Editor’s note: This story contains sensitive subject matter and profanity that were unavoidable given the nature of the report.
Virtually every day for the past few years, pictures of women in the military have been posted on public Facebook pages. “Smash or pass?” the caption will usually read, asking the fans of the page to comment on the attractiveness of the woman in the picture, and whether they would have sex with her. The pictures, often selfies at the gym or in private quarters, are reposted without the consent — and in many cases, knowledge — of the women. The women are then denigrated and harassed publicly based off of their physical appearance.
As the nation grapples with the debate about women in combat and the military’s sexual assault justice problem, both issues are being undermined by nefarious cultural insurgencies on social media, and military leaders seem powerless to stop it.
Referring to women in the Marine Corps as “wooks,” a derogatory reference to women as wookies from “Star Wars,” these pages with names like Just the tip, of the spear, POG Boot Fucks, F’n Wook, or Senior Lance Corporal, propagate harmful stereotypes that all women in the military are sluts, and that they only achieve rank through performing sex acts. They also serve as a forum for so-called jokes about rape, race, and homophobia.
These pages are run anonymously, and purport to depict junior enlisted infantry culture. The nature of their posts and comments are extraordinarily critical of women in the military, service members in job fields other than infantry, and political correctness.
Anonymous vitriol on the internet certainly isn’t new. But what makes this sort of hatred noteworthy is how it’s specifically targeted toward women in the military and its ability to garner a passionate following of thousands of people who genuinely pretend that this is Marine Corps culture.
Vitriol like “Roses are red, violets are blue, be my fucking Valentine, or I’ll rape you,” a meme response to a photo of a young female service member. The comment was made by a Facebook account belonging to Bradley Durant, a private first class, an infantry rifleman assigned to 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment.
Durant is one of seven Marines identified in this report by Task & Purpose for posting remarks that were derogatory or harassing in nature. All of the Marines identified either declined or did not respond to requests for comment.
But they are seven of thousands of active-duty or reserve Marines who are passionate members of this digital community.
Just the tip, of the spear had more than 22,000 likes at the time of this writing. POG Boot Fucks had more than 17,000 likes. F’n Wook had nearly 15,000 likes. Senior Lance Corporal had more than 50,000 likes.
It’s difficult to say how long these pages have been active — they are frequently shut down by Facebook due to their content. Over the past several weeks, as Task & Purpose diligently followed the postings on these pages for this report, Just the tip, of the spear and POG Boot Fucks, and F’n Wook were shut down by Facebook multiple times. Senior Lance Corporal has been active uninterrupted for more than a year.
But Facebook seems the only active line of defense against the vitriol and harassment directed at these women. And shutting down the pages is little more than a game of digital Whac-A-Mole. When the pages are shut down, they reappear within days and return to the same behavior. To many, it seems that if this subculture, this harassment is going to be stopped, it will take a comprehensive effort from senior military leadership.
“If the Marine Corps cares about ending assault or ending these abusive cases, they would crack down,” said Anu Bhagwati, herself a former Marine captain and company commander, and now the executive director of the Service Women’s Action Network. “Because they’re capable of doing anything, I mean, it’s the Marine Corps. The Marine Corps does what it wants.”
But, when approached about this story, Marine Corps’ headquarters media office quickly closed ranks. Task & Purpose was unable to ask a single question about the Corps’ response to this issue. An initial inquiry from Task & Purpose was met with an emailed statement from a Marine Corps spokesman, Capt. Eric Flanagan. A request to ask follow-up questions about that statement was denied.
“What was provided below represents the extent of what we have to offer at this time,” Maj. John Caldwell, the Marine Corps’ director of media and digital engagement, said in an email.
In the Marine Corps’ statement, Flanagan said, “There is no tolerance for discriminatory comments. It goes against good order and discipline.”
But he also said that law enforcement, who in this instance is the Marine Corps and other DoD entities, “is unable to take action against derogatory comments.”
Flanagan said that “The Marine Corps and the Inspector General’s office monitor complaints but not necessarily the websites themselves,” and said that there were “over three dozen instances of us working with social media sites to get pages removed.”
He blamed Facebook for being unable or unwilling to tell them who the anonymous administrators of these pages were; “Social media sites are not obligated to divulge personal information to the Marine Corps, adding difficulty in identifying the individuals responsible for the offensive material due to fake accounts and pseudonyms.”
Again, Task & Purpose was not allowed the opportunity to follow up on or clarify any of this, or ask even a single question associated with this report.
In each instance, the pages were shut down, it was a victim of their abuse or an opponent of these pages who reported the abusive content to Facebook. And in doing so, they subjected themselves to harassment from the administrators of the pages and their fans.
Recently, POG Boot Fucks was shut down due to such a report. When it came back, the administrators of that page posted the image of a female service member who they claimed reported them to Facebook.
“Who wants to see nudes of this ugly cunt that got PBF shut down?” the caption read. The accompanying image was a screenshot of a young female Marine’s Instagram account, showing a photo — a selfie that she took in her car — that was nearly a year old. Her username, last name, face, and rank were visible. She is a Marine noncommissioned officer.
The image garnered more than 500 likes and nearly 300 comments. One of the top comments was a meme that read “Rape Time.”
That’s a key claim here, that the content on these pages is a harmless joke that the rest of us just aren’t in on, because we aren’t infantry and don’t understand the humor borne from intense combat.
Sgt. Bryan Nygaard, the marketing and public affairs representative for the Marine Corps’ recruiting station in Baltimore, Maryland, is an active-duty Marine who actively opposes these pages. He completed a year-long deployment to Afghanistan from 2011 to 2012, where he earned his combat action ribbon, a metric many of the Marines in this community use as a standard of legitimacy. He shared his personal thoughts on the pages in a recent interview with Task & Purpose, not endorsed by the Marine Corps.
“There’s a mentality out there that in the infantry, you’re instantly better than anyone who doesn’t hold an 03– MOS,” he said.
An 03– military occupational specialty refers to the Marine Corps’ job code for infantry. And indeed that’s a central part of the premise of these pages, the term POG refers to military slang for “personnel other than grunts.” Boot refers to someone who is fresh out of boot camp.
But there’s no way to verify that the anonymous administrators of these pages are infantry Marines who have seen combat. They hide behind fake names and shell profiles.
Multiple requests for comment to the administrators of these pages went unanswered. But on the website for Just the tip, of the spear, they post a Q&A from a Marine Corps Times cover story published in May 2013.
“We wanted to create a space where we could share our sense of humor,” they said.
“I think we have the type of humor and community that people that enlisted deal with every day,” the Q&A posted on the web reads. “It isn’t politically correct or anything even remotely in that ballpark, but that is what you get with a bunch of people that spend months and months dealing with some of the worst stuff in the world. War creates a pretty twisted sense of humor.”
Our anonymous infantryman with the rape jokes echoed that sentiment. His logic, and the logic of the administrators of these pages, is difficult to follow, but incredibly instructive of the conduct on these pages.
“Nothing that I do on Facebook is meant to be taken seriously,” he said. “I come from an infantry fucking world and this is stuff we say all the time.”
“That’s a pretty half-assed excuse,” Maximilian Uriarte told Task & Purpose. Himself a Marine infantry and Iraq veteran, Uriarte effectively wrote the book on giving voice to junior enlisted Marines through modern media. “I don’t think anybody can reasonably defend a rape joke.”
Uriarte created Terminal Lance, a comic strip that satires Marine Corps culture from an infantry lance corporal’s point of view. He has a remarkably strong voice on social media, with more than 250,000 likes on Facebook and more than 10,000 followers on Twitter. Since launching Terminal Lance in January 2010, Uriarte has quickly emerged as one of the leading voices on Marine Corps culture, specifically enlisted infantry culture.
The Q&A on the Just the tip, of the spear website even cites him. Of its brand of humor and popularity, the site claims that “You see a little bit of [sic] with stuff like Generation Kill and the web comic Terminal Lance, and that is the same thing that we try to bring to the page, and so far it seems to be pretty popular.”
But Uriarte himself decried any affiliation with these pages.
“One thing that bugs me is when people compare me to these pages,” he said, adding that “they’re just pandering to this low-brow humor,” and, “I don’t find overly sexist or misogynistic jokes to be funny.”
Of the so-called jokes on these pages, Uriarte said, “A lot of the infantry is a lot more crass and that’s totally fine, but there’s a line between what is funny and what isn’t.”
While Uriarte said he does not support or like the pages, he was hesitant to say the Marine Corps should shut them down.
“Freedom of speech is a double-edged sword,” he said. “I think the Marine Corps would have liked to have shut me down when I first started.”
He said the Marine Corps lacks a comprehensive approach to social media and is therefore unable to articulately or effectively respond to the effects of these pages.
In the meantime, however, “they’re doing a great job getting shut down all by themselves.”
When Facebook shuts down these pages, Uriarte said oftentimes the administrators will ask him to help promote the old ones.
“Every time, I think, ‘well, you shouldn’t have been doing that stupid shit in the first place,’” he said.
In many ways, the Marine Corps is the perfect place to birth such an insurgency. It’s easy to look at the comments posted on these forums by hyper-masculine young men and dismiss it as just barracks talk.
But barracks talk isn’t disseminated to an audience of tens of thousands of people. Barracks talk does not target specific people with their private images without their consent or knowledge. And even despite the distinctions, to some, that’s still not really an excuse.
“It’s not surprising that the Marine Corps would do very little about rape threats or sexist behavior on social media, because they’re doing very little when it comes to the same kind of behavior and language when it comes to barracks,” Bhagwati said.
The Marine Corps, the U.S. military’s smallest branch, has perhaps the largest cultural identity. That identity, that fanaticism, creates a culture resistant to change. It’s a sort of tolerance of intolerance.
Eleanor Roosevelt once famously quipped that “The Marines I have seen around the world have the cleanest bodies, the filthiest minds, the highest morale, and the lowest morals of any group of animals I have ever seen. Thank God for the United States Marine Corps!”
It’s an image many Marines actively embrace and strive to live up to.
On these pages, hate and discontent is a constant refrain. It’s a big part of their ethos, that they’re the hardened warriors keeping the Marine Corps tough and everyone who is not infantry, anyone who has not seen combat, doesn’t get it.
Just the tip, of the spear recently posted an image outlining a platform of sorts, containing five distinct points and zero punctuation. They want a return to hazing and violence, they want tattoo regulations removed, they want women removed from combat roles, and they want age restrictions on drinking lifted.
It’s unclear what they’ve done to accomplish any of these ends, beyond collecting Facebook likes and spreading hate and discontent.
What’s remarkable is how seriously these anonymous keyboard warriors take themselves. Drunk off the power of a few Facebook likes, they use call signs like “Warlord,” “RawDog,” or “Nomad.”
Remarkable still is the tendency for tens of thousands of these pages’ fans to follow them from page to page as they get shut down for their egregious behavior. This trend has served to radicalize these communities — one cannot be a casual fan of POG Boot Fucks, it’s shut down far too frequently. You have to hunt for the new page, stay on top of it, care about it.
What results is an online community of several thousand men and even some women who fancy themselves part of some movement. Facebook may be the only entity actively policing this behavior, but its actions are not unlike spraying pesticides on a colony of termites — at some point, you’re only left with the worst ones.
After POG Boot Fucks was shut down for the umpteen time, they returned with the following message, “I really don’t understand why people think that we’ll ever go away. It’s not happening — we’ve been doing this for far too long and we are a fucking institution.”
One of the ways this “institution” wields its power is to call fire missions on people who they deem have offended them. A fire mission consists of them posting the name and other identifying information about that person, thereby encouraging their fan base to harass that person.
This is the hate and discontent of these pages and this movement — harassing and objectifying women, propagating the worst hatred about homophobia, sexism, and racism; and attacking anyone who crosses them.
But prominent enlisted Marine infantry combat veterans aren’t really buying it.
“What are you, in high school?” Uriarte said about the hate and discontent refrain. “Does that make you feel good about yourself?”
Uriarte said that when he created Terminal Lance, he felt a responsibility to do some good. Uriarte’s project was ahead of its time, taking advantage of social media and the passion and prior silence of the Marine Corps’ lower enlisted ranks. It gave voice to the lower enlisted in a humorous and unauthorized way, sure. But it was constructive. And what resulted was a stronger Marine Corps.
In that vein, diversity of experience and background are vitally important to creating the strongest military environment possible. It’s a premise central to the debate about women in combat. This all-hands-on-deck reality has historically made the military a mechanism for social change, outpacing the civilian sector on racial integration and women in the workforce. When the stakes are literally life and death, who has time to worry about something like race or gender?
And that’s a position that the Marine Corps officially embraces itself. The Commandant of the Marine Corps’ official policy letter on equal opportunity reads, “It is imperative that we leverage all our individual differences to achieve the strongest Corps of Marines as we continue our service as America’s Expeditionary Force in Readiness.”
This reality also, however, makes the debate about the conduct of these Facebook pages more than a discussion of fairness and justice, more than a matter of harassment. This sort of conduct and permitted subculture threatens the readiness and capabilities of the Marine Corps, and by extension, America’s national security.
The military needs to diversify its ranks with talented, dynamic, highly trained women. In the Iraqi and Afghan theaters of war, for instance, Marine female engagement teams were a tremendously important part of the counterinsurgency efforts there. They had the unique ability to interact with the women in those local populaces, and their efforts in that combat setting were instrumental to gaining the respect and the cooperation of the community. But those women need the respect of everyone in their military units. The culture propagated on pages like POG Boot Fucks or Senior Lance Corporal dramatically undermine that possibility.
“It creates the idea that servicemen have no morals, and they’re completely incapable of respecting or working with women,” Bhagwati said. “It’s not true.”
Bhagwati added that the pages “create such a ruckus about the inability of infantrymen or professional military men to keep their pants closed or to prevent themselves from abusing their fellow servicewomen, which is so far from the truth,” she said.
But the community manifested within these Facebook pages succeeds in discouraging talented women from joining the military. Comments made by the members of this community reflect an acute understanding of the detrimental effect their behavior and harassment has on these women.
When a female Marine who was targeted by Just the tip, of the spear commented on the post of her image and attempted to defend herself on the forum, joking that she was now famous, a man commented to make it explicitly clear that she should not find her own harassment funny.
“You are not famous, you are now infamous, and will be the butt of jokes, quietly laughed at when you enter or exit a room, and forever judged by this among you [sic] superiors and peers,” he wrote. “There is a big difference between being famous and well recognized.”
That’s what they endeavor to do, these pages, to ruin the reputations of women in the military who are guilty of nothing more than taking a picture of themselves and posting it to their Instagram account.
And so beyond being unprofessional and morally reprehensible, the harassment has a terrible effect on the good order and discipline of the people affected. And that’s illegal in the U.S. military.
Article 134 of the Uniformed Code of Military Justice bars “all disorders and neglects to the prejudice of good order and discipline in the armed forces, all conduct of a nature to bring discredit upon the armed forces.”
It’s a law the military uses to justify a broad range of legal actions, but not to protect professional women in uniform who are targeted by these pages.
Professionals like former Marine Cpl. Kayda Keleher, who served honorably in the Marines for five years, including nearly a year in Helmand province, Afghanistan, only to be targeted and harassed by these pages on more than one occasion.
“It’s disgusting,” Keleher told Task & Purpose. “It’s not upholding our core values.”
Like so much in the realm of bigotry and glibness, the logic of these communities is rife with logical fallacies and contradictions. They claim it’s a joke, a manifestation of humor; but call themselves a movement and speak in histrionic rhetoric.
They criticize anyone who reports their content to Facebook, even if they were the victims of it, for not raising the issue directly with them. But when someone set up an imposter, Just the tip, of the spear page, the administrators posted a link to it and said, “Feel free to report the fake jttots.”
They direct fire missions and employ the wrath of their Facebook fans, and encourage them to be has vile and hateful in the comments, and then claim to have no control over their actions.
In response to someone complaining about the harassment, the administrators of Senior Lance Corporal recently wrote, “I have NO control over the fanbase. They are a bunch of disgruntled alcoholics that truly just don’t give a fuck.”
One of the constant refrains from Just the tip, of the spear is that “JTTOTS is always watching.” Sure enough, the site’s logo is the Eye of Providence, commonly called “the all-seeing eye.”
It’s an example of the reach of this cultural movement through social media. Whenever someone does something counter to what they consider Marine Corps culture, “JTTOTS is always watching.”
Be a woman in the military and post a photo of yourself online? “JTTOTS is always watching.”
Be a young Marine and get married in your uniform? “JTTOTS is always watching.”
Do something that the page’s administrators deem to be homosexual in nature? “JTTOTS is always watching.”
But while “JTTOTS is always watching,” the Marine Corps is not.
When Marines post on these pages with the real names and their photos next to their names, it becomes clear that they believe harassing or denigrating the people who are the subject of posts is tolerated behavior. It also reveals the myth that the members of this community are hardened warfighters.
When Cpl. Brandon Bolyard commented on a photo of a young woman with a meme that read, “You have tattoos and daddy issues? Guess I don’t need this roofy,” the Marine Corps wasn’t watching.
Military records show Bolyard is an engineer equipment mechanic assigned to Weapons Training Battalion in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. He is not in the infantry and does not have a combat action ribbon, according to military records. But he is an experienced noncommissioned officer with more than seven years of experience, including multiple deployments and service in Iraq.
When Cpl. Daniel Tujo, a rifleman assigned to 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, commented on a photo of a young woman and said that she was “sweatin cuz of kitchen withdrawl [sic],” the Marine Corps wasn’t watching.
Though he is in the infantry, Tujo has never deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan and has never seen combat. He has, however, deployed to the Korean area of operations.
When a young woman in the Air Force posted a photo of herself on her personal Instagram account with an inspirational caption, “offer me something I cannot find in myself,” the Marine Corps wasn’t watching when Lance Cpl. Byron Meekins commented, “Not just any cock. My cock.”
Infantry culture, right? The byproduct of rough men who had to find humor despite terrible wars the rest of us can’t comprehend?
I’d buy it, but Meekins is an electronic equipment repair specialist. Military records show he is assigned to 2nd Maintenance Battalion, 25 Combat Logistics Regiment in Camp Lejeune. He has never deployed and has no personal awards.
And so the story goes with so many of the fans and loyal members of this community. Even a cursory look at the pages yields countless examples of junior Marines in non-infantry occupations and have never deployed.
Though there are members of the infantry, to be sure, the disgruntled young men who preach hate and discontent are largely part of the same POG boot community the pages purport to mock.
Marines opposed to the pages consider it a small-unit leadership issue.
“If we really do believe that honor, courage, commitment is more than a marketing slogan,” Nygaard said, “then our small-unit leaders need to teach Marines what is expected of them.”
But what happens when the small-unit leaders, themselves, are active members of this community and spread hate and vitriol?
POG Boot Fucks recently posted a photo of a young African American Marine posing with his white girlfriend. He was missing a ribbon on his uniform, but Andrew Byers saw a bigger issue with the photo.
On a personal note, 25 years as an African-American male, I thought I’d heard every epithet for blacks in the book, but mudshark I had to look up. Urban Dictionary tells me it’s a derogatory term for a white woman who dates black men.
When contacted by Task & Purpose, Byers declined to comment on the record for this report.
He is an active-duty sergeant in the United States Marine Corps. He’s currently assigned to 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Military records show that he’s a machine gunner by trade, an Afghan veteran, a Marine leader with more than five years of active-duty experience.
Here’s an infantry noncommissioned officer with combat experience that will be increasingly rare as the military transitions to peacetime. This is a man the Marine Corps needs to set the example, to lead and uphold the Corps’ core values. And instead he’s propagating racism and misogyny, posting it on a public forum online, and telling the junior Marines around him that’s okay.
The spread of these pages goes from seasoned noncommissioned officers like Byers to newcomers like Zachary Duhl, a private first class who is in training to become a Marine aircraft mechanic. Duhl hasn’t spent a day in the Fleet Marine Force. But he’s such a fan of these pages, he actively sends them content that he thinks they should post.
Recently, when the administrators of Just the tip, of the spear, posted a photo Duhl sent in, he commented, “Yes I got a picture to get uploaded on jttots this is pretty much the peek [sic] of my enlistment what now.”
Whether they consider it cool, or harmless, or all in the spirit fun, is unclear. What is clear is that for many Marines, the misogyny and harassment is ingrained at a fundamental level.
“Their drill instructors told them that female Marines are worthless and then they get to the fleet and their sergeant tells them that female Marines are whores,” Keleher said. “Females have been in the Marine Corps for almost 100 years now and we’re still not treated equally.”
When the military repealed its “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in 2011, Keleher said, there was an understanding that if you harassed and denigrated gay Marines, or did anything to stand in the way of a smooth repeal, it would not be tolerated. There’s similarly little tolerance for racial discrimination. If disparaging comments are made against blacks or gays in the military, Keleher said, it is immediately be stamped out by fellow Marines and small-unit leaders.
Women have never had that kind of institutional cultural protection. Intolerance for women is widely tolerated in the Marine Corps.
Bhagwati agreed, but cautioned that there is still too much racial and homophobic discrimination within the ranks. And if there’s one place that where that sort of prejudice and hatred manifests itself, it’s in this digital military community.
One of the pages recently called a fire mission on a young African American man who posted a photo of himself on Instagram wearing Marine dress blues. The man was clearly not a Marine, and these pages don’t stand for stolen valor. The anonymous administrators, however, apparently missed the red tab on the young man’s shoulder that showed he was a part of the Young Marines, a youth program not different from the Boy Scouts or the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps.
So, at the behest of the administrators, Marines began posting derogatory comments on the young man’s Instagram page.
“Take off my uniform you fucken faggot nigger,” he wrote to the young man, a civilian, who didn’t look more than 18 years old.
We’re led to believe by these pages, in their postings and anonymous interviews with the Marine Corps Times, that comments like Cannarsa’s are an unavoidable result of more than a decade of hard warfare. He can’t help it, the story goes, he’s a disgruntled hardened killer.
But military records show Cannarsa is a reservist who entered the Marine Corps Reserves just over two years ago. He has never served on active-duty outside of training. He’s never deployed, let alone seen combat. He has no personal awards. He’s just a 20-year-old spreading hate and discontent in the name of the Marine Corps. And there are countless more like him, thousands of fans of these pages.
That these men, these U.S. Marines, openly engage in this behavior, openly harass and denigrate women and minorities — under their real names, their real pictures, with no fear of repercussions — reflects a perceived tolerance of their actions. Senior leaders have never told them not to do it, never said that it’s unacceptable, and they’ve never seen anyone get in trouble for it.
In May 2013, Rep. Jackie Speier, a Democrat from California, wrote to Pentagon leadership, including the Commandant of the Marine Corps, about the conduct of these pages after a constituent reportedly brought them to her attention.
In her letter, Speier addressed many of the things listed in this report. And she contended that the pages “contribute to a culture that permits and seems to encourage sexual assault and abuse.”
But after sending the letter, Speier received harassment and threats from the fans and administrators of these pages. That these men, many of them active members of the military community, would harass and threaten a sitting U.S. congresswoman, reflects the deep radicalization of this community.
“When they targeted Jackie Speier, it rose, it rose a level,” Bhagwati said.
Loyal Marines like Nygaard pushed back against the notion that this is representative of larger Marine Corps culture. It pains him to see the conduct of these pages, much in the same way it pains me and thousands of other Marines and veterans.
“You’ll never hear me say that the Marine Corps promotes and encourages sexual assault and abuse,” Nygaard said. “But at the same time, if you see someone doing something wrong and you don’t stop it, you’re encouraging it.”
The Corps’ inaction has left some women in the military feeling like they’re on their own in dealing with the abuse.
“When we do try to say something, we’re just told we need thicker skin,” Keleher said. “I’m apparently not allowed to post any pictures of myself anywhere anymore.”
Speier noted in her letter that the Corps’ reactionary efforts have done little to stop the conduct of these pages.
“It is my understanding that not only is the Marine Corps Inspector General aware of this page and monitoring it, but they have been doing so for over three years,” Speier wrote. “Despite this monitoring, the cyber retaliation against those who complain about the website’s content continues unabated.”
When Just the tip, of the spear posted a selfie of a young female corporal with the articulate caption “Wookity wook wook,” the woman wrote in the comments, “well, this is getting old.”
After years of harassment and rape jokes and denigration, that’s how women in the Marine Corps have learned to react.
The conduct of its service members on social media is a relatively new issue for the Corps and the Department of Defense as a whole. And prior examples of the Marine Corps guiding the behavior of active-duty Marines and examples of how the Corps has handled recent controversies involving modern technology paint a picture of what an active solution could look like.
“The DoD has certainly led the way when it comes to denying troops access to things it doesn’t want them to see,” Bhagwati said
Pornography, for instance, is banned for Marines in Afghanistan by sweeping order. It’s a controversial rule and is tremendously difficult to enforce, but it gives the Marine Corps the legal mechanisms to hold Marines accountable should an egregious incident take place.
The Marine Corps doesn’t seem to want to hold the administrators of these pages accountable; preferring, at least insofar as appearances suggest, to continue the reactionary approach of the past three years. Marine officials seem to want to just shrug and say “law enforcement is unable to take action against derogatory comments.”
By contrast, every Marine Corps base maintains a list of off-limits establishments that service members are barred from interacting with in any way. These could be convenience stores that sell synthetic marijuana or strip clubs with a history of overcharging Marines.
In the order establishing the list for the Marine Corps’ East Coast bases, Brig. Gen. Thomas Gorry, then-commanding general of Marine Corps Installations – East, wrote, “Declaring an establishment off-limits is a function of command which may be used to help maintain good order, discipline, and an appropriate level of health, morale, safety, morals, and welfare of Armed Forces personnel.”
The Marine Corps’ off-limits list is governed by the same article of the Uniformed Code of Military Justice, Article 134, that bans anything counter to good order and discipline. It grants military officials broad latitude in maintaining standards of decency and good order.
Where is the similar effort governing Marines’ behavior on social media? Such a digital off-limits list, barring Marines from interacting with websites or social media pages that harass and denigrate women or minorities would go a long way toward changing the culture.
The orders to stay away from those businesses or establishments “are punitive orders, and visiting the areas/establishments listed in this Bulletin are punishable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice,” the order states.
So the Marine Corps has the legal authority and the precedent needed to bar Marines from interacting with these pages, but hasn’t done so, preferring instead to say, “Marines are responsible for all content they publish on social networking sites, blogs, or other websites.”
“I’m very disappointed in Marine Corps leadership,” Bhagwati said. “They continue to disappoint me and I think they continue to disappoint women in the Marines.”
As Bhagwati said, “the Marine Corps can do anything it wants.” And recent history has proven when it wants to take action against a social media crisis, it has the ability and the drive to do so.
When a homemade video surfaced showing Marines urinating on Taliban corpses in Afghanistan in January 2012, the commandant of the Marine Corps immediately appointed a tremendously well-respected three-star general, Tom Waldhauser, to investigate.
It was a new problem, unprecedented in any other era of American warfare, to have a video showing the conduct of service members in a war zone filmed and posted on social media. And yet, it took just days for the Marines in this grainy, blurry, months-old video to be identified. When a cause has the attention of senior Marine commanders, that’s what happens.
“I want to be clear and unambiguous, the behavior depicted in the video is wholly inconsistent with the high standards of conduct and warrior ethos that we have demonstrated throughout our history,” the commandant said in his statement at the time of the scandal. “Rest assured that the institution of the Marine Corps will not rest until the allegations and the events surrounding them have been resolved.”
The question is this: If an isolated incident threatened the Corps’ core values enough to appoint a three-star general to get to the bottom of it, why doesn’t the rampant and systematic harassment and denigration of women in the military? Why does an isolated incident get a general officer convening authority while this is met with a tersely worded statement from a captain in the public affairs office?
“The Marine Corps’ stubbornness is all about ego,” Bhagwati said. “It’s not about function, it’s not resources, it’s just that they don’t want to do anything differently.”
Rather than bar Marines from interacting with the pages, rather than launching a serious investigation into who is running these pages, rather than taking seriously the safety and service of women in the Marine Corps, the Corps has said that, “Marines must use their best judgment at all times and avoid inappropriate behavior that could bring discredit upon themselves, their unit, and the Marine Corps.”
As with any endeavor, the Marine Corps brass’ relationships with these pages is a matter of wills. And for now, at least, the desire of these pages to exist far outpaces any will on the Marine Corps’ end to stop them.
Indeed, one of the last times POG Boot Fucks was shut down, it stayed offline for several days, re-emerging on July 14. Within days, it rose to more than 10,000 fans. One of its first posts back was a letter written in the usual histrionic rhetoric.
“Haters, POGs, Boots, Dependas and stupid Wooks, No matter how many times you irritate Mark Zuckerberg’s vagina and get Facebook to axe us, we will come back,” it read.
“But this time … this time, something is different. In the spirit of fortitude, perseverance, adaptation and overcoming, we are building a website. Now…all of the butt hurt, bootness and wookery will be stored forever. Now … Once you’re on PBF, you’re on PBF till WE say you’re not.
“The only thing you fuckers did is cause PBF to evolve.”
And so it has. The website went live on July 14, but it still relies on Facebook to drive traffic to the site, a site that does little more than post pornographic pictures and stories of “POG Boot Fuck culture.”
The page also claims to have hired an attorney. “Not some two bit schmuck but a straight legit New York Jew …” the page administrators announced on Facebook. “And that nigga loves to fight.”
Meanwhile, for Marines like Nygaard who deplore the communities in these pages and watch them grow, their conduct is personal. He looks at his infant daughter and considers her within the context of the Marine Corps that he loves and has devoted much of his life to.
“People see my daughter and say, ‘I bet she’s a future Marine, isn’t she?’” Nygaard said. “And I’ll laugh and say ‘we’ll see!’ In my head, I’m thinking, ‘no way.’ So long as cultures like this are allowed to exist in the Marine Corps, I’d be really apprehensive about my daughter joining.”
Brian Adam Jones is the editor-in-chief of Task & Purpose. A Marine and Afghan War veteran, Brian served as a Marine Corps combat correspondent for four years. Follow him on Twitter @bjones.