U.S. Military Central is investigating social media posts made by Lt. Col. Joseph Cannon, commander of the Michigan Nationwide Guard’s third Battalion, 126th Infantry Regiment, for potential violations of Protection Division political speech guidelines.
“U.S. Military Central is investigating social media conduct inside its formation not in step with the Military values and allegations that violate DoD’s policy on political activity by members of the Armed Forces,” stated Col. Armando Hernandez, the ARCENT spokesman, in an announcement to Navy Occasions. ARCENT was unaware of Cannon’s social media conduct till contacted for remark by Navy Occasions.
Navy Occasions obtained greater than 30 screenshots of posts about politics and conspiracy theories made on Cannon’s private, largely personal Fb web page. Whereas Cannon has made a whole bunch of political posts since a minimum of 2009, most of the screenshots are of posts shared or written since his battalion mobilized and deployed to the Middle East earlier this year, in response to their timestamps.
Cannon’s posts embrace a share flagged as “false info” from a longshot GOP Senate candidate, in violation of DoD guidelines on political speech, in response to navy authorized skilled Rachel VanLandingham. His timeline additionally consists of dozens of political posts and conspiracy theories. His posts mock Barack Obama because the “Messiah,” and he shared a “Plandemic” COVID-19 conspiracy movie and a hashtag related to the QAnon conspiracy theory.
No matter whether or not there was a violation of DoD guidelines, one other skilled urged Cannon’s polemic posts might elevate considerations in his chain of command about his means to guide. Two troopers underneath his command have already been punished for posting a video deriding “liberals and Democrats.”
Hernandez, the ARCENT spokesman, declined to touch upon whether or not the posts may have broken the command local weather or whether or not they may result in a lack of confidence in Cannon’s means to command, citing the continuing investigation.
Navy Occasions tried to succeed in Cannon by way of Fb Messenger on Tuesday and Wednesday, and thru his ARCENT command on Thursday, however he didn’t instantly reply. The Michigan Nationwide Guard additionally didn’t reply a request for remark despatched on Tuesday. The posts have been nonetheless up as of Wednesday night.
Final week, Navy Occasions discovered two troopers in Cannon’s battalion have been punished for violating DoD laws on political speech in uniform. The troopers, whose names weren’t launched by U.S. Military Central or the Michigan Nationwide Guard, have been disciplined after posting a viral video laden with obscenities that focused “liberals and Democrats.” The troopers made the video whereas on obligation in Bahrain, in response to a protection official.
Following Navy Occasions’ reporting on the video, troopers from Cannon’s battalion approached Navy Occasions relating to Cannon’s Fb posts, expressing dismay over the posts and the overtly political local weather within the unit.
Military officers and specialists contacted by Navy Occasions additionally expressed considerations about Cannon’s conduct on social media.
“Troopers, together with these within the Reserve Part on lively obligation, are prohibited from collaborating in partisan political exercise,” stated Hernandez, the ARCENT spokesman. “The U.S. navy is an apolitical group that swears an Oath to the Structure of the US and to not a political get together or group.”
VanLandingham, a regulation professor at Southwestern Regulation Faculty and a retired Air Drive JAG, defined that Cannon’s posts are in a grey space of restrictions on political speech by troops, however might have violated DoD laws prohibiting partisan political exercise.
However, if investigators think about his profile to indicate DoD endorsement, his political posts would probably be a significant breach of guidelines proscribing political speech.
A civil-military relations skilled interviewed by Navy Occasions stated the investigation may additionally end in a lack of confidence in Cannon’s means to command, no matter whether or not he violated DoD political speech guidelines.
“It in all probability already is a command local weather difficulty,” stated Carrie Lee, a professor on the Air Struggle Faculty who spoke with Navy Occasions by way of telephone in a private capability. “Even when [Cannon’s conduct] doesn’t cross into violation of regulation…you want to have the ability to lead women and men of all completely different sorts of views and political persuasions.”
One other civil-military relations skilled suggested the injury to the Military’s popularity may lengthen past simply Cannon’s battalion.
“When members of the navy put up or share partisan, political messages on social media, it threatens to erode the American public’s belief within the uniformed navy as a nonpartisan establishment,” stated Heidi Urben, a safety research professor at Georgetown College and retired Military officer. Leaders particularly, she defined, ought to “train nice warning when speaking politics on social media and avoid partisan content material always.”
One put up Cannon shared on Oct. 1 from Lauren Witzke, a GOP Senate candidate showing on the poll in Delaware, “crossed the road of DoD laws prohibiting ‘partisan exercise’” and Army social media policy, in response to VanLandingham –– whatever the implied endorsement difficulty. Navy personnel can’t share posts from candidates for workplace, in response to the coverage. The share was of a false declare relating to late-term abortion, which has since been flagged as “false info” by Fb.
Different posts weren’t from candidates however have been extraordinarily political in nature, although not essentially “partisan” within the slender definition of the phrase set forth by the DoD.
Cannon posted a hyperlink to the web site of Kevin and Keith Hodge, outstanding conservative influencers identified collectively as “The Hodgetwins,” on Oct. 15. Within the feedback, Cannon describes their political opponents as “the fifth column…alive and really harmful…prepared to destroy every thing for his or her political ambitions…I fear in regards to the America I’m goong [sic] to return again to subsequent spring.”
The battalion commander’s different posts embrace one from July 26 declaring that Democratic presidential nominee Joe “Biden shouldn’t be the candidate. The Candidate is Michelle Obama.” The put up alleges a conspiracy whereby “racial and ideological disunity” is self-inflicted in order that Obama, “the newer and improved Messiah (not male nor white) can come to ‘heal’ our nationwide divide. Don’t be duped.”
Cannon has additionally shared numerous conspiracy theories about Biden, together with claims of mounted debates, media conspiracies, and ties to China described as “unsubstantiated” by PolitiFact.
His timeline additionally consists of numerous public posts made in the course of the Obama administration. One from 2013 accuses the information media of a “conspiracy” of their protection of the Sandy Hook Elementary Faculty taking pictures in 2012.
One other put up from 2013 commented on a CNN gun rights roundtable that includes two Marine veterans, one for gun rights and one for gun management. “Discover one with a rifle…and the opposite…a digital camera…good Job CNN…is that this PFC Manning’s ho[m]osexual lover from the Marines,” he stated in an obvious reference to Chelsea Manning, the previous Military intelligence specialist who was convicted underneath the Espionage Act for leaking categorised materials to WikiLeaks.
Cannon, whose battalion has contributed troopers to Michigan’s ongoing response to COVID-19, has additionally shared a big quantity of conspiracy theories and misinformation associated to the lethal illness.
On Aug.19, he posted a hyperlink to half two of the viral “Plandemic” documentaries, each of that are laden with mis- and disinformation in regards to the virus that causes COVID-19. FactCheck.org says the video “suggests with out proof that the novel coronavirus was man-made and deliberately launched.” In his feedback, Cannon stated, “Who do you belief?”
Different posts from July amplified disinformation about facemasks purportedly lowering blood oxygen ranges –– a claim disproven by medical experts and scientific experiments. On July 31, Cannon evaded Fb’s fact-checking on the declare by enhancing a photograph related to the disinformation, saying, “Lets [sic] play with the detection algorithm a bit of bit…see if it notices…”
Cannon additionally shared “false info,” in response to Fb’s fact-checking, on Aug. 30 alleging that the CDC had falsified COVID-19 loss of life totals.
He adopted the skepticism of CDC loss of life counts with an “Anchorman” meme on Oct. 7 that learn, “On a optimistic be aware, no person has died of ‘previous age’ since March.”
One other put up from April was of graffiti studying “COVID-1984.”
The battalion commander has additionally speculated about different conspiracies, together with a fact-checked put up in August questioning whether or not the Beirut explosion was brought on by a suicide drone.
One other put up on Aug. 11 merely learn “#SaveourChildren,” an anti-child trafficking slogan adopted by QAnon conspiracists.
A matter of confidence
Cannon might face higher punishment for an oblique lack of confidence in his means to command quite than the posts themselves, defined specialists.
“The foundations governing navy members’ political actions, significantly relating to on-line conduct, should not as clear-cut as one would assume,” stated VanLandingham in an interview with Navy Occasions. “Navy members mustn’t ever permit their private opinions to hold, or seem to hold, the [approval] of their department or the DoD.”
VanLandingham stated Cannon’s military-heavy Fb profile — his uniformed profile image, his listed Nationwide Guard and Division of the Military civilian employment, and his frequent sharing of posts exhibiting his unit’s coaching actions — will not be ample to indicate DoD endorsement.
The implied endorsement difficulty might not matter, although, says Lee, the civil-military skilled.
Commanders, stated Lee, lead an ideologically various cadre and can’t be seen as exerting undue affect.
“One of many vital issues about being a commander — or about management normally — is that each single particular person beneath you feels as if you’ve their greatest curiosity at coronary heart,” she stated.
A commander espousing a political perspective on social media might adversely have an effect on subordinates with differing opinions, whatever the perspective, Lee stated.
“[It] turns into an actual lack of confidence and it turns into a command local weather difficulty if in case you have troopers underneath your command who’re liberal, and so they’re watching your Fb web page” that has conservative political posts, she stated. “That may spell lots of bother for you as a frontrunner to simply have the ability to lead successfully.”
Lee additionally indicated that Cannon’s posts may lead his troopers — corresponding to these in his Firm A who have been just lately disciplined for political posts on obligation — to assume partisan posts have been acceptable.
“You possibly can think about a Joe on the road seeing a battalion commander posting actually pro-Trump issues and considering that he’s talking for the DoD,” she stated.