Exclusive: Extremism in the U.S. military, Barbenheimer weekend is here: 5 Things podcast

On today’s episode of the 5 Things podcast: Exclusive: Extremism in the U.S. military

USA TODAY National Correspondent Will Carless shares his exclusive on extremism in the U.S. military. Plus, President Biden has a North Korea problem, USA TODAY Justice Department Correspondent Bart Jansen shares his exclusive on new DOJ guidelines for federal prisoner access, the Washington Commanders have a new owner, and it’s Barbenheimer weekend!

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Hit play on the player above to hear the podcast and follow along with the transcript below.This transcript was automatically generated, and then edited for clarity in its current form. There may be some differences between the audio and the text. 

Mark Sovel:

Good morning. I’m Mark Sovel filling in for Taylor Wilson, and this is 5 Things you need to know Friday, the 21st of July 2023. Today, we hear the latest on extremism in the U.S. military. Plus, the Commanders have a new boss, and get ready for Barbenheimer weekend.

Two years ago, after the attack on the Capitol building, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin ordered a crackdown on extremism in the military. Did anything come of it? USA TODAY National Correspondent Will Carless covers extremism and has been investigating. Thanks for joining us, Will.

Will Carless:

Thanks for having me on.

Mark Sovel:

How is the military defining the term “extremism” in this instance?

Will Carless:

Well, that is one of the things that has changed in the last couple of years. Two years ago, the Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin issued these four immediate actions he called them, and the first one of them was to redefine what extremism means, and to sort of take quite a vague definition as codified in the military rules, and to make it more clear what people can and cannot do. And one of the most striking points of the new definition is that, for example, merely liking a tweet or retweeting a tweet, or liking a Facebook post that is racist or that is extremist in some way can be considered engaging in extremist activity, so they’ve really tightened the definition of what people who are serving can and cannot do.

Mark Sovel:

And to be clear, we’re not talking about recruits holding certain political ideologies. What is the Defense Department supposed to be screening for?

Will Carless:

Mainly domestic but also international extremism, so basically engaging with an ideology that either hates people for, for example, the color of their skin or their race or their gender. There’s a longstanding list of categories of what are considered to be extremist ideologies, and the military is essentially saying you can’t be involved with any of those while also serving in the U.S. military.

Mark Sovel:

Secretary Austin ordered an internal study of the military’s extremist problem.

Will Carless:

As we can exclusively report, they have done a study of extremism in what they call the total force across the armed forces, however, it has not yet seen the light of day. It is sort of trapped in a review system, and we’re waiting for them to make it public. USA Today was able to exclusively confirm that it was actually finished in June 2022, so it’s been set there for more than a year, and we’re waiting to get our eyes on it.

Mark Sovel:

And after your investigations, do you find the delay in implementing the secretary’s orders typical of government bureaucracy, red tape, or is there something more intentional?

Will Carless:

It’s a good question. I mean, essentially, I’m not a military reporter, but I am an extremism reporter. And I know that whenever extremism meets the military, it’s historically been a very taboo subject. It’s been something that people don’t like to talk about. People like to believe that the U.S. military is kind of sacrosanct and that there’s no way that there can ever be extremists operating in the military. And to be very clear, there are very, very few, but one extremist can cause a lot of death and a lot of destruction. And so I think that what’s going on here is kind of a combination of trying to turn around essentially the biggest operation in the world in terms of the U.S. military to really concentrate on this issue, but also some sort of political slowing down because this is such a controversial issue and because people really don’t like engaging in it.

Mark Sovel:

What are the potential dangers of far-right extremism within the U.S. military and among veterans?

Will Carless:

An extraordinarily dangerous dynamic. I mean, if you look at the worst example of domestic terrorism ever, the Oklahoma City bombing in 1993, it was committed by a military vet. And we know from studies that having an affiliation with the military is literally sort of the highest connection to extremism. I mean, look, there are millions of people who serve in the military, and the vast majority of them are not extremists, but extremist groups have for decades been courting and trying to employ and recruit military and former military because they have specialized skills, they have specialized intelligence, they have specialized training that can be used by these groups. And so it’s kind of one of these things where, look, there’s very few instances of this, but every single one of those instances can be extraordinarily dangerous and potentially deadly.

Mark Sovel:

USA Today National Correspondent Will Carless. Thank you for your work on this, Will.

Will Carless:

Thank you, Mark.

Mark Sovel:

In 2018, former president Donald Trump welcomed back three detained Americans whose release his administration had secured from the reclusive country of North Korea. For President Biden, it won’t be so easy.

On Tuesday, Private 2nd Class soldier Travis King ditched a tour group to the demilitarized zone and bolted into North Korea, where he was last seen being taken into custody by officials. The disgraced soldier was being sent back to the US to be kicked out of the army, but headed for the fortified nation instead. King is the latest person during Biden’s term to be taken into custody by a hostile nation. While the bizarre circumstances surrounding King’s arrest differ vastly from women’s basketball player Brittney Griner or Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, his detention has once again put the spotlight on the president’s ability to bring imprisoned Americans home.

Negotiating King’s release will be an uphill battle precisely because North Korea has rejected previous offers from his administration for unconditional talks, experts say. North Korea has a history of attempting to leverage detainees to extract concessions. To complicate matters, relations are at an all-time low as tensions in the region have surged over North Korea’s ballistic missile launches. 

The Justice Department is releasing a report today providing more than 30 recommendations for improving access to lawyers for people detained before trial in federal prisons. Here to share his insights into this USA TODAY exclusive is Justice Department Reporter Bart Jansen. Bart, thanks for hopping on the podcast.

Bart Jansen:

Thanks for having me.

Mark Sovel:

First off, can you tell me what prompted this report?

Bart Jansen:

Well, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco asked for this review back in March. The review coincided with the 60th anniversary of a Supreme Court decision called Gideon versus Wainwright, which guaranteed legal counsel for people facing criminal charges. And so basically she wanted to see what problems there might be and how they might resolve them.

Mark Sovel:

And what are some of the problems they found?

Bart Jansen:

Well, the review found concerns with how detainees can speak with their lawyers, whether through phone calls or through meetings at the prisons, or how they get correspondence, whether through snail mail or email. Each of those things provides its own challenges, it turns out, when you’re dealing with multiple facilities across the country.

One of the hurdles that they find is just setting up meetings between lawyers and their clients. You’d think that this might be an easy way to just make an appointment, try to show up. In Miami, they require appointments for all of the meetings between lawyers and their clients, but if you require that, then it makes it more difficult for more urgent meetings. Maybe a lawyer just gets a plea deal and needs to speak to somebody within 24 hours. So the recommendation in the report is to try to have a calendar to schedule meetings at all of the facilities nationwide, and also continue to allow walk-ins.

Bureau of Prisons Director Colette Peters says another innovation could be… There are limits to how many confidential rooms there are at each facility. So if there are five rooms where lawyers can meet confidentially with detainees and a sixth lawyer shows up, well, that person has to wait until one of the other meetings is over. They’re talking about having maybe a time limit of perhaps 60 minutes for any of the meetings so that then the room’s empty. They haven’t begun that yet, but those are the kinds of ideas that they’re looking at for meetings.

Mark Sovel:

Are these barriers to access consistent across federal prisons?

Bart Jansen:

No, they are not. They studied these 10 prisons. There are many differences between them, both because of the varying levels of security, but also just because of how local rules have been set up. For example, eight of the 10 facilities have direct phone lines pre-programmed from common rooms for detainees to be able to call public defenders. Well, it sounds like a good idea, so they would try to maybe have that extended to the other two. But only three of those 10, San Diego, Los Angeles, and SeaTac up in Washington State, have phone numbers listed for other types of lawyers. They’re called Criminal Justice Act lawyers. These are other lawyers that detainees can get when they can’t afford their own lawyer. It’s like in addition to public defenders. So that just shows some of the variety just in how they handle phones and phone numbers for people to reach lawyers to represent them.

Mark Sovel:

And what’s the timeline for implementing these changes?

Bart Jansen:

Well, one of the changes has already taken place. Monaco heard while she was meeting with public defenders in Miami back in March that hours for visiting between lawyers and the detainees were still restricted at that point under COVID restrictions. The people conducting the review found the same problem in Honolulu, Chicago, and Houston. So now all of the visiting hours for legal visits have been restored to pre-pandemic levels. That was, I guess, sort of an easy one to overcome.

Rachel Rossi, director of the Office of Access to Justice – which was one of the leaders of this study, she’s a former county and federal public defender – told USA TODAY that a real game-changer among the recommendations is going to be creating a post for someone in her office to start working in the Bureau of Prisons headquarters to hear more about these access problems. She said it might sound like a small thing, but it’s a real game-changer because it will just increase the visibility of where the problems are bubbling up.

Monaco set a deadline of 45 days for Bureau of Prisons to come up with a working plan for how they would try to adopt some of these recommendations, and she wants updates every 90 days.

Mark Sovel:

Bart Jansen, thank you for your exclusive report.

Bart Jansen:

Thanks for having me.

Mark Sovel:

NFL owners have approved the sale of the Washington Commanders, ending the era of Dan Snyder. In a unanimous vote, the NFL owners handed the keys to businessman Josh Harris. Harris bid farewell to the controversial Snyder after the league financial committee approved the sale at its meeting yesterday in Minneapolis. While the financial terms of the deal have not been announced, USA TODAY Sports is reporting it’s worth over $6 billion, the largest price tag ever for a North American sports team. The sale had long been expected and the team won’t be moving, and new owner Harris isn’t new to sports. He also owns NHL’s New Jersey Devils and the Philadelphia 76ers in the NBA.

Meanwhile, the NFL has slapped Snyder with a 60 million dollar fine on his way out the door. The league found Snyder sexually harassed a former employee, and the team intentionally under-reported revenues to the league. Lucky for him, the fine amounts to a mere 1% of the sale.

Film Clip

Ryan Gosling as Ken:

Hi, Barbie.

Margot Robbie as Barbie:

Hi, Ken.

Mark Sovel:

It’s become known as Barbenheimer weekend. The simultaneous release of the blockbuster films Barbie and Oppenheimer makes for perfect big screen escape from the hot outdoors. Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling pair up as Barbie and Ken in the pink plastic fantasy flick, while Christopher Nolan’s atomic bomb epic stars Peaky Blinders’ Cillian Murphy. Tickets for opening weekend have become scarce, and lines are expected to be long. That’s a good sign for the studios and theater chains still reeling from the COVID downturn. Whatever you end up doing this weekend, hot weather will be continuing in much of the US and the world this weekend, so do what you can to stay cool.

Before we go, if you’re a soccer fan, you might want to sign up to watch a game with Major League Soccer. Argentinian superstar Leo Messi plays his first game on USA team Inter Miami later today, an outstanding player who promises to shake up the season for US fans.

Thanks for listening to 5 Things. If you like the show, please subscribe and leave us a rating and review on Apple Podcast. If you have any comments, you can reach us at podcasts@usatoday.com. I’m Mark Sovel back in for Taylor Wilson tomorrow with more of 5 Things from USA TODAY. Have a great weekend.

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