Two Marines are in hot water with their superiors for a Facebook post that has been interpreted as taunting the victims of the Orlando massacre, NBC News is reporting.
In a Facebook post that has since been deleted, a Marine corporal, whose name has not been released to the media as of this writing, can be seen holding a rifle with his fingers on the trigger. The message “Coming to a gay bar near you!” is written on the picture.
West Coast Marines under investigation for social media post threatening attack on gay bars https://t.co/W7QHAQM4FS
— Marine Corps Times (@Marinetimes) June 16, 2016
The post has been interpreted as a threat against gay bars, considering that it came just a few days after a gunman shot and killed 49 people, and injured 50 others, at the Pulse night club, a popular gay bar in Orlando, Florida.
The corporal who posed for the picture, and the other Marine who posted it, whose rank has not been made public, both belong to the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, which is based in Camp Pendleton, California.
— 1230WSOK (@1230WSOK) June 17, 2016
In a statement, the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (1 EMF) confirmed that the two Marines are being investigated for the post.
“[The Marine Corps does not] tolerate discrimination based on sexual orientation, race, gender or religion. We are currently investigating a threatening social media post and will take appropriate action. This type of behavior and mindset will not be allowed, and it is not consistent with the core values of honor, courage and commitment that are demonstrated by the vast majority of Marines on a daily basis.”
Speaking to Marine Times, First Lt. Thomas Gray, a spokesman for I MEF, also confirmed that the two Marines are under investigation.
“We cannot discuss details of an ongoing investigation, but I can tell you the command is taking this incident seriously.”
According to the Marine Corps’ “Unofficial Guidance for Social Media Posts,” Marines are asked to avoid making threatening or offensive posts on social media, although the punishment for such posts remains unclear.
“Marines should avoid offensive and inappropriate behavior that could bring discredit upon themselves and the Marine Corps. This behavior includes posting any defamatory, libelous, obscene, abusive, threatening, racially or ethnically hateful, or otherwise offensive or illegal information or material.”
However, if the Marines’ post can be considered a violation of federal law – for example, if it meets the federal definition of a “terroristic threat” – then the two Marines could face a court-martial.
“A Marine who violates Federal law, regulations or policies through inappropriate personal online activity is subject to disciplinary action under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).”
However, as FreeAdvice Legal explains, determining that a social media post counts as a “terroristic threat” is difficult to prove in a court of law. The problem is that social media posts are generally considered protected free speech under the First Amendment, so it’s up to the courts to prove that the person making the post specifically intended the post to cause harm.
“People make casual threats every day. To separate the playful threats from the serious or disturbing ones, states add a component requiring that the intent of the threat to be for some specific, illegal purpose.”
It is not clear, however, if the military’s definition of “terroristic threat,” and the burden of proof for the courts, is different from those of civilian courts.
Do you believe the Marines who posted a photo that appears to threaten gay bars committed a crime?
[Image via Shutterstock/JaysonPhotography]