building.” That began at 10 a.m. ET.

So far, 181 people are facing charges for their various roles in the Jan. 6 failed insurrection, according to George Washington University’s Program on Extremism. That includes 158 men and 23 women, with an average age of 40 for the accused. 

From Defense One

For Biden, Tough Talk on Saudi Arabia Meets Reality // Katie Bo Williams: ‘We don't yet know exactly’ how Biden will change things, says CENTCOM’s Gen. McKenzie.

US Army Europe Wants New Hub for Artillery Fire // Patrick Tucker: A new targeting center and mobile artillery-and-cyber teams will dominate the way the Army conducts operations, says Gen. Cavoli.

That Settles That: White House Is Keeping Space Force // Marcus Weisgerber, Government Executive: A flip remark drew some criticism, and a clarification.

How to Cut the US Presence in the Middle East // CNA’s Jerry Meyerle: Asking the military to pursue the same goals with fewer resources will not work.

Welcome to this Thursday edition of The D Brief from Ben Watson with Bradley Peniston. Send us tips from your community right here. And if you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. On this day in 1789, George Washington was elected as America’s first president.

A U.S. warship just transited the Taiwan Strait for the first time in President Biden’s tenure, Stars and Stripes reports. The destroyer John S. McCain made the journey “less than two weeks after China sent eight nuclear-capable bombers and four fighter jets into the airspace southwest of Taiwan. The act was meant to pressure the island’s leader, President Tsai Ing-wen, ‘into caving to Beijing’s demand that she recognize Taiwan as a part of Chinese territory.’” A bit more, here.
BTW: The UK is booting Beijing’s CGTN from its airwaves. British broadcasting regulator, Ofcom, announced today that it will now forbid China Global Television Network from operating in the country, alleging the network is “ultimately controlled by the Chinese Communist Party,” the New York Times reports from London.

Afghanistan withdrawal update: The U.S. military really needs to wait before pulling out of Afghanistan, as ordered in mid-November by former President Donald Trump and deadlined by the deal the Trump administration struck with the Taliban one year ago in Qatar. It also needs to reduce its troop numbers only if security conditions improve. That comes from a bipartisan report from the Afghanistan Study Group, which was commissioned by Congress in 2019, and released Wednesday.
“It’s not in anyone’s best interest right now for precipitous withdrawal from Afghanistan,” former Joint Chiefs Chairman, retired Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford said in the report. Read NBC News’s coverage here; or the New York Times here.
Meanwhile, “Afghanistan’s poor are being deceived into defending outposts from the Taliban, sometimes under the guise of construction work — a scheme partially bankrolled by the government,” the Times reports separately today from the country’s north. 

Travel along with Iraqi special forces as they hunt alleged ISIS “sleeper cells” around Fallujah. The Washington Post’s Louisa Loveluck and Mustafa Salim teamed up for a special report on what remains of the group in the region. 
Why it matters: “How this effort unfolds, experts say, is likely to shape the future of the Islamic State — whether its remaining foot soldiers can be hunted down or whether it retains the potential to reignite the insurgency. Questions also linger about the capacity of the security forces to eradicate it without Iraq addressing the grievances, including corruption and government abuses, that helped give rise to the Sunni Muslim extremist group in the first place.” Read on, here

Keep those masks handy: 440,000 Americans have now died from COVID-19 complications, according to The Atlantic’s COVID Tracking Project. And deaths are on a path to total half a million next month, and 600,000 in May, according to the IHME model.

And finally today: “Vladimir the Poisoner of Underpants.” That’s Russian opposition leader Alexsky Navalny’s nickname for Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin, whose spies so far tried and failed to killed Navalny by poisoning his undergarments. Navalny was arrested on Jan. 17, and sentenced on Tuesday to two and half years in prison for allegedly violating his probation, according to AP. “The prison sentence stems from a 2014 embezzlement conviction that Navalny has rejected as fabricated and politically motivated.”
During the legal proceedings, Navalny said of Putin, “I have deeply offended him simply by surviving the assassination attempt that he ordered…This is his only method — to kill people. No matter how much he pretends to be a great geopolitician, he’ll go into history as a poisoner. There was Aleksandr the Liberator, Yaroslav the Wise and Vladimir the Poisoner of Underpants.” Read more from Navalny’s remarks, transcribed by the New York Times, here.