The conversation went something like this,
“Hey Sean, it’s Brandon. Listen, I’d like you to take over as editor-in-chief in two weeks, okay?”
I felt this icy stab in the pit of my stomach, I had been invited a few months earlier to write for the site again and I was happily doing so, pushing out three or four articles a week and glad to see the readership responding favorably to what I was writing, but this? This was not in my plans.
“Brandon,” I said quietly, “I’m grateful for the offer but I’m not really qualified for the job, there are guys here longer than me that might want that job, you really should ask them first.”
Brandon didn’t pause even for a moment before he said, “You’re the right person for the job and you care.” Brandon then proceeded to tell me all the reasons I would do the job well. I’ll spare you the details of my vast gifts and talents except to say that he wasn’t working me over with idle flattery, he had given this some thought.
So, I managed to talk him out of making me editor-in-chief right away and give me a few months to settle into the job as managing editor working under his guidance until I felt ready to take the wheel of the ship and steer a course. I’m not sure I’m entirely ready yet, but here I am anyway, editor-in-chief as of September 1.
The company was founded by Brandon Webb in 2011 with Jack Murphy taking over as editor-in-chief soon after. The first post I can recall for the site goes back to December 21, 2011. It was an information piece on the Army Rangers.
SOFREP was started as a kind of information clearinghouse for news about Special Operations Forces that the Legacy Media often gets wrong (a Navy SEAL is a Sailor, not a Soldier), and I had a front-row seat, kinda.
I used to read gear reviews that Brandon did on another website and gave a lot of weight to his opinion given his background as a Navy SEAL and sniper. One day Brandon asked if anyone wanted to get a notification about a new website he was putting together and I sent my email address. A few months after that, I got an email from him that a new site was going to launch called SOFREP or Special Operations Forces Report. There was nothing else like it on the internet so I was really interested in what was coming together, so I was there on day one, post one when it all went live for the first time.
Brandon calls this time period “The Death Star Days” referencing the early period of the Galactic Empire in the Star Wars franchise that began in 1977. In those early days, SOFREP was more like the Mos Eisley Cantina: there was no member paywall and the commenters were rough and constantly brawling over stories. But there were some real standout things in my memories of those days. I had several nice conversations with Chris Kyle who was an early member along with Delta Force Legend Dale Comstock and other very admired guys in the special operations community who came to the site and spoke with the audience. I also remember Brandon coming onto the comments sections very excited to say that the site had broken 100,000 page views for the month. I remarked that 80,000 of them were probably from this one really active reader who commented on every story, every comment on a story, and every comment on a comment on a story.
When Chris Kyle was murdered along with Chad Littlefield in early February 2013 we knew about it about an hour before the media broke the story but didn’t rush it out to beat the press. Chris was frequently on the site and starred in the original “Inside The Teamroom” series that Brandon put together about life on the SEAL Teams. They just couldn’t break it without knowing that the families had been notified first.
In the time that has passed since SOFREP has broken some very big stories.
After Osama bin Laden was killed, a book came out called No Easy Day. It was written by one of the SEALs on DEVGRU who wrote under the name “Mark Owen.” In that book, he claimed to have been the SEAL who killed bin Laden after a previous SEAL had shot and wounded him.
The book was a smash New York Times bestseller and had the whole country mesmerized for weeks. Then SOFREP wrote a report saying that the book may not be entirely true and should have been vetted by the Pentagon. You can imagine how that went over with a population that was heaping adoration on Mark Owen as the SEAL who ended the life of America’s greatest enemy. People went ballistic in the comments, hundreds and hundreds of them typing in all CAPs as if to scream hatred at SOFREP for daring to say something unpopular and for not going along with the media narrative that was sweeping the country.
Except SOFREP was right. Mark Owen didn’t put the fatal rounds in bin Laden. Rob O’Neill did that and pretty much made a canoe out of his head and that isn’t a joke.
SOFREP covered the Jesse Ventura lawsuit again Chris Kyle’s estate and widow. Boy did that light up the comments sections. Hundreds of Ventura supporters would show up and just trash the place until they could all be banned. There were stolen valor kooks who would abuse the normal readers and get banned, create a new free account, and show up over and over again.
After the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi was destroyed resulting in the deaths of Ambassador Stevens, Foreign Service Officer Sean Smith, along with CIA contractors Ty Woods and Brandon’s best friend and fellow SEAL Glen Doherty, SOFREP published a report on what had actually prompted the attack. As you might recall, the Obama Administration blamed a hapless amateur Coptic Christian filmmaker from Ethiopia who had posted a movie trailer on YouTube that was critical of Islam. It got him put in prison for a year on a probation violation.
SOFREP published a report that said the real reason for the attacks was conflicting operations that the CIA and State Department were both running at the same time in Libya. State was paying terrorists to turn in shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles and the CIA was trying to kill these same people not knowing what the State Department was doing a mile or so away. When the CIA hit a terrorist who had just sold weapons to the State Department the bad guys figured the State Department had doublecrossed them. That’s why they hit the consulate. The administration blaming this video was a cover for the interagency screw-up. Thousands of copies of the report were downloaded, including by many people with U.S. government email addresses.
The editors of this site wrote a New York Times Bestselling ebook on Bengazi, Benghazi, The Definitive Report. Brandon told me they were nervous about the title but at the end of the news cycle, the book ended up, in fact, being one of the definitive pieces written on the subject.
Next thing you know, there were months of Bengazi hearings trying to get to the truth. And there were angry emails from people reportedly representing three-letter agencies telling SOFREP they better knock it off.
Brandon Webb wrote a piece about the first transgender Navy SEAL. That created a different kind of firestorm.
A major advertising client, fearing a negative backlash against the site for even mentioning trans, pulled all their ads from SOFREP.
That backlash never occurred because Americans are a lot less bigoted and intolerant than most of us think and the advertiser ended up restoring their ads. But SOFREP learned a lesson: being an entirely ad revenue-supported site meant you could get your chain yanked by the advertisers if you did something they didn’t like.
SOFREP wanted to be in control of its editorial direction. This is where all of you come in as members. Your monthly or yearly membership gives SOFREP editorial independence.
We can report things as we see fit to report them. We can take stands others will not take and go places others will not go because they fear economic reprisal from ad clients and cancel campaigns. All of you paying that modest membership fee make that possible, so thank you.
SOFREP became a member-supported site of military-veteran writers giving their perspective on news and events, not just as guests on a 30-second cable news segment, but as journalists and opinion-makers who write the content themselves. You may not realize how rare that is today, some nine years after SOFREP went live.
SOFREP also broke a major story about how bin Laden was actually killed which was read by a million people in a few hours. They took some heat overrunning that story as well. But it was accurate and corrected a false narrative being put out by the government, which is supposed to be straight with us and either tell us the truth or say they have no comment on matters of national security. If our elected officials lie and we find out about it, we will tell you.
On November 4, 2016, three Green Berets were returning to Prince Faisal Airbase in Jordan from a training mission. As they approached the gate a guard leveled his rifle at them and began firing killing them before he could be subdued. The Jordanians assured the U.S. government that it was all a tragic misunderstanding. One of the Green Berets had negligently discharged a weapon, they said. This made the guard think the base was under attack or that a Green Beret had fired at the gate guard deliberately. In the interests of not embarrassing Jordan, an important ally in the war on terrorism, our own government was willing to just let it go. So was the Legacy Media.
Twelve days after the attack, SOFREP published a report that had sources at 5th Special Forces Group claiming the attack was deliberate and made by a likely terrorist. Warnings to the CIA in Jordan about terrorists infiltrating the ranks of the moderate Syrians the Green Berets were training went unheeded. The report made waves, and the U.S. government was all but forced to demand a more formal inquiry from Jordan. The result was the gate guard getting a life prison sentence and the names of those three dead Green Berets were cleared.
And SOFREP caught flak about being “unpatriotic,” “racist,” etc for contradicting the Obama Administration.
Then there was the video of the Niger ambush in October 2017. In that attack, five Nigerian soldiers and four U.S. soldiers were killed, including two Green Berets. I would agree with those that say SOFREP could have done a better job presenting that video in the proper context, but never with those claiming that it should never have been seen at all.
Words are simply not enough to convey the cost of America’s longest war and in Africa, it was a war almost nobody knew was even being fought. Once again, SOFREP took its lumps from those who would rather just not be faced with the reality of what it really takes to fight a war like this.
It was the site’s first experience with cancel culture and we survived, and in fact, got stronger and wiser for it. And something else happened too.
Within five days of SOFREP releasing that video, the Pentagon announced it would be delaying the release of the report on the ambush, which was going to give to Congress and the families of the fallen, because it was false. It then issued a policy directive that military issue helmet cameras could not be worn anymore without specific mission authorization. Then-Secretary of Defense and former Marine Corps General James Mattis intervened in the disciplinary charges being filed against two Army captains involved in the incident. He apparently believed that others higher up that chain of command had some things to answer for as well.
All within five days of that video being shown on SOFREP.
This is why I took the job as editor-in-chief, to do my part in SOFREP publishing important stories that other media outlets ignore, often intentionally.
As a member of the readership, I always felt like SOFREP and the people writing for the site try to do the right thing even if it means howls of complaint from those who just want everyone to go along and not make waves.
I’m also doing this for you as the members because for years I was just like you, a consumer of the content that SOFREP produces. In most ways, I’m still like all of you, a fan of the site, its people, and work. Work that still needs to be done and still needs your support in being done. I have a professional obligation here to ask for your continued support. If each of you would call on just two close friends and ask them to join us in this effort here as members, all of us here at SOFREP would be very grateful to you.
So now my days are taken up by meetings, phone calls, budgets, reports, site traffic numbers, answering emails and customer service inquiries, editing, adding staff, and trying to write myself. Doing a job I didn’t ask for and couldn’t turn down. Ain’t that funny?
It is to me.
Don’t let the Cool-Guy picture above fool you. I’m just a regular guy. The photo was taken on the battleship New Jersey which is now a museum ship. I was on the wing bridge, port side, and found out that the phone system still worked. There was even a directory of numbers posted next to it. So I called the gift shop, announced that I was Admiral Halsey, and left instructions to bring my dinner to my sea cabin as I was too busy to dine with the captain that night.
Let me hear from you as members, please. I want to know how we are doing. Send me your thoughts, ideas, complaints, criticism, and even praise to [email protected] I promise to get back to you promptly as time allows.
I am planning a SOFREP member meet-and-greet in Boca Raton Florida on October 5, watch your email for the invite. I really hope to see some of our Florida members there. If any of you put together a member meet-and-greet in your own town, let me know, I’ll be there and I’ll bring some people with me. You, folks, are what makes SOFREP possible and we want to support you in your enthusiasm for the work.
Beyond the administrative tasks, there has been some fun stuff that has happened here in the last few weeks, like the email I received recently that offered SOFREP its last chance to publish a story about why there were craters on the Moon. And also this email I got the other day,
“Gentlemen, I sent this rude and foolishly constructed e-mail to you several years ago. I wanted to say how sorry I am. I was younger and a huge Jesse V. fan. Now, I see errors [sic] of my ways. Please accept my most sincere apologies.”
It takes a special kind of guy to come back almost five years after the fact and tender an apology like this. People like this are most welcome here.
I also read this about once a week to remind myself of what we do around here and why it matters. It was written by the father of SSGT James Moriarty who was killed in the Jordan ambush. Someone at the time was laying to us full of third-party moral outrage about releasing the video. James’s father responded to them in part with this,
“SOFREP, and the rest of the free press, are the primary way we have and sometimes the only way we have to learn the truth. These families, who have suffered exactly the same loss as my family, still have no meaningful answers from our government. Is this video ugly?
I cried when I watched it and I mourn for these families who have suffered exactly the same loss as my family. You sit in your cheap seat, taking cheap shots at SOFREP, never wearing that cold gold star on your lapel, criticizing those who try to bring us the truth, no matter how ugly and cold it is. That is far better than the pablum we have been fed by our political leaders for the past two decades, no matter how unappetizing it might be.”
So going forward, I’ll do my very best to live up to your expectations as SOFREP members and also the expectations of SSGT Moriarty’s grieving father who looked to us for the answers he couldn’t get anywhere else.
With your continued support, I know we’ll be successful.
My name is Sean Spoonts and I’m the editor-in-chief of SOFREP.
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