The Army is “looking into” the West Point graduate and Afghanistan combat veteran who appeared to endorse communism in social media posts, the U.S. Military Academy announced on Sept. 26.
A photo of 2nd Lt. Spenser Rapone in a West Point uniform with a paper sign reading “Communism Will Win” tucked into his cover went viral with the hashtag #VeteransForKaepernick on Sept. 24. A self-described “commie/space cowboy,” Rapone identifies himself as a member of the Democratic Socialists of America on his Twitter account.
The photo of Rapone — who earned a Combat Infantry Badge as an enlisted grunt in Afghanistan before his appointment to USMA — went viral amid President Donald Trump’s war of words with the National Football League over players’ decisions to kneel in silent protest against police brutality and systemic racism during the pre-game national anthem. On Sept. 25, Rapone posted a second photo of himself wearing the infamous image of communist guerrilla Che Guevara under his uniform.
The controversy has sparked a national conversation among both civilians and the military community regarding respect for military service and free speech. But West Point took pains to distance itself from the recent grad’s social media posts.
“Second Lieutenant Rapone's actions in no way reflect the values of the U.S. Military Academy or the U.S. Army,” USMA said in a statement. “As figures of public trust, members of the military must exhibit exemplary conduct, and are prohibited from engaging in certain expressions of political speech in uniform.”
That the Army takes this seriously is no surprise. As we noted after the violent clashes between white nationalists and counter-protesters in Charlottesville in August, the branch’s equal opportunity manual explicitly states that “participation in extremist organizations and activities by Army personnel is inconsistent with the responsibilities of military service.” And the DoD’s longstanding policy on service members’ politicking, Directive 1344.10, bars “partisan political activity” — which includes serving “in any official capacity or listed as a sponsor of a partisan political club.”
The full extent of Rapone’s political activities is unclear, and it seems unlikely that the branch would discipline the second lieutenant simply for holding political beliefs; just consider beloved NFL star turned Army Ranger Pat Tillman, who called the invasion of Iraq an “illegal and unjust” war despite his combat service and death under fire. On the other hand, even a simple photograph of women of color at West Point with raised fists triggered an investigation into the propriety of the cadets’ “political” activity last year.
But Rapone could face disciplinary action for his digital broadsides against the chain of command, a potential violation of Uniform Code of Military Justice Article 88:
Any commissioned officer who uses contemptuous words against the President, the Vice President, Congress, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of a military department, the Secretary of Homeland Security, or the Governor or legislature of any State, Commonwealth, or possession in which he is on duty or present shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.
In a June 7 tweet, Rapone referred to Secretary of Defense James Mattis as “the most evil, vile fuck” in the Trump administration:
The Army did not immediately respond to request for comment from Task & Purpose.