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Student Sues Naval Academy Over Expulsion for Social Media Posts

Student Sues Naval Academy Over Expulsion for Social Media Posts
A social distancing sign is seen on the floor as a midshipman walks to class at Luce Hall at the U.S. Naval Academy Aug. 24, 2020, in Annapolis, Md. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

(CN) — A Naval Academy student facing expulsion for alleged racist social media posts filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to overturn the recommendation, claiming the academy’s commanders violated his First and Fifth Amendment rights by their monolithic fealty to “woke” culture and critical race theory.

Chase Standage, a 21-year-old white midshipman hoping for a career as fighter pilot, was widely condemned on social media in June after he tweeted that Breonna Taylor, killed by police in a botched drug raid in Louisville, Kentucky, “received justice” on the night she was shot and that Antifa protesters and rioters are “terrorists.”

“Go ahead, cut funds to the police,” he tweeted at one point. “Community policing by building relations is expensive and timely, anyways. Bullets, on the other hand, are cheap and in ready supply.”

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Maryland by Crighton Chase of the Annapolis-based firm Hillman Brown & Darrow, and Jeffrey McFadden, opens a rare window on the academy’s secretive disciplinary system. An academy spokesman told the Capital Gazette last week that Standage’s disposition was private.

“We are aware of the filing,” U.S. Naval Academy spokesperson, Commander Alana Garas told Courthouse News in an email. “It would be inappropriate for the Naval Academy to comment on pending litigation.”

In a phone interview, McFadden said it’s one of the most important cases in his 30-year career.

“This is really a case of first impression,” he said. “This guy is the first casualty in the academy’s unconditional adoption of the woke culture.”

The complaint claims there is a “visceral and vicious culture war” in the academy fueled by “many midshipmen’s reckless abuse of social media.”

He said the academy’s superintendent, Vice Admiral Sean Buck, ignored other midshipmen’s “disgraceful, pernicious, racist, nihilistic and seditious” tweets and even death threats against Standage, creating a climate of intimidation against those who don’t share their political views.

“The allegations set forth throughout the complaint make clear that the Superintendent, Commandant, and Deputy Commandant are intent on turning the Naval Academy into an ‘anti-racist’ laboratory and re-education camp,” the complaint states.

“It is supremely ironic that MIDN Standage faces separation for expressing ‘political’ views that were nothing of the kind, while the Command is imposing an oppressive political ideology on the Brigade of Midshipmen that seeks to chill free speech and punish any midshipman who does not actively ‘get with the program.’”

Standage is an honor student who received his private pilot’s license at age 16, the lawsuit says. Both his parents are Los Angeles police officers who were working overtime during the civil unrest that occurred as Standage, who tweeted under the handle “Cheese Sandwich,” responded to heated exchanges on Twitter.

In response to a right-wing activist’s tweet about Seattle CHOP zone anarchists intimidating a local TV news crew, Standage wrote “All it takes is one drone strike.”

“Standage’s comments were not inherently political, were not published while in uniform or while acting in any official capacity that necessarily reflects poorly on the military,” his complaint says, and “none of the tweets contain any racial epithets or slurs.”

The reaction was immediate. The Breonna Taylor tweet went viral as online sleuths unearthed other tweets in which Standage seemed to advocate bombing protests. Standage deleted his Twitter account, but the damage was done.

An online petition appeared calling for Standage’s ouster. The commandant’s own daughter and mother publicly advocated “kick his ass out.”

The Navy launched an investigation, which concluded last week with the recommendation for his expulsion.

The lawsuit depicts Standage’s disciplinary hearing as a kangaroo court in which the deputy commandant reasoned that he has sole possession of the truth and thus by disagreeing, Standage was by definition wrong and insubordinate.

“The Deputy concluded that MIDN Standage advocated ‘indiscriminate military actions’ against US citizens, using the terms ‘terrorists’ and ‘protestors’ interchangeably (even though MIDN Standage’s tweets do not) and scoffing at the notion that ANTIFA was a ‘terrorist’ organization just because the Commander-in-Chief declared them to be so,” the lawsuit states.

Superintendent Buck “ignored the recommendation of MIDN Standage’s black roommate and squad leader that MIDN Standage be retained,” the suit says, and asked him if he hated the football team as some of his tweets were targeted at the players.

McFadden says wiping out racism in the academy is a laudable goal and not the issue, pointing to a line in the complaint he says is at the heart of the case: “Rather it is the Command’s monolithic insistence as to what constitutes racism, a subject of enormous debate across the Country, and its insistence that people like MIDN Standage are not entitled to weigh in on those issues without being branded as racist, that is the viewpoint discrimination raised bt MIDN Standage in this Complaint.”

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