Revenge Porn Is Alive And Well In Marine Corps Months After Scandal

After a piercing March investigation pointed to the 30,000-member strong “Marines United” Facebook group as ground zero for the Corps’ nude-photo scandal, successor groups immediately sprung up across social media and file-sharing networks to keep explicit photos of unconsenting female service members, veterans, and civilians flowing across the internet. And despite the looming threats of courts-martial and criminal prosecutions, military-connected strains of misogyny and sexism are alive and well — and have turned more vile and vicious online.

On July 12, the Daily Beast reported the existence of a new “Mike Uniform” Facebook group and DropBox drive containing increasingly violent imagery, including a photograph that appears to show an unconscious woman photographed naked “by a man whose reflection is visible in a mirror, though his face is unclear.” (Task & Purpose was able to independently confirm the existence of the photograph, as well as the DropBox and Facebook group where it was posted). The group’s tagline is a clear tribute to Marines United: “I am MU this is MU. it may have to be under a different name and some of the things we used to do we don’t do anymore be we can still come together as brother on a page that is just for us.”

Publication of the new imagery appears to be at least partly driven by revenge. Task & Purpose confirmed that one new private Facebook group explicitly focuses on Kally Wayne, a former Marine who told ABC News in the aftermath of the initial Marines United scandal last March that an ex-boyfriend had shared explicit images and video of her around the internet. Wayne was among several victims whose likeness was plastered not just across Facebook and DropBox, but other pornographic sites as retribution for her speaking out. Several active-duty and veteran Marines interviewed by Task & Purpose at the time had characterized her account as “false accusations” by a promiscuous, disgraced Marine.

Related: The Rise And Fall (And Rise) Of ‘Marines United’»

The administrators of pages like Mike Uniform and others, such as “Group JTTOTS No Wooks Dependas No Reporting Bubba,” self-identified as active-duty or veterans on their Facebook profiles, clearly aren’t wary of the ongoing Naval Criminal Investigative Service inquiry that’s ensnared dozens of their fellow Marines.

“They’re escalating and they don’t care,” Col. Don Christensen, former Air Force chief prosecutor and Protect Our Defenders president, told Task & Purpose. “This is pure arrogance in their conduct, plain and simple.”

It is not yet fully clear who is responsible for these latest private enclaves of revenge porn. Several sources provided Task & Purpose with screenshots of Facebook group administrators, identifying those admins as active-duty or veteran Marines. A message pinned to the top of the Mike Uniform Facebook page states that group membership is explicitly restricted to active-duty Marines and Navy corpsmen. One source told Task & Purpose that new members are interrogated on basic boot camp and Marine knowledge, most of which is readily available to anyone on the internet, to weed out imposters.

The fundamental legal problem with sharing revenge porn — it’s prohibited both under Navy regulations and a growing patchwork of state laws — seems lost on participants. Within hours of the Daily Beast’s latest report, several members of the central Facebook group were scrambling to adjust their tactics. “If you decide to post pictures of naked women, you have to blur the faces,” wrote one Marine in a screenshot provided to Task & Purpose. One source told Task & Purpose that, in some cases, aspiring group members are asked to upload explicit photos as a sign of trust before gaining admission.

Much of the revenge porn in question was clearly posted in recent weeks after lawmakers and Corps leadership rebuked such behavior as contrary to the “dignity and respect” that all service members, and fellow humans, deserve. At least one victims’ advocate and Marine veteran see the new groups as a direct rebuke of DoD efforts to crack down on revenge porn across the Corps.

Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Robert B. Neller speaks to Marines with 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion and 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., April 26, 2017. Neller spoke about the importance of respecting fellow Marines and the Marine Corps’ revised social media policy.

Lawmakers aren’t pleased either. “Nonconsensual pornography continues to be a culture of rot spread throughout the military,” Rep. Jackie Speier, a Democrat from California who’s been leading the charge against revenge porn for years, told Task & Purpose in a statement regarding the Daily Beast story. “Until we address that rot, and ensure the punishment fits the crime, we’re going to continue to spend valuable time and resources running down these perpetrators.”

Indeed, the escalation among offenders with Marine ties comes amid growing pressure from military authorities. In recent months, NCIS reviewed more than 130,000 explicit images across 168 websites, identifying 67 Marines (and 22 civilians) as persons of interest in the Marines United investigation. The Corps announced on July 10 that the first Marine had pleaded guilty to sharing nude photos without consent on the now-defunct Facebook group page. The unidentified Marine, who faces imminent administrative discharge, was sentenced to 10 days confinement, forfeiture part of one month’s pay, and reduction in rank by three grades.  

But even NCIS appears hamstrung in its efforts to actually prosecute offenders. According to legislative staffer for Speier, NCIS can’t actually access the private Google Drive accounts circulating in Facebook groups like Mike Uniform without a warrant from a federal magistrate due to the lack of a federal statute regarding revenge porn (35 states have various laws on the books), and even then, Google has refused to turn over this information to military authorities.

“NCIS has tools as its disposal to track both perpetrators and victims, but without the Google Drive they can’t do much about it,” the staffer told Task & Purpose. “You need evidence not just of the images and videos, but the comments that show Marines explicitly targeting and IDing victims.”

Related: First Marine Sentenced In Connection With ‘Marines United’ Nude Photo Scandal»

And if the unidentified Marine convicted on July 10 is any indication, the punishments applied to revenge porn offenders — doled out in a streamlined process known as a “summary” court-martial — are usually so light as to be “laughable,” according to Christensen.

“Summary court is little more than traffic court,” Christensen told Task & Purpose. “It has a maximum punishment of 30 days in jail for an E4 or below, and if you’re an E5 there’s no possibility of imprisonment — officers don’t go to jail.”

More importantly, he says, “There’s no public record: Once you’re out of the Corps, nobody knows what you did.”

For lawmakers like Speier who have deployed legislative tools to address sexism and misogyny in the armed forces — both the House and Senate versions of the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act amend the Uniform Code of Military Justice to explicitly define the sharing of sexually explicit images without consent as unlawful — such a relatively lax punishment appears more of a setback than a step forward.

“This does not strike the congresswoman as a proportional punishment,” the legislative staffer for Speier told Task & Purpose. “The fact that a second Google Drive has emerged shows there aren’t sufficient disincentives in place thus far.”

While the increasingly viciousness of groups like Mike Uniform suggest that the Corps isn’t tackling its revenge porn problem as well as it may believe — a July 10 press release from Headquarters Marine Corps announcing the guilty plea and punishment proclaimed the Corps’ gender bias task force is “making progress” — Marine Commandant Gen. Robert Neller’s office has a message for critics: We’re listening, and we’re working on it.

“When female Marines’ contributions are devalued based on nothing but their gender, that’s wrong,” Lt. Col. Eric Dent, Neller’s public affairs officer, told Task & Purpose. “The problem is that we have to fight misogyny. We have to fight the devaluing of fellow marines based on nothing but their gender. It’s stupid.”

“There are female Marines that are far better at everything than I am,” he added. “They are more important to our mission than anyone else.”