The alumni of the United States Military Academy at West Point span presidents, generals and astronauts in what its students call the Long Gray Line, a nod to the Army service academy’s central role in educating leaders years before they rise to prominence.
Spenser Rapone, 26, became notable a bit faster than most graduates.
On Monday, the Army’s 10th Mountain Division accepted the resignation of 2nd Lt. Rapone less than a year after he posted photos of himself at his 2016 graduation, posing in a Che Guevara shirt under his uniform, along with a fist salute to underline a message written in his cap: “Communism will win.”
The photos, which Rapone posted to social media last September, created a fierce backlash, sparked death threats and drew calls from Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) to investigate Rapone’s online writing last fall. In response, West Point said in September that Rapone’s actions “in no way reflect the values of the U.S. Military Academy or the U.S. Army.”
Rapone, who was previously enlisted as an Army Ranger and served in Afghanistan before attending West Point and becoming an officer, told the Associated Press that he was reprimanded for conduct unbecoming an officer, and an investigation concluded that he advocated for a socialist revolution while insulting senior military officials.
His other than honorable discharge, which is highly unusual for a West Point graduate in a circumstance such as this, also may block him from many veterans benefits despite his years of service, including in combat.
Rubio celebrated the move in a statement provided to The Washington Post on Tuesday.
“While in uniform, Spenser Rapone advocated for communism and political violence, and expressed support and sympathy for enemies of the United States,” he said. “I’m glad to see that they have given him an ‘other than honorable’ discharge.”
Rapone could not be reached for comment. But his interview with the AP shed light on how he went from a graduate of one of the most exclusive and traditional institutions on Earth to a pariah within the ranks before being mustered out.
He told the AP he tweeted the photos in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick, the former NFL quarterback who knelt during the national anthem in protest of police brutality, which itself drew intense criticism from President Trump for perceived slights against the military.
Rapone also explained that his time in Afghanistan as an assistant machine-gunner in the volatile Khost province in 2011 spurred an interest in radical social change, starting with the military.
“We have one of the most technologically advanced militaries of all time and all we were doing is brutalizing and invading and terrorizing a population that had nothing to do with what the United States claimed was a threat,” he told the AP.
There were fumes of idealism still left, he said, and he accepted one of the few prized slots to the academy reserved for enlisted soldiers.
His time at the academy only deepened his socialist views. He was drawn to the writings of Stan Goff, an antiwar socialist and fellow Special Forces veteran who taught at West Point, he said.
Rapone was branded the “commie cadet,” and his career as a newly minted officer never recovered after assignment to Fort Drum. He told the AP he received death threats but found solace in hearing from like-minded troops.
“There are a lot of veterans both active duty and not that feel like I do,” he said.
Rapone received an other than honorable discharge, the AP reported, an administrative separation reserved for misconduct.
Army officials at the Pentagon declined to comment on the details of Rapone’s discharge, citing privacy concerns. But Army spokeswoman April Cunningham said that “appropriate action was taken.”
Don Christensen, a former Air Force chief prosecutor, told The Post on Tuesday it was very unusual for a West Point graduate to receive this type of military discharge unless it was for a serious crime, like drug use.
But because Rapone had served as an enlisted soldier, he would have received an honorable discharge before becoming an officer, Christensen said. That is crucial if he were to pursue benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Any injuries sustained on duty for his prior service period could qualify for VA treatment, Christensen said, but many other benefits would be restricted unless he receives a waiver from VA.
While Rubio and others have repudiated Rapone’s desire to dismantle the country’s social order and support a radical revolution, he wouldn’t be the first West Pointer to have done so.
Confederate leaders Jefferson Davis and Gen. Robert E. Lee both attended the academy. Schools, roads and statues bear their names across the country.