On Saturday, the military news website the War Horse reported on the existence of a shared drive containing hundreds of naked photos of female service members that had been posted to a closed Facebook group with about 30,000 members, many of them active-duty Marines.
The article, written by a former Marine and Purple Heart recipient, rapidly gained national attention, prompting condemnation from Marine officials and public outcry. Members of the Facebook group at the center of the scandal, called Marines United, sent death threats to the report’s author. In the days since the article was published, the scandal has grown to encompass other branches, while the original group of Marines United members have continued to make splinter groups in an effort keep its community intact.
The Marines’ highest-ranking officer, Gen. Robert B. Neller, told reporters Friday that fewer than 10 women had come forward to report that they had been harassed. He added that the Marine Corps was also forming a task force that would address broader cultural issues that probably contributed to the scandal.
“I need their help,” Neller said. “I’m going to ask them to trust us. I understand why that might be a bit of a reach for them right now. But I can’t fix this. … The only way there is going to be accountability in this is [if] somebody comes forward and tells us what happened to them.”
Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis also said in a statement Friday that the “purported actions” on social media “represent egregious violations of the fundamental values we uphold at the Department of Defense.”
“The chain of command is taking all appropriate action to investigate potential misconduct and to maintain good order and discipline throughout our armed forces,” Mattis said.
Below, a timeline of events related to the scandal from the past six days:
Sunday, March 5:
The Naval Criminal Investigation Service, or NCIS, said it was launching an investigation into the drive, while Marine officials said the drive had been taken offline. Additionally, Neller issued a statement calling the incident “distasteful” but did not address the investigation directly. The top enlisted Marine in the service, Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Ronald Green added that “there is no place for this type of demeaning or degrading behavior in our Corps, this includes our actions online.”
Monday, March 6:
The Marine Corps Times reported that NCIS was considering leveling felony charges at some of the Marines involved in sharing the naked photos on the group Marines United. NCIS spokesman Ed Buice has repeatedly declined to say how many Marines or service members might be involved.
Tuesday, March 7:
Female Marines subjected to online harassment on Marines United and other pages began to come forward, detailing that the problem was larger than any one group.
“It’s Marine Corps wide,” Marine Pvt. Kally Wayne, 22, told The Washington Post. Wayne joined in 2013 and was removed from the service three years later for disciplinary problems.
Erika Butner, a Marine who left the service recently, told American Military News that “this scandal has never been a new incident within the military, but I am glad it is finally getting the recognition it deserves.”
“As a rape survivor, I can tell you that this exact behavior of sexualizing and objectifying women is why so much sexual harassment runs unchecked in the Corps. It’s become so normalized in the military that women just have to deal with it alone,” she added.
Wednesday, March 8:
Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), the ranking Democrat of the House Armed Services subcommittee on military personnel, said on the House floor that “heads should roll,” and called on Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis to remove the Marines who participated in the incident. Speier had issued a similar statement Saturday. After another incident in 2013 involving unofficial Marine Corps Facebook pages, Speier called for greater oversight.
Neller also issued a video message Wednesday to the Marine Corps, saying that the incident is “embarrassing to our Corps, to our families and to our nation.” Neller mentioned the guiding ethos of the Marine Corps and that “unfortunately, it appears that some Marines may have forgotten these fundamental truths, and instead have acted selfishly and unprofessionally through their actions on social media.”
Thursday, March 9
James LaPorta, a journalist and former Marine, shared with CNN that the Marines United Group had splintered and formed another group, called Marines United 2. LaPorta also said that the original cache of photos that Marine officials said were taken down had actually migrated to a new Dropbox folder and was still being shared.
The military site Task and Purpose also reported Thursday that service members and veterans from the Marines United page had begun uploading images and videos to pornography websites following the War Horse’s initial report Saturday.
The webpage Just the Tip, of the Spear, an unofficial Marine Facebook page that has long been seen as the trailblazer for this type of harassment, addressed the scandal Thursday by reading a prepared statement on its radio show. Just the Tip, of the Spear was subject of multiple news stories in 2013 and 2014 by the Marine Corps Times and Task and Purpose. At the time, the Marine Corps did little to curb the behavior promoted on the site.
“On the female side of the apparent issue women post risque pictures of themselves or send nudes to other people, they then complain about being harassed. On the male side of the apparent issue, men are collective and sharing nudes and risque pictures like they’re baseball cards and are stupid enough to leave comments in public view promoting stupidity and harassment,” the statement said. “Both sides are equally guilty but in different ways. Guys stop thinking with your d— and girls stop metaphorically burning down cities for attention.”
On Thursday night, Business Insider reported that other branches of the military were involved in nude photo sharing and were primarily using an anonymous message board to post, share and solicit images of female service members and female cadets at service academies. The message boards popularity has grown in recent days after the Marines United page was taken down, the report said. It is unclear if the message board has been taken down or what legal action the Pentagon is taking to address the issue.
“This alleged behavior is inconsistent with our values,” Lt. Col. Myles Caggins, a Pentagon spokesman told Business Insider.