As much as social media has proved itself as a revolutionary tool for political organization and messaging, sometimes it can also act as a Hall of Mirrors, as was the case over the week-end when a rumor started flying around online about the Marines getting involved in the Occupy Wall Street movement.
In this case, what started as a muddled post by a friend of another friend’s post on Facebook ended up as a statement of fact in a major speech made by former White House green collar jobs czar Van Jones at the Take Back The American Dream Conference conference on Monday.
One person who knows the situation better than most is Sergeant Bill Perry, of the 101st Airborne Division, a Vietnam veteran who fought in the Tet Offensive and now runs the Delaware Valley Veterans For America. He was arrested on Saturday in New York when he took part in the Occupy Wall Street protests.
“We spent about eight hours in jail,” Perry said in a phone interview. “They took us to the 75th police precinct. But when the arresting officers saw my [military] patches, they were very respectful of my service. And I had a much easier time there because of that.”
Perry also recounted the experience on Facebook. He wasn’t sure if other veterans were arrested along with him, but said that “five or six” retired Marines arrived after the march, contrary to Web rumors circulating over the weekend that up to 16 uniformed were on the way to join the protests in New York from Florida.
It is against military code to protest in uniform as an active duty Marine. (The Corps. has, in fact, been known to dishonorably discharge Marines for doing just that.)
Yet, several veterans have indeed appeared in uniform at the protests, as captured in this Flickr stream.
Still, “the presence of the Marines has been blown way out of proportion,” Perry told TPM Idea Lab.
Rumors of the Marines involvement began Saturday morning after Vietnam infantry veteran and antiwar activist Ward Reilly, of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, posted a message on his Facebook wall from a fellow former service member, this one a Marine.
“The Marines are coming to Wall St…(to PROTECT the protestors),” Ward wrote, before quoting the message, in part, as follows:
“I’m heading up there tonight in my dress blues. So far, 15 of my fellow marine buddies are meeting me there, also in Uniform.
I want to send the following message to Wall St and Congress:
I didn’t fight for Wall St. I fought for America. Now it’s Congress’ turn.
My true hope, though, is that we Veterans can act as first line of defense between the police and the protester. If they want to get to some protesters so they can mace them, they will have to get through the Fucking Marine Corps first. Let’s see a cop mace a bunch of decorated war vets.”
That quote got picked up and misattributed to Reilly himself by a host of websites and media outlets, including Newser and The Daily Kos. It even made it into a speech by former Green Jobs czar Van Jones.
In fact, Ward so saw many misattributions, he later to took his Facebook page in a vain attempt to clarify what had happened, writing:
“I am NOT the Marine that sent the message…(I was Army Infantry, ‘71-‘74)….MANY hundreds of my fellow veterans are doing the same thing in D.C., starting on Oct.6. I simply shared the fine message from the Marine. :>) ….thank you all for making that message go viral.”
And as Reilly explained to The Daily, he and his fellows are actually planning a related Occupy movement for Washintgon, D.C. on October 6.
The original poster, who wished to remain anonymous, took to Reddit in an attempt to explain that he wasn’t in-fact, an active duty service member.
“I’m no longer in active duty or in any way contractually indebted to the military. Nor are any of my friends that are joining me. To the officers’ of this thread: I’m aware of the potential, maybe inevitable trouble I can get in. So too are my friends.
I don’t really care about the debate here, the upvotes, the downvotes or anything in here really. Mental masturbation is awesome and all. But fucking hell people get off reddit and do something about it. The decision is made. I just figured reddit to be a useful tool to get the attention of a good amount of veterans.”
Meanwhile, Perry said that he knows of other members of the military, both former and currently serving, who have showed up to the protests in an “unstructured” fashion, that is, not as any coordinated group or in uniform, which is against military code.
But he predicted that many more would arrive following AFL-CIO leader Richard Trumka’s comments in support of the movement on Friday, as many veterans later go on to join AFL-CIO organizations.
“We all took an oath to protect The Constitution,” Perry said. “Then to see how certain wars are unconstitutional and basically just started for economic reasons, to be benefit the investor class, and they use us and cast us aside like condoms. I think lots of people, especially young people, are starting to wake up to that.”
Full disclosure: The Daily is my former employer.