The former Marine-turned-journalist who uncovered a Facebook group that shared photos of nude female service members accompanied by crude and violent repartee is facing a barrage of verbal assaults online, ranging from death threats to the unearthing of his own inappropriate activity on social media.
“Such a silly boy. Did he think this wouldn’t happen?” read an email to the tip line at his nonprofit news website, The War Horse, which included links to four of Thomas James Brennan’s own posts from 2014 and 2015 that featured lewd comments about women.
Brennan’s reporting about Marines United, edited and published by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, touched off an investigation by the U.S. Department of Defense. The 30,000-member Facebook page and affiliated file-sharing drives included hundreds of images posted by men – apparently without the women’s consent – along with sexually explicit comments, including jokes about raping them.
The story has attracted national attention since it was posted Saturday afternoon, drawing widespread praise but also threats and accusations. Some have advocated violence against Brennan and his family, driving him out of his home and leading local law enforcement to investigate.
“I’m not advocating violence or offering compensation, I’m just saying that if this guy turned up dead in a back alley somewhere the world would be a better place,” said one comment, to which another replied, “You’re going to be quoted … ”
A few have vowed to end Brennan’s journalism career, suggesting that he is a hypocrite.
“Heaveans [sic] to betsy, Thomas Brennan has such a potty mouth,” read the subject line of the tip line email. A string on 4Chan, an anonymous electronic bulletin board, included three of the same posts from Brennan, adding, “The Lcpl underground never forgets,” using shorthand for the rank of lance corporal.
Unlike the Marines United posts, none of Brennan’s posts include photos of people shared without their consent or advocate violence. For instance, one is a Facebook share of a news story about Brianne Altice, a Utah teacher who later pleaded guilty to having sex with three of her teenage students.
“All these lucky ass teenagers,” Brennan wrote. “I could barely get a mediocre teenage girl to suck my dick at 16, but these guys get some hot fuckin woman.”
In another, Brennan comments on a photo from Vice of a row of women crouched next to rapper Coolio, wearing thongs: “Some of these women are really hot sloots, but some REALLY need to bleach their booty hole.”
Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting holds all of its contributors to the same high ethical standards as its employees – standards that Brennan’s social media activity clearly violates.
“While we stand by the veracity of this story, Thomas Brennan’s behavior on social media is disappointing at best,” said Editor in Chief Amy Pyle.
Brennan was the one who forwarded the email containing the inappropriate posts to Reveal yesterday afternoon, saying they had come from some of the people who have been threatening him. He followed up with a written statement today.
“I have said and written things things that I regret. I am no angel. I do not condone stalking. I do not condone rape,” the statement said. “The farther I am away from active duty military service, the clearer it is to me how this poisonous culture tears at the fabric not just of the Corps but of every military branch, and at the larger fabric of society.”
Before his investigation was published on Saturday, Brennan sought comment from administrators of Marines United but did not receive a reply. Three of them had responded to shared photos of women, so it is clear they were aware of the phenomenon.
A statement created months ago to respond to similar complaints about the group has resurfaced on Twitter. It describes Marines as “ … a rough and tumble group of dogs with a taste for the carnal things in life.”
“Within the MU community, some have begun to share content that may be described as explicit. We allow this provided no one is being harmed, harassed or otherwise unduly disturbed. There have been instances where members’ current or former significant others have been involved or featured in these exchanges. We ask that our members get permission to share such content before doing so, although under the fair use policy and law regarding the ownership of digital media, they are not required to do so.”
Marine veteran Joseph A. Boyd reached out to Reveal saying that he was the originator of the site, in 2012. Boyd said he later switched his domain to Marines United Forever, after a secret group “stole our name.”
“The only reason we knew about this (secret) group was because we kept getting messages from women that their pictures were being passed around,” Boyd said, adding that he has gotten a lot of negative feedback since the story came out alongside requests to join Marines United.