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Jeffrey E. McFadden Reply

ne year ago, I wrote in The Capital about the grave injustice the Naval Academy and its Alumni Association had perpetrated in forcing senator and former secretary of the Navy Jim Webb to decline to accept an unequivocally well-deserved Distinguished Graduate Award.

Now I am compelled to write again about how that same “diversity justice system” has savaged yet another white male on the other end of the totem pole, an 18-year-old plebe named Ted Colter who now faces expulsion by virtue of his purported violation of the academy’s Command Managed Equal Opportunity Program.

Ted’s “crime” involves his use of racially-charged language and his participation in a discussion about Civil War Confederate officers in some chat room posts. Specifically, he had posted two memes he had found on an app that included a racial slur.

He later jokingly posted an acronym, a mnemonic device made deliberately bawdy to help him and his classmates’ study for an upcoming exam that included a racial slur. After a female plebe told him the use of that word was “not cool,” he immediately replaced it.

Later still was a chatroom discussion about an upcoming trip to Gettysburg and which plebes might play which Confederate or Union officers. Ted’s accuser, an African-American plebe, made clear that he would not play the part of the Confederate general who shared his surname, Stonewall Jackson, because General Jackson was a “racists [sic] piece of ass.” Ted replied, “He was a pretty cool dude.”

This kind of language pervades not only the patois, music, and social media of the youth culture in Ted’s hometown in Queens, New York, but the worlds of his accuser, of the Navy lawyer who advised the commandant on the viability of the charge against Ted, and of the Brigade of Midshipmen generally.

While the other midshipman was complaining about his white classmate’s memes, he had Kendrick Lamar’s Humble played aloud to a captive audience of fellow plebes, including females. Humble’s lyrics include a slur five times, repeatedly use another slur to address a woman. Then there is the Facebook page of the African-American JAG officer who serves as the commandant’s legal advisor.

The page includes a picture of her about to attend a Katt Williams concert. The concert is a 30-minute rant in which virtually every fifth word is a slur along with repeated sexually- and homosexually-charged comments. Other such examples of this pervasive youth culture inside the academy abound.

Ted’s “crime” was not the language itself, but a white midshipman’s use of it. But the academy’s chain-of-command was not interested in acknowledging, discussing, or resolving those distinctions. Worse still was that its own CMEO training manual made clear that, in every possible instance, such conflicts were to be resolved “informally” and “at the lowest possible level” because

“Resolving conflict is a fundamental leadership responsibility. Unresolved conflict is not only contrary to good order and discipline but it also erodes unit cohesiveness and destroys morale.”

So much for that. Eschewing any attempt at leadership or conflict resolution, the chain-of-command denied Ted’s request to meet with the mid who complained in the presence of a third-party. It ordered him not to have any further contact with the midshipman. It subjected his three character witnesses to such a brow-beating before the first conduct hearing that one male midshipman was reduced to tears and had to withdraw, while another called her congressman to complain about it.

After Ted had entered a “not guilty plea” at his first conduct hearing and tried to defend himself, the command strongly advised him to “plead guilty,” “own this,” and show remorse at his next conduct hearing because it was his only shot at survival. After that second hearing, Ted’s company officer called an “all hands” meeting of the Plebes; except Ted.

Ted was sent to his room while the company officer lectured Ted’s company-mates on the wrongness of Ted’s conduct and the other mid told his side of the story. In a swift and crushing “adjudication” that violated every basic norm of due process, Ted had been branded, ostracized, vilified, and sent home to await his separation fate at the hands of the Secretary of the Navy.

And the “command environment” whose fundamental fairness the CMEO Program is supposed to ensure, was left in a state of poisoned, demoralized divisiveness, in which speech is selectively chilled and no one trusts anyone. An institution whose members swear to support and defend the Constitution, except that if one of your African-American classmates refers to Stonewall Jackson as a “racists piece of ass,” the protections of the Constitution don’t apply to you, and your only proper response is, “You’re right; he was.”

This is not about race or the appropriate or inappropriate uses of racially-charged language. This is about three things: leadership, character development, and fundamental fairness.

As an academy graduate, my conscience is shocked by the abject failure and abandonment of the first two. As an attorney, my conscience is shocked by the complete absence of the third.

Jeffrey E. McFadden of Grasonville is a 1979 Naval Academy graduate and a partner at Stradley Ronon, a Washington D.C. law firm. He is representing Midshipman 4th Class Ted Colter. Contact him at jmcfadden@stradley.com

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