FORT DRUM — A Fort Drum officer’s social media posts backing communism while in uniform and criticizing President Donald J. Trump and Defense Secretary James Mattis have drawn a backlash online, spurred an Army investigation and even prompted condemnation from his own father.
Second Lt. Spenser Rapone, a member of the 10th Mountain Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team, first drew attention when he tweeted an image from his account, @punkproletarian, with “Communism Will Win” written into his West Point cadet hat. The tweet featured the hashtag “#VeteransForKaepernick” a reference to former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who stirred national controversy when he kneeled during the national anthem to protest the treatment of African-Americans.
On Monday, he posted a photo in which he wore a shirt with an image of Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara under his West Point cadet uniform.
“In case there was any lingering doubt, hasta la victoria siempre,” Lt. Rampone tweeted. The latter half of his tweet is a saying of Guevara’s, meaning “Until victory, always!”
Other online statements criticized President Trump and members of his administration.
Around the time of President Trump’s inauguration, Lt. Rapone shared multiple posts on Twitter and Facebook which opposed the Trump administration.
“Continue to resist. #AmericanSpring,” he wrote on Facebook on Jan. 28.
In one tweet from June, Lt. Rapone said Defense Secretary James Mattis was “the most vile, evil (profanity)” within the administration. On Facebook, the lieutenant called Attorney General Jeff Sessions a “racist piece of (profanity)” and said “the world will be a far better place when he bites the dust.”
In July, he tweeted a profane insult at John McCain, and wrote that he “will happily dance on his grave.”
He also voiced support for former Fort Drum soldier and convicted document leaker Chelsea Manning, writing on Jan. 17 that she “never should have seen the inside of a cell in the first place.”
On Tuesday evening, the 2nd Brigade Combat Team released a statement that Lt. Rapone’s chain of command was aware of the statements and were looking into it. Lt. Rapone arrived at Fort Drum in August, 10th Mountain Division officials said.
Post spokeswoman Julie Halpin said that the 10th Mountain Division has a long history of defending freedom around the world.
“The 10th Mountain Division not only supports free speech, it trains every day to ensure our nation has the ability to protect it at all cost,” she said, in a statement. “That being said, when our soldiers are in uniform, politics must be set aside. Our uniform represents every corner of our nation and it cannot be used to promote any single ideology.”
Department of Defense directives bar active military personnel from several types of political activism, including serving or sponsoring partisan political clubs, speaking before political gatherings, participating in broadcast political debates or discussions or placing political signs, banners or posters on their homes or vehicles.
Rachel VanLandingham, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and judge advocate and an associate professor of law at Southwestern Law School, Calif., said the lieutenant could face up to two years of confinement and dismissal from the Army if the matter is taken to a court martial.
However, she said Lt. Rapone’s commanders have some options with how to deal with the statements, particularly the tweet about Secretary Mattis.
They could give him an administrative punishment such as a letter of reprimand, or a non-judicial punishment such as an Article 15. If a court martial were to take place, the statement against Mr. Mattis could violate Article 88 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which covers contemptuous statements against top civilian leadership.
“He’s showing contempt for civilian control of the military through his own words,” Ms. VanLandingham said.
The statements, particularly those Lt. Rapone made while wearing his uniform, could also violate Article 92, failure to obey order or regulation, Article 133, conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman, or Article 134, a catch-all article for offenses not specifically mentioned elsewhere.
Also affecting the response to the tweets is the volume of statements.
“He should know better,” Ms. VanLandingham said. “This isn’t a one-off thing. It sounds like it’s a pattern and practice of doing this.”
The lieutenant’s father, Richard L. Rapone, treasurer for Lawrence County, Pa., issued a public statement that he was “disappointed” in his son’s statements.
“Spenser is my son and I love him dearly however I do not like nor condone his politics, his actions or behavior,” Mr. Rapone said.
According to his father, Lt. Rapone initially enlisted in the Army, became an Army Ranger and was deployed to Afghanistan. He later applied and was accepted to West Point.
On Tuesday afternoon, the lieutenant’s comments were condemned by West Point, who said Lt. Rapone’s actions “in no way reflect the values of the U.S. Military Academy or the U.S. Army.”