Days after the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) announced the hiring of its first-ever chief diversity and inclusion officer, it is investigating that diversity officer for controversial social media posts, including one comparing former President Donald Trump to Nazi Germany leader Adolf Hitler.
On Friday, SOCOM introduced Richard Torres-Estrada as the command’s chief diversity and inclusion officer. That announcement quickly drew backlash online as social media users questioned his job role and raised issue with his still-visible past political comments online. In a statement to Military.com on Monday, SOCOM spokesman Ken McGraw said “USSOCOM is aware of the situation, and the command has initiated an investigation.”
McGraw also told American Military News, “Mr. Torres-Estrada has been assigned to other duties pending the results of the investigation.”
Pentagon spokesman Johnathan Kirby told reporters on Monday that Gen. Richard Clarke, the commander of SOCOM, had informed Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin of the new investigation.
“Obviously, we take the need to promote diversity and inclusion seriously here, in the department,” Kirby said. “The secretary has spoken of that many times. And we certainly want that work to be transparent, to be credible, to be effective and, of course, professional. We want everybody to take those duties and those responsibilities seriously and professionally.”
In a June Facebook post, Torres-Estrada shared a digitally-altered photo of Hitler holding a bible at a rally in Nazi Germany, next to a photo of Trump holding a bible outside the St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington D.C., which rioters set fire to last summer.
A bible was digitally inserted into Hitler’s hand in the photo, as the original image displayed on Getty Images’ website shows Hitler with an empty hand.
Torres-Estrada’s Facebook page was publicly visible on Friday as SOCOM announced his hiring, but has since been unpublished or hidden from public view. Before his Facebook page disappeared, social media users noticed other politically charged posts like another post from July with an image of Trump surrounded by derogatory comments from his former cabinet members.
In February, Torres-Estrada shared an image of a “missing” flyer for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). The post came out around the same time Texas suffered widespread power outages after a winter storm. Cruz was criticized for being out-of-state at the time on a family vacation.
The controversy surrounding Torres-Estrada’s hiring comes as military leaders, under President Joe Biden’s administration, have stressed a goal of diversity in the military. Last week, Clarke told lawmakers, “We need men and women of all ethnicities and races, along with a diversity of backgrounds and beliefs in our formation” and said, “In a force charged with solving multifaceted problems in a complex global environment, service members who are included, respected and empowered are more ready to deter aggression and win wars.”
Members of Congress have raised concerns that efforts to promote diversity in the military are causing further politicization of the force.
Republican lawmakers have recently called into question the Navy’s decision to include books like “How to Be an Antiracist” on its official reading list, despite complaints that the book promotes discrimination and that its author, Ibram X. Kendi has shared conspiracy theories that white people are responsible for AIDS and are actually aliens.
Several military officials also criticized Fox News host Tucker Carlson after he anchored a new commentary segment questioning the military’s decision to develop maternity flight suits and relax grooming standards for female troops. Sen, Ted Cruz (R-TX) even raised issue with an official U.S. Marine Corps account that called Carlson a “boomer” and a Pentagon news release titled “Press Secretary Smites Fox Host That Dissed Diversity in U.S. Military.”
In February, a viral training video of U.S. Army soldiers accidentally pointing loaded weapons at each other during a live-fire training prompted social media commentators to accuse the military of focusing on social justice issues rather than safe training for combat scenarios.