WASHINGTON — Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is demanding West Point officials revoke the commission of an officer who posted photos of himself with pro-communist messages hidden under his graduation uniform, calling it an “extreme embarrassment” for the military.
In a letter to acting Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy Tuesday, the Republican senator also questioned whether service officials ignored signs of misconduct and potential insubordination during the cadet’s time at the U.S. Military Academy.
“It is extremely concerning that someone who so often expressed such hostile views towards the United States’ system of government was able to obtain a commission,” he wrote. “(His) revolutionary ideas were harbored long before he was commissioned as an Army second lieutenant. Were West Point administrators or faculty aware of his views and behavior?”
Photos of 2nd Lt. Spenser Rapone from the academy’s graduation in May 2016 surfaced in recent weeks, showing him posing with a Che Guevara t-shirt under his uniform and “communism will win” written under his cap.
In response, West Point officials issued a statement noting that Rapone‘s actions “in no way reflect the values of the U.S. Military Academy or the U.S. Army.”
He is currently assigned to the 10th Mountain Division. In a statement to Army Times, officials there said the division supports freedom of speech for soldiers but “when our soldiers are in uniform, politics must be set aside. Our uniform represents every corner of our nation and it cannot be used to promote any single ideology.”
Army officials have confirmed his chain of command is looking into the controversy, but have not announced any actions against Rapone. Rubio wants immediate punishment.
“Posts on social media by Rapone broadcast his devotion to the communist cause and his plans to infiltrate and sabotage the military,” the senator wrote. “His conduct, writings, and sympathies for American adversaries predates his commission in the Army.
“Therefore, I respectfully request the United States Army immediately nullify Rapone’s commission and pursue all available disciplinary options under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Rapone should be required to pay back in full the cost of his education, and the United States Military Academy should consider revoking his degree.”
Rubio also wants McCarthy within 30 days to release “all relevant information regarding West Point’s efforts to ensure cadets who actively support the destruction of our government do not waste more taxpayer funds or prevent a more worthy candidate from attending” the school.
Rapone enlisted as an infantryman in September 2010 and served in Afghanistan with 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment in 2011. But later that year, according to U.S. Army Special Operations command spokesman Lt. Col. Robert Bockholt, he was “removed for standards” from the regiment. He was admitted to West Point following that action.
Reporter Meghann Myers contributed to this story.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.