West Point graduate wrote ‘Communism will win’ in his cap. The US Army kicked him out
Afghanistan combat veteran and former Army Ranger Spenser Rapone became known as the ‘commie cadet’, and was said to have advocated a socialist revolution
The alumni of the United States Military Academy at West Point span presidents, generals and astronauts in what its students call the Long Grey Line, a nod to the Army service academy’s central role in educating leaders years before they rise to prominence.
Spenser Rapone, 26, became notable a bit faster than most graduates.
On Monday, the Army’s 10th Mountain Division accepted the resignation of 2nd Lieutenant Rapone less than a year after he posted photos of himself at his 2016 graduation, posing in a Che Guevara shirt under his uniform, along with a fist salute to underline a message written in his cap: “Communism will win.”
The photos, which Rapone posted to social media last September, created a fierce backlash, sparked death threats and drew calls from Senator Marco Rubio to investigate Rapone’s online writing last fall. In response, West Point said in September that Rapone’s actions “in no way reflect the values of the US Military Academy or the US Army.”
Rapone, who was previously enlisted as an Army Rangers and served in Afghanistan before attending West Point and becoming an officer, told Associated Press that he was reprimanded for conduct unbecoming an officer, and an investigation concluded that he advocated for a socialist revolution while insulting senior military officials.
His other-than-honourable discharge, which is highly unusual for a West Point graduate in a circumstance such as this, also may block him from many veterans benefits despite his years of service, including in combat.
Rubio celebrated the move in a statement on Tuesday.
“While in uniform, Spenser Rapone advocated for communism and political violence, and expressed support and sympathy for enemies of the United States,” he said. “I’m glad to see that they have given him an ‘other than honourable’ discharge.”
Rapone could not be reached for comment. But his interview with the AP shed light on how he went from a graduate of one of the most exclusive and traditional institutions on Earth to a pariah within the ranks before being mustered out.
He said he tweeted the photos in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick, the former NFL quarterback who knelt during the national anthem in protest of police brutality, which itself drew intense criticism from President Donald Trump for perceived slights against the military.
Rapone also explained that his time in Afghanistan as an assistant machine-gunner in the volatile Khost province in 2011 spurred an interest in radical social change, starting with the military.
“We have one of the most technologically advanced militaries of all time and all we were doing is brutalising and invading and terrorising a population that had nothing to do with what the United States claimed was a threat,” he told the AP.
There were fumes of idealism still left, he said, and he accepted one of the few prized slots to the academy reserved for enlisted soldiers.
His time at the academy only deepened his socialist views. He was drawn to the writings of Stan Goff, an anti-war socialist and fellow Special Forces veteran who taught at West Point, he said.
Branded the “commie cadet”, Rapone’s career as a newly minted officer never recovered after assignment to Fort Drum. He said he received death threats, but found solace in hearing from like-minded troops.
“There are a lot of veterans both active duty and not that feel like I do,” he said.
Rapone received an other-than-honourable discharge, the AP reported, an administrative separation reserved for misconduct.
Don Christensen, a former Air Force chief prosecutor, said on Tuesday it was very unusual for a West Point graduate to receive this type of military discharge unless it was for a serious crime, like drug use.
Army officials at 10th Mountain and the Pentagon did not return a request for more information about Rapone’s discharge. Christensen said it was possible that he was offered a chance to resign his commission to avoid a court-martial hearing and a stricter punishment.
But since Rapone had served as an enlisted soldier, he would have received an honourable discharge before becoming an officer, Christensen said. That is crucial if he were to pursue benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Any injuries sustained on duty for his prior service period could qualify for VA treatment, Christensen said, but many other benefits would be restricted unless he receives a waiver from VA.
While Rubio and others have repudiated Rapone’s desire to dismantle the country’s social order and support a radical revolution, he wouldn’t be the first West Pointer to do so.
Confederate leaders Jefferson Davis and General Robert E. Lee both attended the academy. Schools, roads and statues bear their name across the country.