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Military investigates two Camp Pendleton Marines for apparently Orlando-related post

A social media post that seemingly references Sunday’s mass shooting at an Orlando nightclub has led to an investigation of two active-duty Camp Pendleton Marines.

The Camp Pendleton-based 1st Marine Expeditionary Force said Thursday that it is looking into a photo posted in a Facebook group called Camp MENdleton Resale, which advertises itself as a private forum for male troops and veterans.

The photo, which has since been removed, shows a uniformed Marine corporal pointing a rifle toward the camera. A caption at the bottom says, “Coming to a gay bar near you!”

Based on other features in the post, it appears the photo also was sent through the instant messaging program Snapchat. The post has since been shared on several other Facebook pages.

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It’s an open question as to whether the post was a tasteless joke or a genuine threat. According to the Marine Corps Times, which first reported on the issue, the Marine who posted the photo did so with the comment, “Too soon?”

Whatever the motivations, Marine Corps officials were not amused.

“We are currently investigating a threatening social media post and will take appropriate action,” said a statement from the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. “This type of behavior and mindset will not be allowed, and it is not consistent with the core values of honor, courage and commitment that are demonstrated by the vast majority of Marines on a daily basis.”

Both the corporal in the photo and the person who posted it on Facebook are active-duty troops at Pendleton, a Marine spokesman said. He declined to name them.

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First Amendment free-speech rights are restricted for the military, noted Thomas Umberg, who served in the Army’s judge advocate general corps and is now in private practice.

“To the extent that this was meant to either intimidate somebody or bring discredit to the Marine Corps, it could be a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice,” Umberg said.

That could be a career-ender for an officer, he said. For a junior enlisted Marine, it might not automatically mean discharge, but it wouldn’t be good for promotion prospects.

Moderators of the Camp MENdleton Resale group on Facebook deleted the post and banned the person involved, said Caleb Moss, cofounder of the group.

“We believe that it was a very insensitive and possibly dangerous photo that needed to be taken seriously given the nature of the possible threat,” he said.

“We responded to the photo as soon as we were alerted to it. We have 25,000 members and get about 3,000 posts every seven days. We rely on our members ... to help moderate, which they did. As a group, we do not condone any type of hate speech or threats,” he added.

Moss said someone took a screen shot of the post and shared it outside of the group, which is when it gained broad attention. He also said the group’s moderators had deleted the post by then.

According to organizers, the MENdleton Facebook group is intended to be a forum to help the veterans community.

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“We support veterans and service members, especially calls for help when they are in a bad place,” Moss said. “We have a huge support network and have gotten homeless veterans back on their feet, unemployed veterans jobs, and other projects.”

jen.steele@sduniontribune.com

Twitter: @jensteeley

Steele writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.

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