A graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and second lieutenant in the United States Army is now under investigation from the Army after pictures surfaced on the officer’s Twitter page on Tuesday showing him displaying pro-Communist messages and imagery, to include while in uniform.

Now, West Point has released an official statement saying that Second Lieutenant Spenser Rapone’s “actions in no way reflect the values of the U.S. Military Academy or the U.S. Army,” and that the “the academy is prepared to assist the officer’s chain of command as required.”

But more details have emerged about Lt. Rapone’s short time in the Army and his potentially conflicting political beliefs. This summer, while a student at Ranger School, Lt. Rapone reportedly clashed with his chain of command, repeatedly being disrespectful to senior NCOs and Officers, culminating in telling his Battalion Commander that he does not agree with the United States’ military actions overseas.

Lt. Rapone’s social media presence remains public and includes inflammatory political statements for a Commissioned Officer in the United States Army. He calls President Trump, officially his commander, a fascist. He says other military members “lust for war and conflict. They fetishize violence.” He says West Point is a “bastion of reactionary politics and imperialist violence.”

Most curiously, one photo shows that he has written “Communism Will Win” inside of his uniform hat before the graduation ceremony. Tradition at West Point has graduating cadets write inspiring words of encouragement, typically including money, and leaving them in the hat for the ceremonial “hat toss.” Children then flood the field, collecting as many hats as they can. It can be inferred that Rapone intended for his message to be read by a child.

It should also be noted that hundreds of West Point graduates have fought and died fighting actual Communists during the 20th century.

Pictures posted include those which depict him in uniform on West Point’s graduation day wearing a Che Guevara t-shirt under his uniform.

West Point and the Army do not allow soldiers and officers to make political statements while in uniform. While political speech on social media is allowed, the Army discourages such behavior if there is any indication the soldier is in the military, and if it could be interpreted as a sanctioned opinion of the Department of Defense. For example, if their profile picture shows them in uniform, they should not be posting political opinions.

Lt. Rapone graduated from West Point as a member of the class of 2016, but before entering the Academy he served for two years as an 11B Infantryman in the 75th Ranger Regiment, deploying to Afghanistan in that capacity. As such we did not have any overlapping time at the Academy. But when I was a cadet there between 2006 and 2010, we were very clearly instructed that our free speech rights as a service member are curtailed due to our profession. This is taught in the “Constitutional and Military Law” course that is a mandatory part of the curriculum to graduate. In no uncertain terms, we were taught that political statements while in uniform are completely unauthorized.

After Lt. Rapone’s social media activities went viral earlier Tuesday, I spoke with a Ranger Instructor from the 5th Ranger Training Battalion (RTB), who personally dealt with Lt. Rapone while he was at the Mountain Phase of Ranger School.

The Ranger Instructor (RI), who does not wish to be identified, confirmed that he was present and witnessed firsthand multiple acts of defiance and disrespect from Lt. Rapone to various members of 5th RTB, to include senior enlisted personnel and officers, which included sharing his political beliefs which run counter to the interest of the United States and could easily be construed as those consistent with an “insider threat.”

In the Mountain phase at Ranger School, students conduct a 10-day field training exercise (FTX) where they are graded on their leadership abilities while conducting patrols. A student needs to only pass one patrol, and most students are given two or three patrols to achieve this “go” in order to advance to Florida Phase.

According to the RI, Lt. Rapone failed all three of the graded patrols he was given during the FTX. However, he received favorable peer reviews, and the lengthy written reports from his graders indicated that Lt. Rapone was tactically competent, but simply failed certain critical no-fail tasks during each of his graded patrols. Under normal circumstances, this results in the RI’s telling the Ranger student that he or she will be recycled, to join the next class and try the phase again.

However, during Lt. Rapone’s counseling session when he was told he had failed the phase by a Sergeant First Class RI, he became disrespectful, to include swearing and showing no military bearing. At Ranger School, students do not wear rank, and therefore while Lt. Rapone technically outranked the RI, his rank was meaningless at the time.

After this display was reportedly heard by two nearby First Sergeants, they intervened to tell Lt. Rapone that he was now going to be recommended for a drop from the course due to his insubordination.

Going to a battalion board for only failing patrols is totally outside the norm. His apparent blatant disrespect to multiple senior NCOs got him presented in front of the 5th RTB commander, a Lieutenant Colonel, as well as every key member of the chain of command for 5th RTB, who would decide if he would recycle Mountain Phase, start over at Day 0, or be dropped entirely.

Upon reporting for this board, it was clear to all present that Lieutenant Rapone was showing a disrespectful attitude in how he carried himself and interacted with the members of the board. Talking back, sighing, rolling his eyes; Lieutenant Rapone argued with the Lt. Col. and disputed the written reports of three separate RIs who graded him individually on three separate occasions.

“There’s no fucking way I failed that patrol” he reportedly said during this board.

Before recommending a course of action, the Battalion Commander typically wants to understand the mindset of the student. Having his file, they knew he was a second lieutenant and a graduate of West Point. After asking about Rapone’s background and trying to understand his mentality as a leader, Rapone reportedly said that he disagrees with America’s military actions overseas.

After telling Rapone that with his mindset he should not be leading soldiers, members of the board suspected Rapone was trying to goad them into dropping him, so that he would have a story about bold defiance in the face of authority. Knowing this, the commander suggested that retaining Rapone in the course would benefit him; an opportunity to train and grow as a leader.

To this, Lt. Rapone allegedly replied “I feel like that’s just a threat,” implying that they would not in fact recycle him. With that, the commander announced that he would be a Day 1 recycle, and dismissed Rapone.

At this point, Rapone reportedly continued to be a nuisance for the RI’s assigned to escort him back to Fort Benning, resisting even simple requests to help expedite his out-processing from the Mountain Phase.

Once at Fort Benning, Lt. Rapone reportedly refused to restart Ranger School, rendering him a self-selected drop from the course, and what is referred to as “Lack of Motivation” (LOM) drop. An LOM is a mark of shame for an infantry officer. It is a career death sentence within the infantry community, especially with graduates of West Point. It does not force the officer out of the military, but an LOM will follow you, and every future commander will know that you quit Ranger School: an unofficial guarantee to not be selected for key assignments and your career will be over before it starts.

Rapone’s father, Richard Rapone, released a statement on Facebook disavowing his son’s politics and statements. “In regards to my son Spenser Rapone,” he wrote, “I disavow his political views and overall politics. I am very disappointed in the direction he has chosen and as his father it greatly saddens me.”

Referencing his son’s service as an enlisted soldier in the Ranger Regiment, he wrote “It’s my belief when he returned back from Afghanistan there was a notable difference in his political views.”

Statement on Facebook from Lt. Rapone’s father, Richard Rapone

Beyond simply being a disrespectful junior officer while at Ranger School, Lt. Rapone’s statements of opposition regarding U.S. foreign policy and hyper-partisan postings on social media should raise eyebrows for anyone in the military or involved with national security, let alone an officer who is required to obtain and maintain a secret security clearance as part of their commission. As an Infantry Officer, Lt. Rapone would be responsible for leading a platoon of 40 infantrymen directly in support of American foreign policy objectives overseas: a concept he has freely admitted he opposes.

At a time of regular whistleblower leaking incidents, with most, if not all, stemming from partisan political beliefs counter to U.S. foreign policy objectives, Lt. Rapone’s demonstrated behavior will likely be of great concern to the U.S. Army and other branches of the military concerned with insider threats.

 

Images courtesy of Twitter.