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Faced with a rise of extremism within its ranks, the US military has clamped down on racist speech — including retweets and likes
More remarkable, at least five of the rioters were serving in the military at the time of the assault: an active-duty Marine officer and four reservists.
Service members’ involvement in the insurrection has made the spread of extremism – particularly white nationalism – a significant issue for the U.S. military.
Solving the problem
A blue ribbon committee called the Countering Extremist Activity Working Group was quickly commissioned in April 2021 to evaluate the extent of the problem.
The group found about 100 substantiated cases of extremism in the U.S. armed forces in 2021.
The latest instance occurred in July 2022, when Francis Harker, a National Guard member with white supremacist connections, was sentenced to four years in prison for planning an anti-government attack on police. Harker, who carried a picture saying “there is no God but Hitler,” was planning to attack police officers in Virginia Beach, Virginia, with Molotov cocktails and semi-automatic rifles.
Worried, Austin has tightened the rules regarding political speech within the military. The new rules prohibit any statement that advocates for “violence to achieve goals that are political … or idealogical in nature.” The ban applies to members of the military both on and off duty.
Also, for the first time, the new rules prohibit statements on social media that “promote or otherwise endorse extremist activities.”
While the intent behind the new rules is laudable, political speech – even of an offensive or distasteful nature – goes to the core of U.S. democracy. Americans in uniform are still Americans, protected by the First Amendment and afforded the constitutional right of free speech.
In light of the stricter policy, it is useful to consider how courts apply the First Amendment in the military context.
Good order and discipline
While soldiers and sailors are certainly not excluded from the protection of the First Amendment, it is fair to say they operate under a diluted version of it.
As one federal judge observed, the “sweep of the protection is less comprehensive in the military context, given the different character of the military community and mission.”
The “right to speak out as a free American” must be balanced against “providing an effective fighting force for the defense of our Country,” a federal judge noted in a separate case.
These and other federal judges point to the military’s need for good order and discipline in justifying this approach.
While never precisely defined, good order and discipline is generally considered being obedient to orders, having respect for one’s chain of command and showing allegiance to the Constitution. Speech that “prevents the orderly accomplishment of the mission” or “promotes disloyalty and dissatisfaction” within the ranks harms good order and discipline, and can be restricted.
In 1974, for example, the Supreme Court ruled that the Army can punish an officer for encouraging subordinates to refuse to deploy.
The officer’s comments included: “The United States is wrong in being involved in the Vietnam War. I would refuse to go back to Vietnam if ordered to do so.”
In 1980, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Army could legally fire an ROTC cadet for making racist remarks during a newspaper interview.
Explaining his political philosophy, the cadet said: “What I am saying is that Blacks are obviously further behind the whites on the evolutionary scale.”
In 2012, a San Diego district court ruled that the Marine Corps can lawfully discharge a sergeant who mocked president Barack Obama while appearing on the “Chris Matthews Show.” At one point the sergeant told the host: “As an active duty Marine, I say screw Obama and I will not follow his orders.”
While each of these statements is protected by the First Amendment in civilian life, they crossed the line in military life because they were deemed harmful to morale and represented what one federal court described as more than “political discussion … at an enlisted or officers’ club.”
The military’s job is to fight, not debate
In deciding these First Amendment cases, courts often hark back to why the military exists in the first place.
“It is the primary business of armies and navies … to fight the nation’s wars should the occasion arise,” the Supreme Court said in 1955.
In a separate case, the Supreme Court declared: “An army is not a deliberate body. It is the executive arm. Its law is that of obedience.”
U.S. soldiers stand to attention at the United States Army military training base in Germany on July 13, 2022.
Quickly following orders can mark the difference between life and death in combat.
On a national level, the degree to which an army is disciplined can win or lose wars. A mindset of obedience does not come solely from classroom training but from repeated rehearsals under realistic conditions.
As a military judge observed in a 1972 decision, while service members are free to discuss political issues when off duty, the “primary function of a military organization is to execute orders, not to debate the wisdom of decisions that the Constitution entrusts” to Congress, the judiciary and the commander in chief.
New policy bans ‘liking’ extremist messages
The U.S. military’s revised approach to political speech prohibits retweeting or even “liking” messages that promote anti-government or white nationalist and other extremist groups.
Does a restriction this broad comply with legal precedent?
As a law professor who has served more than 20 years in the U.S military, I believe the broader rules will probably be upheld if challenged on First Amendment grounds.
The most comparable case is Blameuser v. Andrews, a 1980 case from the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals where an ROTC cadet espoused white supremacist political views in a newspaper interview.
Amongst other extremist remarks, the cadet told the reporter: “You see, I believe that in the final analysis, the Nazi Socialist Party will take over America and possibly the whole world.”
Finding that the statements harmed good order and discipline, the Seventh Circuit ruled that the Army did not violate the First Amendment when it subsequently removed him from the officer training program.
The cadet’s “views on race relations draw into question his ability to obey commands, especially in a situation in which he regards the military superior as socially inferior,” the Blameuser decision said.
The military has wide latitude in deciding who is deserving of the “special trust and confidence” that comes with military employment. Military officials are free to consider political and social beliefs that are “inimical to the vital mission of the agency” in making hiring and firing decisions, the Blameuser decision said.
Social media posts expressing support for violent political activities will likely be treated in the same way.
As the Seventh Circuit said in Blameuser, by liking or retweeting an extremist message, a service member’s actions are “demonstrably incompatible with the important public office” they hold.
The Soviet Union once hunted endangered whales to the brink of extinction – but its scientists opposed whaling and secretly tracked its toll
The history of whaling shows how humans have wreaked careless havoc on the ocean, but also how they can change course. In my new book, “Red Leviathan: The Secret History of Soviet Whaling,” I describe how the Soviet Union was central both to this deadly industry and to scientific research that helps us understand whales’ recovery.
A humpback whale breaches in Boston Harbor on Aug. 2, 2022. Whaling greatly reduced humpback whale numbers, but the species is recovering under international protection.
From wood to steel and bad to worse
At the start of the 20th century, it seemed whales might gain a reprieve after years of hunting. The era of whaling from sail boats, depicted in such memorable detail by Herman Melville in “Moby-Dick,” had nearly wiped out slow, fat species like right and bowhead whales, and also wreaked substantial harm to sperm whales.
In the 1800s, U.S. whalers sailed without restraint or hindrance into every corner of the world’s oceans, including waters around Russia’s Siberian empire. There, tsarist officials watched in helpless rage as Americans slaughtered whales upon which many of the region’s Indigenous peoples relied.
In the 1870s, petroleum began to replace whale oil as a fuel. With few catchable whales remaining, the industry appeared to be near its end. But whalers found new markets. Through hydrogenation – a chemical process that can be used to turn liquid oils into solid or semi-solid fats – manufacturers were able to transform smelly whale products into odorless margarine for human consumption.
Around the same time, Norwegians invented the explosive harpoon, which killed whales more efficiently than hand-thrown versions, and the stern slipway, which allowed whale carcasses to be processed on board ships. Along with diesel engines and steel hulls, these technologies enabled whalers to target previously untouched species in once-inaccesible locations, such as the Antarctic.
These cookers and boilers at Whalers Bay, Deception Island, Antarctica, were used to boil down whales’ skin and blubber, extracting their oil, from 1912 to 1931.
Late to the party, late to leave
As mechanized whaling gained force in the 1920s and ‘30s, Norwegian, British and Japanese whalers cut through populations of blue, fin and humpback whales on a scale that is hard to believe today. In what scientists once thought was the peak catch year, 1937, over 63,000 large whales were killed and processed.
World War II briefly suspended this slaughter, which many governments were starting to realize threatened the survival of some whale species. In 1946, whalers, statesmen and scientists created the International Whaling Commission in hopes of heading off a return to disastrous prewar levels of whaling.
That same year, the USSR joined the IWC and took control over a former Nazi whaleship, which it renamed the Slava, or Glory. No one suspected the central role the country would play in the most disastrous two decades of whales’ long history on Earth.
The madness of modern whaling
Despite the IWC’s best intentions, postwar catches rose quickly. By the mid-1950s, even longtime whalers had to admit that big whales were becoming too scarce for their industries to be profitable. All nations except Japan began to ponder the end of whaling.
It thus came as a shock when the Soviet Union announced in 1956 that it planned to build seven new “floating factories” – gigantic industrial processing ships, accompanied by fleets of smaller “catcher” boats that would scour the oceans for whales.
Soviet whale scientists were as stunned as observers elsewhere. These biologists and oceanographers had been watching the decline from ships and from their labs in the Fisheries Ministry and Academy of Sciences since the 1930s.
Instead of supporting the fleet expansion, they argued forcefully that whales stood on the brink of extinction, and whaling should decrease radically, not expand. This was how the Soviet planned economy was meant to work: Science, not profit, would help guide economic decisions, letting planners know how much could be extracted from the natural world and when to stop.
But Soviet officials were determined to finally catch whales on a large scale, as Western nations had done for so long. The Fisheries Ministry ignored its scientists’ recommendations and built five of the seven planned floating factories over the next decade.
A Soviet harpooner poses inside the jaw of a baleen whale in 1965 at an unspecified location.
By the 1960s, the Soviet Union was the world’s largest whaling nation. Whalers such as the legendary captain Aleksei Solyanik were celebrated as superstars, comparable to astronauts like Yuri Gagarin.
But the scientists had been right: Many whales species were nearly gone. To produce large catches, Solyanik and other captains decided to ignore international quotas and secretly targeted the most endangered whale species, including blue, humpback and fin whales in the Antarctic and the North Pacific.
In 1961, for example, Soviet fleets killed 9,619 rare humpbacks south of New Zealand, while reporting only 302 to the IWC. This was only a portion of their global catch, which the Soviet Union continued to underreport for years. Driven by Moscow’s demands for ever-increasing production, whalers worked at reckless speed, wasting much of the fat and meat taken from the dead whales. It is doubtful the industry was ever profitable.
Thanks to Soviet scientists who preserved some records of these illegal kills and to subsequent work by other scholars, it now appears likely that the Soviet Union killed around 550,000 whales after World War II while reporting only 360,000. We now know that global whale harvesting peaked in 1964, not 1937, with a total of 91,783 whales killed – about 40% by Soviet whalers.
In this 1976 news video, Greenpeace activists confront a Soviet whaling ship on the high seas. NOTE: Contains footage that some viewers may find disturbing.
Not quite extinct
By the 1970s, populations of large whales had dwindled to insignificance. Many observers were sure extinction was inevitable. But momentum for whale conservation was growing.
The U.S. listed blue, fin, sei, sperm and humpback whales under the law that preceded the Endangered Species Act in 1970, then continued to protect them under that law, enacted in 1973. Whales also received protection in U.S. waters under the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act.
Thanks to pressure from environmentalists and its own citizens, the Soviet Union ended its whaling industry in 1987. The country accepted a global moratorium on commercial whaling, which remains in force today with only three holdouts: Norway, Iceland and Japan.
Whale numbers almost immediately began to rebound. Humpback whales were especially successful, but populations of bowhead, fin and sperm whales also expanded in the near absence of commercial whaling. However, some species, notably North Atlantic right whales, remain endangered or critically endangered.
North Atlantic right whales are critically endangered, with a population estimated at less than 368 animals.
In one of the greatest conservation successes, Eastern Pacific gray whales are today estimated to have returned to pre-exploitation abundance, and may actually be reaching the limits of what their primary foraging grounds in the Bering Sea can support. And in 2018 and 2019, German scientists and researchers from the BBC observed and filmed fin whales feeding around the Antarctic peninsula in vast pods that recalled the way the ocean must have looked before the 20th century.
Thanks to the Russian scientists who opposed their country’s disastrous whaling expansion and kept its records, we know how many whales were lost in the 20th century. That information can also help scientists, governments and conservationists judge whales’ remarkable but far from complete recovery.
Author Salman Rushdie is in the hospital with serious injuries after being stabbed by a man at an arts festival in New York State on Aug. 12, 2022. The following article was published on the 30th anniversary of the release of The Satanic Verses.
One of the most controversial books in recent literary history, Salman Rushdie’s “The Satanic Verses,” was published three decades ago this month and almost immediately set off angry demonstrations all over the world, some of them violent.
A year later, in 1989, Iran’s supreme leader, the Ayatollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa, or religious ruling, ordering Muslims to kill the author. Born in India to a Muslim family, but by then a British citizen living in the U.K., Rushdie was forced to go into protective hiding for the greater part of a decade.
Angry demonstrators protest against the book in 1989.
What was – and still is – behind this outrage?
The book, “Satanic Verses,” goes to the heart of Muslim religious beliefs when Rushdie, in dream sequences, challenges and sometimes seems to mock some of its most sensitive tenets.
Muslims believe that the Prophet Muhammed was visited by the angel Gibreel – Gabriel in English – who, over a 22 year period, recited God’s words to him. In turn, Muhammed repeated the words to his followers. These words were eventually written down and became the verses and chapters of the Quran.
Rushdie’s novel takes up these core beliefs. One of the main characters, Gibreel Farishta, has a series of dreams in which he becomes his namesake, the angel Gibreel. In these dreams, Gibreel encounters another central character in ways that echo Islam’s traditional account of the angel’s encounters with Muhammed.
Rushdie chooses a provocative name for Muhammed. The novel’s version of the Prophet is called Mahound – an alternative name for Muhammed sometimes used during the Middle Ages by Christians who considered him a devil.
In addition, Rushdie’s Mahound puts his own words into the angel Gibreel’s mouth and delivers edicts to his followers that conveniently bolster his self-serving purposes. Even though, in the book, Mahound’s fictional scribe, Salman the Persian, rejects the authenticity of his master’s recitations, he records them as if they were God’s.
British author Salman Rushdie.
In Rushdie’s book, Salman, for example, attributes certain actual passages in the Quran that place men “in charge of women” and give men the right to strike wives from whom they “fear arrogance,” to Mahound’s sexist views.
Through Mahound, Rushdie appears to cast doubt on the divine nature of the Quran.
Challenging religious texts?
For many Muslims, Rushdie, in his fictional retelling of the birth of Islam’s key events, implies that, rather than God, the Prophet Muhammed is himself the source of revealed truths.
In Rushdie’s defense, some scholars have argued that his “irreverent mockery” is intended to explore whether it is possible to separate fact from fiction. Literature expert Greg Rubinson points out that Gibreel is unable to decide what is real and what is a dream.
Since the publication of “The Satanic Verses,” Rushdie has argued that religious texts should be open to challenge. “Why can’t we debate Islam?” Rushdie said in a 2015 interview. “It is possible to respect individuals, to protect them from intolerance, while being skeptical about their ideas, even criticising them ferociously.”
This view, however, clashes with the view of those for whom the Quran is the literal word of God.
After Khomeini’s death, Iran’s government announced in 1998 that it would not carry out his fatwa or encourage others to do so. Rushdie now lives in the United States and makes regular public appearances.
Still, 30 years later, threats against his life persist. Although mass protests have stopped, the themes and questions raised in his novel remain hotly debated.