The sight of a large blue-and-white Trump flag perched atop the lead vehicle in a military convoy was a shocking sight for some Kentucky drivers on the final weekend in January.
Video and photos of the vehicle spread rapidly online, prompting Navy officials to open an investigation after they confirmed that the convoy was from a special warfare unit from Virginia Beach.
Nearly a month later, the Navy has announced that the investigation is over and that “corrective measures” have been doled out to select members of the unit.
Lt. Jacqui Maxwell, a spokeswoman for Naval Special Warfare Group 2, said in a statement to The Washington Post that punitive actions were taken but declined to comment on the precise nature of the punishment or how many individuals were affected.
“The inquiry was completed between the unit’s commanders and service members,” Maxwell’s statement said. “It has been determined that those service members have violated the spirit and intent of applicable DoD regulations concerning the flying of flags and the apparent endorsement of political activities. Administrative corrective measures were taken with each individual based on their respective responsibility.”
Though images of the controversial display were largely condemned by government officials, the public reaction was more varied.
For some, seeing military personnel publicly endorsing a political figure exacerbated existing fears about American institutions falling prey to an administration that has been accused of having authoritarian impulses.
For others, the display was nothing more than a playful celebration of American might as the country transitions — peacefully — from one president to the next.
The images provoked strong reactions on both sides of the debate. One of the Facebook videos showing the convoy was viewed tens of thousands of times before it was taken down.
The punishment, whatever it may be, was hardly a surprise and came after Maxwell, the Naval Special Warfare Group 2 spokeswoman, said last month that the display was “unauthorized.” She noted at the time that the vehicles captured on camera were based in Fort Knox, Ky., and were driven by members of an East Coast Naval Special Warfare unit. At the time, officials confirmed, the convoy was traveling between two military training areas.
The action may have run afoul of a Defense Department directive that bans service members from acting in political manners while on active duty. Among the specific actions banned are displaying political signs or banners on a private vehicle and displaying a “partisan political sign, poster, banner or similar device” outside a residence on a military base.
“Department of Defense and Navy regulations prescribe flags and pennants that may be displayed as well as the manner of display,” Maxwell said last month.
“Naval Special Warfare strives to maintain the highest level of readiness, effectiveness, discipline, efficiency, integrity, and public confidence,” her statement continued. “To this end, Naval Special Warfare leaders are committed to thoroughly and impartially investigating all non-frivolous allegations of misconduct. Where misconduct is present, the Naval Special Warfare commander responsible for ensuring good order and discipline within his unit will make a disposition decision as to the appropriate administrative and/or disciplinary action, if any.”
The videos were widely circulated by Indivisible Kentucky, a newly formed political organization that is opposed to the Trump agenda.
Chris Rowzee, a 28-year Air Force veteran who serves as the Louisville-based group’s spokeswoman, said she’s not happy people were punished; but she is pleased the incident was investigated and “appropriate corrective action was taken.”
Rowzee said Wednesday that she believes the flag display was “an isolated incident” and said she’s seen no evidence that similar political displays are widespread within the military.
“Our concern was military members showing a partisan political allegiance to a person as opposed to the Constitution or the country,” she said. “They simply cannot — in uniform in military vehicles and in an official capacity — show partisan political leanings.”
It’s common for military convoys of the likes captured on camera in Kentucky to display boutique flags on deployment, though it’s rare for it to happen in the United States. Gadsden and pirate flags are common, as are flags with the logos of various sports teams.
Dan Lamothe and Thomas Gibbons-Neff contributed to this report.