Video of a uniformed petty officer screaming “Fuck Trump!” as she angrily confronted protesters over the weekend has sparked an investigation by her California command, officials said Tuesday.
At the onset of the roughly one-minute video, the sailor — identified by officials as Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Launch/Recovery) 2nd Class Sarah J. Dudrey — gets out of a vehicle and walks up to a group of shouting, flag-waving individuals on the sidewalk. The confrontation took place at the Ventura County Government Center, but what sparked it remains unclear.
Roughly seven seconds in, wearing her woodland cammies and a face mask pulled down around her chin, Dudrey yells and gets in the face of one protester while several others mill about.
“Fuck Trump!” she yells at the throng. “Fuck you!”
Dudrey, 24, deploys double middle fingers to the incensed crowd — which appears to number roughly a dozen people — several times throughout the encounter, which Navy officials said happened on Sunday.
Her appearance in uniform sparked responses from the crowd.
“Shame on you,” one voice calls from off camera.
Dudrey appears to jaw with several people but her exact words are lost in the din.
“Take the flag off your shoulder!” another protester yells.
At one point, the petty officer gets in the face of a woman who holds a star-spangled umbrella in one hand and a sign in the other that reads, in part, “no more house arrest.”
“You should be ashamed!” a protester yells at Dudrey.
“Learn how to act in a fucking uniform, you fucking piece of shit!” another advises.
“Who’s your commanding officer?” one off-camera voice asks repeatedly.
Cover in hand, Dudrey then heads back to her car, middle fingers once more raised.
“Fuck Trump!” she yells again.
Dudrey is assigned to Naval Base Ventura County, about 15 miles from the site of the confrontation.
Her command became aware of the video Sunday and started looking into it on Monday, according to spokeswoman Melinda Larson.
“The Navy is a proponent of free speech and active-duty members are free to participate in protests during their off-duty time,” Larson said in an email. “However, Navy members are not authorized to wear military uniforms while engaging in protests and voicing personal opinions.”
Dudrey could not be reached for comment Tuesday, and Larson said she had been unable to contact the petty officer on behalf of Navy Times.
In a February memo to the ranks, Defense Secretary Mark Esper warned troops to avoid political statements or supporting certain candidates while representing the military.
“As citizens, we exercise our right to vote and participate in government,” Esper wrote. “However, as public servants who have taken an oath to defend these principles, we uphold DoD’s longstanding tradition of remaining apolitical as we carry out our official responsibilities.”
What disciplinary action Dudrey may face remained unclear Tuesday.
“After a thorough inquiry into the matter, the Commanding Officer will make a determination on what actions are warranted,” Larson said.
Civilian control of the military constitutes a pillar of American society, and such in-uniform politicking has long been considered a no-no, according to Eugene R. Fidell, a civilian attorney specializing in military law.
While troops are encouraged to vote and can attend protests while not in uniform, Fidell said that a “key norm of our society…is that the military should steer a wide berth around anything having to do with partisan politics.”
“The heart of the matter is we want to the military to be apolitical,” Fidell said. “We basically want the military to sit on the (political) sidelines because we have civilian control of the military, rather than military control of the government.”
Some Chiefing might be in order, he suggested.
“Somebody ought to take her aside and say, you know, it’s a good idea to keep your political views to yourself while you’re in uniform,” Fidell said. “I think she’d get the message.”
Asked what he would say to other uniformed servicemembers compelled to confront protesters with whom they disagree, Fidell offered some simple advice that could apply to any American in these divisive, tribalized times:
“I’d invoke an Army phrase: ‘drive on.’”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect the environment depicted at the beginning of the video.
Geoff is a senior staff reporter for Military Times, focusing on the Navy. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was most recently a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.