The Marine Corps has taken its first punitive action against a pair of Marines whose online activity was investigated as part of a wide-ranging effort to crack down on misogynistic internet postings and "revenge porn" sharing within the service.
Two enlisted Marines, a noncommissioned officer and a junior enlisted service member, both attached to 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, out of Camp Pendleton, California, were demoted in paygrade and punished with 45 days of military restriction and 45 days of additional punitive duties, Lt. Col. Warren Cook, commander of 2/4, said in a statement.
The Marines ultimately were sent to NJP because of derogatory comments made about one of their more senior enlisted leaders, officials said, but the comments were discovered through investigation into inappropriate comments about women. The prosecutions were first reported by The Washington Post.
"The issue began very similar to others we've discussed, akin to making comments online about [a] woman or women," the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Glenn Walters, told reporters at the Pentagon on Friday. "In the comments that transpired underneath it, they made comments about a variety of subjects, which opened them up to the Uniform Code of Military Justice."
The command was alerted to derogatory comments posted on the social media page "United States Grunt Corps" on April 5, according to Cook's statement. The two Marines who were found to have made statements against a member of their chain of command were subjected to public NJP proceedings the same day.
"The Marines and sailors of 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, do not tolerate personal attacks on their Marines, online or elsewhere," Cook said in the statement. "This kind of behavior flies in the face of our service's core values, and this organization refuses to condone it."
The incident illustrates the challenge of directly prosecuting the sexist online behavior that the Marine Corps initially set out to tackle.
In the month since news broke that a members of a private Facebook group, Marines United, were circulating a link to a drive containing nude and compromising photos of female service members without their consent, the service has organized a task force to address the issue of online misconduct, as well as the broader issue of how women are treated within the Corps.
"This isn't merely a social media problem," Walters said. "This is not a nude photo issue."
The Naval Criminal Investigative Service has identified 27 individuals whose online activities provide grounds for further investigation and potential prosecution, NCIS Director Andrew Traver told reporters.
Of those, 15 are active-duty military, including 14 Marines and one sailor. Another 29 individuals have been referred to the Marine Corps for minor offenses that might not warrant prosecution, but could be punished at the command level. Notably, these numbers are much smaller than initial reports that suggested all 30,000 members of the Marines United page had been engaged in potentially criminal conduct.
"The majority of the allegations that we've uncovered do not rise to the level of felony criminal activity in accordance with state or federal statutes," Traver said.
Walters said the task force had created a fusion cell by which NCIS could routinely turn over investigative materials to individual commands for appropriate personnel actions.
He reiterated that the goal of the task force is to change Marine Corps culture and thereby eradicate compromising online behavior. As one element of that, he said, potential recruits will now be counseled on appropriate online conduct before they reach boot camp.
"The good news here was that we published this guidance, we got the commanders trained, and this happened without us knowing," Walters said of the punishment handed out to the two enlisted Marines. "This is a good news story because we've got commanders taking action to police up their people for their online behavior."