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Monday, December 11, 2017

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

 

Second Lieutenant Spenser Rapone is, by all accounts, a contrarian. He was a free thinker at West Point, a communist in the U.S. Army, a soldier who reads Gramsci, and most tragically, a threat to the peace of mind of Senator Marco Rubio.

What second Lt. Rapone is not, is a threat to “overthrow the U.S. government,” a “threat to our safety,” guilty of “treason,” or “100%” certain to commit “mass murder in the near future.” This is despite what some may have read about him on right-wing Twitter and in the reactionary Daily Caller.

Fake journalist Mike Cernovich, a master of the non-sequitur, concludes Rapone’s heresies should convince you that the National Security Council is run by the Muslim Brotherhood.

Spenser Rapone is proof that cultural Marxism has taken over at West Point, still think that the NSC isn’t run by Muslim Brotherhood?

— Mike Cernovich (@Cernovich) September 27, 2017

Now the Army is investigating Lt. Rapone, the veterans in the Democratic Socialists of America are defending him, and the social media hive is starting to buzz.

Welcome to another culture war in which the fate of America hangs in the balance, at least until the end of the news cycle or the next white man’s massacre, whichever comes first.

Lt. Rapone’s notoriety illuminates one of the lesser (but still annoying) hazards of our troubled times: The power of social media platforms to elevate the trivial to the apocalyptic, to transform curious developments into civilizational dilemmas that require righteous indignation from all right-thinking people.

Tired of chasing Colin Kaepernick out of the ideological pocket, the right-wing thought police are now swarming to chase Lt. Rapone out of the barracks. His crime: free thinking, which is truly scary to many on the right and even some on the left. Out of fear, the thought police seek to win the debate by preventing it from happening.

The political right is far worse than the left on this score, but leftist intolerance is on the rise, too.

Last spring, sociologist Charles Murray, who has authored works of sophisticated racism and works of insightful cultural criticism, was prevented from speaking at Middlebury College by professors and students proud to say they had never read what he had written.

Just last week in Washington, a group of American University students were thwarted when they sought to promote unpopular views on campus. The group Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) was blocked from holding a forum on the politics and jurisprudence of campus sexual assault.

To the local chapter of the American Association of University Women, the unpopular was intolerable. They declared that the YAL speakers were engaging in “hate speech,” a claim for which there is little evidence. YAL lost access to a campus venue and had to go elsewhere to hold its discussion of Title IX and other timely issues of interest to young people

AAUW actually celebrated on Facebook that they succeeded in making sure that the speaker’s unorthodox opinions did not infect the presumably innocent ears of female (and male) undergraduates allegedly certain to suffer some kind of harm (what kind of harm is not very clear) from hearing a point of view they might find obnoxious or tendentious or persuasive. The thought police imagined they had won the debate by preventing it from happening.

Lt. Rapone is having a similar effect on the right. He wore a Che Guevara T-shirt under his uniform. He wrote a paper quoting Gramsci to support his view that the U.S. Army should intervene in Kurdistan.

But wait, there’s worse: He shouted during an office debate with a professor. He failed to wear his uniform in a West Point building where uniforms are mandatory. And, get this, he stared at a fellow officer’s name tag for a long time.Very suspicious.

(The Daily Caller reports that social media accounts “linked” to Lt. Rapone have included harsh and profane comments. I could not independently confirm the linkage. Since the Daily Caller is not a trustworthy source, I will not quote the alleged comments.)

Isn’t it obvious Lt. Rapone is a clear and present danger to the safe spaces of Daily Caller staffers? Isn’t it imperative that he be driven out of the U.S. armed forces in the name of all that is right and good? Isn’t this the moment when Senator Rubio can overcome anxieties about his diminutive stature and do Something Important?

Alas, it is.

West Point officials were apparently aware of Rapone’s private political opinions in 2015 and let him continue to serve, another subject generating yards of online outrage.

I think West Point did the right thing. Lt. Rapone’s superiors saw that an aspiring officer had strong and unpopular opinions. They saw that he passed his classes and fulfilled his duties, so they concluded he was acting within his constitutionally secured rights—the very freedoms the Army is supposed to defend. They sent him to Afghanistan where he served one tour.

Lt. Rapone is currently assigned to the 10th Mountain Division, according to the Army Times.

Maybe his criticism of American society and admiration for rebellious spirits like Che Guevara and Antonio Gramsci will prove incompatible with fighting one of the seven wars the U.S. government is now waging around the world. I hope so.

Or maybe Lt. Rapone is a good soldier who knows what he wants to risk his life for: free speech. That wouldn’t be a bad outcome either. Free speech needs more defenders, especially lately.

Jefferson Morley is AlterNet’s Washington correspondent. He is the author of the forthcoming biography The Ghost: The Secret Life of CIA Spymaster James Jesus Angleton (St. Martin’s Press, October 2017) and Snow-Storm in August: Washington City, Francis Scott Key and the Forgotten Race Riot of 1835.