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Zack GoldMegan K. McBride
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Throughout its history of confronting sexual assault and racial extremism, the Department of Defense (DOD) has often described the perpetrators of such malignant behaviors as “a few bad apples.” But in the view of some experts, the “bad apples” analogy is flawed. For example, the Century Foundation’s Amanda Rogers noted that, whenever a white-supremacist incident occurs:

It’s treated as if it’s an isolated phenomenon; it’s never treated in comparative context with other military members in the movement…looking at strategy or ties…. Giving the appearance of “a few bad apples” helps further ideas of [white supremacists] being lone-wolf actors radicalized online, instead of coordinating via a strategy that’s effective precisely because it’s individual.

In recent years, DOD’s view of sexual harassment and assault has evolved to one in which it visualizes these activities as existing on a spectrum in which tolerance of less onerous behaviors leads to more egregious offenses, ultimately damaging military cohesion and readiness.

After conducting a comparative analysis of sexual harassment/assault and racial extremism, we find that the latter is also best visualized as occurring along a continuum of harm (Figure 2). For both issue areas, telling a sexist or racist joke is neither illegal nor violent; having sexist or racist bumper stickers on a vehicle is neither illegal nor violent; and sharing sexist or racist web content is neither illegal nor violent. And yet each of these examples exists on a spectrum that—at its most extreme—includes acts that are both illegal and violent.

Recognizing that racially extremist activities exist along a spectrum ranging from the legal but socially unacceptable to the illegal and violent is critical to informing a holistic approach to addressing this complex issue. However, this approach is also very actor centered in that it focuses on the individual engaged in racially extremist activities. A “continuum of harm” that ranges from respectful behaviors to racist jokes to racially motivated acts of violence enables the framing of the impact of racially extremist actions on the broader population instead of focusing on the individuals engaged in the activities.

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  • Pages: 5
  • Document Number: DSI-2021-U-030886-Final
  • Publication Date: 11/1/2021