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The Political Navy SEAL

Yeah, we beat up on Peter Berg and Marcus Luttrell a lot on this blog. Mainly, it comes from wanting to correct the record on Navy SEALs. For instance, on The Q and A with Jeff Goldsmith, Peter Berg said:

“Navy SEALs are the least political people I’ve ever met...To talk to Navy SEALs about politics is an exercise in pointlessness.”

Berg repeated this claim in dozens of interviews; so did members of the media. In our research on SEALs, though, we’ve come across quite another beast from Berg’s archetype of a SEAL:

The political Navy SEAL.

As a group, SEALs have an incredibly powerful (and positive) public image, and some of them use that image for political purposes. In fairness, the vast majority of SEALs go through their service and post-service lives without using their time in uniform as a platform to express political views. Most SEALs. Some, though, can’t get out of the spotlight. These uber-vocal SEALs give the lie to the myth peddled by Berg and others that SEALs eschew politics to simply do their job, especially since Navy SEALs, when they do go public with a political message, get a lot of press.

We’ve found quite a few Navy SEALs who are very political. A few examples:

- Special Operations OPSEC Education Fund. First up, we have a series of Political Action Committees. There is nothing more political than a political action committee lobbying the government, most of whom have obscure sources of funding. The biggest and most political SEAL of them all is Scott Taylor, a former Navy SEAL, who founded this group. He and his organization briefly made waves in the last Presidential election with political ads against President Obama. Taylor also ran for a Congressional seat in Virginia. (They also have an accuracy problem.)

- Special Operations Speaks. Special Operations Speaks’ website demands “accountability” for President Obama’s response to Benghazi and its masthead features at least one former SEAL demanding action.   

- SEAL Benjamin Smith. Another founder of Special Operations OPSEC Education Fund, Ben Smith deserves his own section because of his role in circulating an email in conservative circles that had so many errors that Snopes debunked it. Read about it here.   

- SOF for America. This is yet another PAC and website using their military experience to lobby and campaign for conservative causes. Founded by a former Navy SEAL, this group explicitly backs Republican politicians to “take back control of the Senate”.

- Former Navy SEAL Christopher Mark Heben. He went on Fox News to denounce critics of Marcus Luttrell’s film Lone Survivor. Along the way he said, “Nobody who wears a trident...is a fan of Obama or Hillary.” That sounds political to us. And, according to Heben, it means that all SEALs are political.

- Former Navy SEAL Don Raso. In this NRA “Patriot Profile” as a part of the NRA’s “Life of Duty” series, former Navy SEALs describe their love of the NRA and how it helped them protect America. In this feature, former Navy SEAL Don Raso uses his personal experience at war to criticize Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

- Books. At least five books about or by Navy SEALs repeat the false claim that Saddam Hussein had WMDs, as we wrote about here.

- SEAL Gabriel Gomez. While not involved in the current war on terror, Gomez was a former SEAL who left active duty in 1996, but he ran for John Kerry’s vacant Senate seat in Massachusetts in 2014. He has been associated with the Special Operations OPSEC Education Fund group described above, which specifically campaigns against President Obama.

- Father of sailor Michael Strange. The father of a sailor who conducted electronic intercept intelligence for the U.S. Navy--and frequently assigned to Navy SEAL teams--he sued the Secretary of Defense and blamed President Obama for killing his son. His son died in the Chinook helicopter crash in 2011 that killed 33 troops, the single largest loss of life in Afghanistan. You probably didn’t hear about this, but it made the rounds through the conservative blogosphere.

(Why didn’t we call Michael Strange a SEAL? Because frankly, we can’t tell if he is. Though his father repeatedly uses the phrase “SEAL” and let reporters/bloggers write that his son was a SEAL, multiple other reports don’t mention that he was a SEAL, and specifically do not classify him as a SEAL. We can’t tell what is the truth.)

- Navy SEALS Against Obama. This now defunct blog has a self-explanatory title.

- “The Shooter” in Esquire. This anonymous former SEAL has lobbied Congress for increased benefits and funding for special operations, using his veteran status to bolster his position.

- Of course, we’ll end with Marcus Luttrell’s memoir Lone Survivor. At its worst, the memoir Lone Survivor actually blames liberals for the deaths of SEALs during Operation Red Wings. If accusing a political party of killing soldiers isn’t politics, we don’t know what is. Marcus Luttrell semi-regularly appears on Glenn Beck’s show, recently attacking Obama for negotiating with the Taliban to free Bowe Bergdahl. (Luttrell also misuses the term “terrorist” which we wrote about here.)   

We don’t want anyone to think we are denying SEALs the right to engage in politics. Navy SEALs--especially retired SEALs no longer bound by decorum or UCMJ--can make their political viewpoints known. However, we don’t want SEALs describes themselves as “apolitical” when many SEALs are as vehemently political as any conservative radio host.

A better description of SEALs is that they engage with politics with the same gusto as most Americans. Some eschew politics; some love to talk it. What we can say, with certainty, is that among those vocal SEALs, they tend towards conservative or very, very conservative.

(Finally, why pick on SEALs and not Green Berets, Rangers or especially Delta Force? Because examples of uberly-vocal political Green Berets and D-boys are much, much harder to find. And they don’t describe themselves as apolitical either.)

fifteen comments

It’s also remarkable how USSOCOM and especially its doorkicker faction are known to conspicuously lack non-Caucasian looks and have men from the ‘Southern’ states well overrepresented.
Women aren’t exactly well-represented either.

It probably doesn’t need a ‘political’ attitude for them to dislike Obama and Hillary.

How do you know there’s a Navy SEAL in the room?

Answer: He’ll tell ya.(jokerp)

Remember when Gen. James Vaught (RIP) chastised McRaven for his Navy SEALs being too media savvy? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bv_1YpteK..

SO – That sounds like a topic for another day…but one we would love to cover. (It begs the question, if all your men are white, southern boys who only speak English, how well can you really blend in overseas?)

“how well can you really blend in overseas?”

Remember the scene in the Black Haw Down movie where a white athletic guy in civvie clothes stood (out) in that market in Mogadishu? ;)

So…remember in January when a reporter would ask Luttrell about the larger mission in Afghanistan, and Luttrell would answer, “That’s above my paygrade.”?

I guess since the movie came out, he dropped that stance.

SO: have you lost your mind? Women in the special forces?

In the real world there are no GI Janes.

In the real world, the vast majority of USSOCOM personnel is support personnel.

You specifically alluded to the doorkicker faction in your post, not a job in which women are likely to succeed.

Do you have a problem with white men?

A stupid questions aside, in which version of logic does writing
“Women aren’t exactly well-represented either.”
equate being for more women among their ranks in the first place?

Don’t play these games with strawmen or accusations based on overly ambitious interpretations with me. I’m not the kind of person who plays along with such nonsense.
Pick someone else when you want a keyboard fight.

Completely off topic, can women fly for the 160th? I know women can fly for other equivalents in other countries.

F-I knew some women in 160th, but not pilots, so I really don’t know. I want to say they can…but at the same time I just don’t know.

Wow, you seem to have a serious amount of jealousy when it comes to SEALs. What envy you display.

I am not military and perhaps my comment is an oversimplification but the movie and the book make the SEALS portrayed as not very bright. With all the work shown about how tough and physical they are – there was a distinct lack of effort into showing their intellect. When their mission was compromised by the goat herders, there was no discussion about temporarily taking the herders captive, retracing their steps back to where they had prior comms and not letting the herders go until they knew their extraction would take place faster than the herders could run down the mountain, give up their position and come back to attack them. The deaths of the 3 other SEALS on the mission and all the others who came to enact a rescue can all be traced to the illogical decision to release the herders and start the Taliban counter-attack time clock without first securing their exit. What am I missing here? Is there some protocol, law, ROE that would prevent keeping the herders with them until the climbed back out of the valley, made comms and knew they would be extracted faster than the herders could compromise their position?

Eric and Michael, how political should an effective soldier be?