They must have roamed the internet, thirsty, like wild dogs of the African savannah, until they found it: A popular military veteran’s Facebook site, gently praising the Navy’s christening of the USS Gabrielle Giffords. It was a veritable oasis, drawing in the pack of gundamentalists: There was water here.
On Saturday, the naval service will ceremoniously smash a bottle of bubbly on the hull of the Giffords, a small littoral combat ship (LCS) designed for operations close in to shore. But the vessel’s modest displacement is even more diminutive next to the umbrage of certain freedom-loving gun-fondlers. Unsurprisingly, they cannot believe America went and named a ship after that gun-grabbing liberal! What’s surprising is how willing they are to manifest that anger, and sign their names to it.
Giffords, of course, is the former Arizona congresswoman shot in the head and brain-damaged by a crazy man four years ago in broad daylight in an attack that killed six. She has since become an advocate for stricter gun laws, with mixed results. The spouse of a Navy captain and astronaut, Giffords is also widely respected for her advocacy of veterans’ issues. So it seemed natural that Doctrine Man—an anonymous Army officer whose tongue-in-cheek comic strips and ruminations about military life have won him a global following among vets—posted a brief Facebook salute to Giffords and the Navy Friday morning:
Doctrine Man is no small potatoes. His following, chronicled in the New York Times and Foreign Policy, extends from Camp Eggers in Kabul to the E-ring of the Pentagon. And his stated mission—“To further professional discourse on key national security issues, with a little humor on the side”—engenders unusually civil debates between ideological foes among his 34,000 Facebook followers. Of Giffords, he tells me, “I’ve met her personally and spoken with her at length. She’s a wonderful woman who really cares about our people.” Which is why the responses to his Giffords post by gun-lovers took him aback:
(The “CIC”—combat information center—of a fighting ship is its nerve center, colloquially referred to as the ship’s “brain.”)
“I respect and encourage disagreement, but when comments cross the line into personal attacks or become clearly demeaning, there’s a problem,” DM says. “We should be able to have meaningful dialog without resorting to such behavior.”
But it’s the internet! This is what happens on the internet, right? Sure, you expect it on Allen West’s website, or Infowars, or Hannity comment boards, or an online startup for grumpy right-wing vets, fever swamps all. Heck, much of this—snarking about brain damage, wishing a perceived political adversary’s death—is pretty tame as online dickery goes in those parts. But DM is still hopping mad the crazies popped a squat on his real estate.
“Every once in a while, a thread goes sideways,” he says. “Part of this is natural misogyny, but there’s some political fuel there, too. But the victim shaming is unbelievable. I don’t know where those guys even came from. None of them are regular commenters.”
The funny thing is, there’s plenty to critique here—the naming of a ship after a living politician, the possible use of that name as a hedge against defense cuts—but, you know, that’s discourse, and this is just another Friday on the internet. “Some people,” DM says, “just have a knack for taking the ‘social’ out of social media.”