A Marine-turned-Navy SEAL operator is beneath investigation for having ties with extremist teams such because the Proud Boys after native reporters and activists, in addition to main media retailers, revealed he attended many protests and occasions all through Southern California.
Chief Particular Warfare Operator Bryce Henson is beneath investigation following allegations of “probably taking part with, or supporting, extremist causes,” Navy spokesman Cmdr. Ben Tisdale confirmed to Army.com.
Henson rose to prominence over the previous 12 months whereas attending protests in addition to faculty board and metropolis council conferences, the place he pushed anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric beneath a false identify and sometimes within the firm of Proud Boy members.
Tisdale mentioned that “whereas sailors are at all times allowed to train their rights to freedom of speech and meeting in the event that they observe the regulation and coverage restriction, participation with hate or extremist teams of any sort is contradictory to the core values of the Navy and isn’t tolerated by [Navy Special Warfare].”
In a report launched in December 2021, the Pentagon created new pointers for actions which might be banned for all service members by including extra element and readability on what constitutes extremist exercise in addition to “lively participation.”
The brand new guidelines additionally mentioned that “advocating widespread illegal discrimination” based mostly on gender id or sexual orientation fell into the class of extremist exercise.
The Los Angeles Occasions lined Henson’s actions — largely performed beneath the identify “Ben Richards” — in an October report. However native reporters and activists have been conscious of his true identify for the reason that spring. KPBS, San Diego’s PBS affiliate station, additionally reported on Henson final week.
On-line, the pseudonym Ben Richards is described because the founding father of “SoCal Mum or dad Advocates,” however the group’s social media presence largely showcases a person that has been recognized in reporting as Henson. He advised the L.A. Occasions that the faux identify was a transfer made initially for his security, however now he’s doing it as a manner of deriding transgender individuals.
Transgender individuals should not query his determination to “‘determine’ as [Ben Richards] if they need him to ‘respect their loopy id,'” Henson advised the L.A. Occasions.
Army.com reached out to the account by way of social media and electronic mail for an announcement on the investigation — in addition to the obvious twin id utilized by Henson — however didn’t obtain a reply.
The account did launch an announcement Friday that, whereas nonetheless utilizing the pseudonym, described Richards as “a father, Marine and Navy SEAL” who “is at present concerned in an ongoing investigation.”
It mentioned that “he’s assured that the investigation will vindicate him of any wrongdoing, demonstrating that he has solely been a devoted and accountable father and a hero for knowingly assuming danger to assist mother and father beneath assault.”
The Marine Corps confirmed to Army.com that Henson served greater than 4 years within the Marines previous to becoming a member of the Navy.
One of many first occasions the place Henson was noticed by journalists was a protest outdoors of a YMCA in January. The gymnasium in Santee, California, grew to become the goal of protests after a 17-year-old lady complained to the town leaders a few transgender lady being allowed to make use of the ladies’s locker room.
Kelly Stuart, a photojournalist who has been attending protests and rallies in Southern California for the reason that early days of the pandemic and the homicide of George Floyd, was there and noticed the person she would come to know as Henson on two nights — Jan. 18 and 21.
Throughout Henson on each days have been individuals carrying the distinctive yellow and black garb of the Proud Boys — a violent, neo-fascist group whose members have been convicted on a variety of fees following the siege of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Its one-time chief, Enrique Tarrio, was convicted of seditious conspiracy, amongst different fees, in Could.
One of many Proud Boys current on the night time of Jan. 18 was carrying a hooded sweater with the phrase “stand again and stand by” — a phrase that President Donald Trump coined throughout his first debate with Joe Biden as he didn’t condemn far-right teams and particularly talked about the Proud Boys. Others wore hats, shirts or bandannas with the group’s identify or emblem.
One other man, additionally current on each days, was sporting a number of, outstanding Nazi tattoos, together with a swastika. Henson was photographed standing simply toes from him on each days.
On the night time of Jan. 18, Henson “was type of unhinged,” Stuart recalled. “He was screaming, ‘Take your masks off, pussies’… [and] calling individuals pedophiles.” Nevertheless, on Jan. 21, Henson was now not a part of an offended crowd however a formally dressed speaker in a blue blazer, costume shirt and denim denims.
“We’re making headway on the faculties that we have flipped, as a result of we have flipped 4 on this area,” Henson mentioned in a speech recorded by Stuart.
That speech — much more strategic and calculating in its message than any of the others — caught Stuart’s consideration.
“Once I posted about him on social media, lots of people got here ahead and mentioned, ‘This man harassed me,’ and so a gaggle of individuals began attempting to determine his id,” Stuart mentioned.
Ultimately, Stuart mentioned that after discovering a number of clues on social media, a gaggle of activists and grassroots reporters recognized the person calling himself “Ben Richards” as Henson.
Because the pair of rallies on the YMCA in January, Henson grew to become an everyday at protests in addition to public hearings of governments and faculty boards throughout Southern California. Between Stuart’s photographs and social media profiles related to Henson, it seems that he is been current for at the very least 9 rallies or hearings this 12 months.
In line with Marine Corps information supplied to Army.com, Henson enlisted within the Marines in November 2004 as a fight engineer. He served till February 2009 and left as a sergeant, having deployed to Iraq and acquired the Fight Motion Ribbon and the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal.
Navy information then say he enlisted in that service in Could 2010 and went via the arduous SEAL pipeline straight out of boot camp, reporting to his first workforce in 2011.
Tisdale, the Navy spokesman, confirmed that Henson served simply over a 12 months on the Navy Particular Warfare Growth Group — extra generally often known as SEAL Workforce Six. The unit is taken into account one of many navy’s premier particular operations items and is usually tasked with performing probably the most complicated, labeled and harmful missions.
In March 2023, Henson did an hourlong interview with a Christian-focused podcast, representing himself as Ben Richards. He described himself as being “activated” into protesting numerous faculty insurance policies in April 2022, and his group’s mission is “to show, problem and resist essential race idea, radical gender ideology, and COVID and vax tyranny in our faculties.”
“It is a Marxist indoctrination,” Henson mentioned, seemingly referring to the LGBTQ+ motion.
At one level within the dialog, Henson mentioned he believed a “radical trans military” had focused girls, and consequently he “introduced individuals over to those rallies and so they want safety and so they want that masculine vitality.”
Stuart says that over the months protecting the far proper, she got here to know and acknowledge Henson, and the 2 engaged in conversations on a number of events. In a single occasion, in July, Stuart requested the sailor about his affiliation with the Proud Boys.
Initially, Henson mentioned he did not know what the Proud Boys have been. Nevertheless, in the midst of the taped dialog, a gaggle of individuals stroll near Henson, main Stuart to comment, “There’s your Proud Boy mates.”
“Can they not be my mates?” Henson replied on the recording reviewed by Army.com. “So what? They’re my mates.”
In a social media submit Friday, the “SoCal Mum or dad Advocates” account launched an announcement that slammed Stuart as a “identified violent antifa member” and alleged her images have been doctored.
In an electronic mail to Army.com, Stuart disputed the characterization, which she noticed as an effort to delegitimize her work. “I don’t belong to any group, [and] I share info with different journalists and researchers,” she mentioned.
— Konstantin Toropin may be reached at email@example.com. Observe him on X at @ktoropin.