Online comments on a left-leaning fan web site allegedly written by the head of a crucial brain testing program for the Army are being reviewed by the service for potential violations of political and hate speech rules that apply to Pentagon employees.
Former Lt. Col. Michael Russell currently heads an Army program that assesses whether service members have developed traumatic brain injuries while at war, and was previously involved in the Army's suicide prevention program. The Army says Russell may be sanctioned if the service determines his messages online can be categorized as "hate speech," or if he violated the Hatch Act, a U.S. federal law that prohibits civil servants in the executive branch from partisan political activity.
"You...are SCUM for supporting these thugs," reads one of the posts Russell allegedly wrote on the site in September 2010. The post was directed at another forum user with whom Russell appeared to disagree about the actions of the Bush administration. "I couldn't give less of a flying [expletive] what your syphilitic, blackened EVIL brain thinks about a god [expletive] thing. [Expletive]. Die in agony and then roast in hell."
Russell allegedly posted the messages in question on an unofficial fan forum devoted to news about liberal commentator Keith Olbermann, though users of the site often share and discuss other far left political news. KeithOlbermann.org, which was long maintained by Russell, has more than 3,000 registered members today.
Over the last few years, Russell allegedly posted regularly on the Olbermann fan site, first using the username "Michael," and later, "Lazarus." At times, he appeared to use the site as a platform to criticize the Army. In one post, he appeared to recruit people to work for him at his Army lab. He also allegedly went on the site to bash conservatives, an activity first noticed by the conservative site The Daily Caller.
The Army does "not routinely comment publicly" on personnel matters "regarding discipline," according to Army spokesman Maj. Justin Platt. But Platt, who has seen the messages supposedly posted by Russell, says that while the Army Medical Command "has insufficient information at this point" to determine if Russell will be sanctioned, the Army is currently reviewing the material on the site to "determine if further action or inquiry is appropriate."
If the Army does sanction Russell, it may be in part because his position affects the health of troops who suffer from one of the signature wounds of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And although Russell left active duty in November 2010, he was immediately rehired to the same job as a civilian, and he still holds that position today, the Army confirmed.
The so-called Automated Neuropsychological Assessment Metrics, or ANAM, program Russell oversees tests service members on their cognitive brain functions both before they go to war and after they come back. The program is designed to identify troops who have developed traumatic brain injuries in combat. According to a report by the Government Accountability Office, more than 200,000 troops have been afflicted with TBI since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began after 9/11.
Russell was also previously involved in the Army's Warrior Resiliency Program, a suicide prevention program for service members, and recently authored a chapter for the Army on lessons learned from suicide prevention efforts.
While Platt notes that military members like Russell have the right to free speech, he says that the use of certain partisan political speech can be subject to sanctions under the Hatch Act. According to one provision of the act, civil servants "may not post a comment to a blog or a social media site that advocates for or against a partisan political party, candidate for partisan political office, or partisan political group."