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This Doug Collins Campaign Ad Is A Military Crime

For years Doug Collins has attacked DoD regulations to make them conform to his Christian dominionist agenda. Now, he's flatly ignoring regulations he doesn't like. But campaigning in uniform is a flat-out crime that calls for court martial.
This Doug Collins Campaign Ad Is A Military Crime
Doug Collins Illegally Uses Military Picture of Himself In Campaign Ad--Just One of Many (Cropped) Image from: Doug Collins Campaign / Cropped by MRFF

Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA), the only military chaplain in Congress, is running in the Georgia’ special election for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by fellow Republican Kelly Loeffler, where Democrat Rev. Raphael Warnock registered a roughly 20-point lead over both of them in the most recent Quinnipiac poll. Warnock—pastor at the Ebenezer Baptist Church, home to Dr. Martin Luther King—is an actual Christian, while Collins is a narcissistically obsessed Christian nationalist, whose narcissism has finally gone too far.

As a member of the Congressional Prayer Caucus, he recently played a leading role in pressuring the Department of Defense to trash its religious regulations to open the way for his fellow Christian fundamentalists in the military to shove their religion down other’s throats. But now he’s blatantly violating the most basic DoD regulation regarding campaigning for office—not just once, but repeatedly.

The image above is cropped from the Facebook ad shown in full below, which clearly violates Department of Defense Directive 1344.10, subparagraph 4.3.2.1 saying that service members may not “Use or allow the use of photographs, drawings, and other similar media formats of themselves in uniform as the primary graphic representation in any campaign media.”


It is but one of many such ads posted both on his campaign Facebook and Twitter feeds, as well as on his campaign website biographical page.

Collins is a dominionist Chaplain in the Air Force Reserve, and like most of his kind, he illegitimately takes his role as license to impose his religion on others, claiming that he and others like him are the real victims when anything is done to protect the religious freedom of those who wish be left alone by them. He routinely disregards or attacks regulations such as Air Force Instruction 1-1, Paragraph 2.12, which states:

Leaders at all levels must balance constitutional protections for their own free exercise of religion, including individual expressions of religious beliefs, and the constitutional prohibition against governmental establishment of religion. They must ensure their words and actions cannot reasonably be construed to be officially endorsing or disproving of, or extending preferential treatment for any faith, belief, or absence of belief. [emphasis added]

And he clashed repeatedly with the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which fights to protect the religious freedom of all who serve in the military. So, it’s not that surprising that he thinks the rules regarding use of military images don’t apply to him, either.

But they do.

And MRFF—responding to “numerous formal complaints... by Active Duty and Reserve military members as well as veterans and DoD civilians to include individuals on your own senior DoD staff” is calling for Secretary of Defense Mark Esper to take action, and charge him for breaking the law.

"Doug Collins is a poster child for fundamentalist Christian oppression and tyranny in our US military," MRFF Founder and President Mikey Weinstein told Crooks and Liars. "Whether it was Bibles on POW MIA tables or attending events in uniform where DoD officials are endorsing organizations that are virulently anti-LGBTQ, misogynistic, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, homophobic, transphobic, Doug Collins is the poster child for that," Weinstein said. "So, I'm not at all surprised to see that he's using pictures of himself to further his political fight against fellow Republican Kelly Loeffler."

The common thread of Collins’ narcissism is impossible to miss: rules are for other people, not him.

But it’s not a matter of electoral politics for Weinstein. “The MRFF, obviously, expresses no opinion one way or the other about how anybody should vote. This is not about,” he said. “It's about the fact that this Air Force Reserve field grade officer lt col. chaplain, is not slightly, but viciously violating a bedrock provision of the DoD regulatory structure.”

While non-primary use of such images (as well as information about military service) is permissible in a biographical context, along with non-military material, such use requires “a prominent and clearly displayed disclaimer that neither the military information nor photographs imply endorsement.”

Perhaps most striking is the following ad, which uses Collins in uniform to present voting rights activist and 2018 gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams as the enemy…presumably of America, though her broad smile seems jarringly at odds with that message. It’s bad enough when Donald Trump does this kind of thing with his words—frequently endangering the lives of those he vilifies, but Collins doing this with images is a clear-cut violation of law.

As a result, MRFF is calling for charges to be brought against Collins under the Uniform Code of Military Justice [UCMJ]. As MRFF Research Director Chris Rodda reported on Daily Kos:

Ad after ad on Collins’s Senate campaign Facebook page and and Twitter feed contains a photo of Collins in uniform as “the primary graphic representation” or that “does not accurately reflect [his] actual performance of duty.” Using the uniform as Collins does to bolster his political image as someone who will “fight the mob” or who “fought Stacey Abrams” is a flagrant and shameless violation of regulations, as is using the uniform to solicit campaign donations.

Rodda reported that Weinstein has drafted (and since sent) a letter to Secretary of Defense Mark Esper demanding “that official, criminal UCMJ charges be aggressively brought against Collins so that he faces a formal trial by court-martial.”

In the letter, Weinstein notes that, “The overt and flagrant violations of these DoD regulations [regarding misuse of photographs] also constitute a severe violation of UCMJ Article 92 (‘Failure To Obey Order or Regulation,’ 10 United States Code, Section 892) as well as potentially other UCMJ Articles.”

In her article, Rodda explains the backstory of Collins’ previous controversial involvement in bullying the Department of Defense to rewrite its regulations regarding religious activity, a stark counterpoint his utter disregard for the completely non-controversial regulations regarding misuse of military imagery:

Over the last several months, I’ve written about a group of twenty GOP House members and one senator who went on the warpath against the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), writing letters to Secretary of Defense Mark Esper decrying MRFF’s successes in keeping military members free from unwanted religious proselytizing during the pandemic.

To appease these fundamentalist Christian GOP Congress members, Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Matthew P. Donovan rewrote one of the DoD’s core regulations on religion, DoD Instruction 1300.17, to allow just about any form of previously prohibited religious behavior and proselytizing, with no regard for the right of service members to be free from unwanted religion.

The rewriting came about so swiftly, and with such little regard for existing law, as well as decades-old DoD regulations, that there’s little doubt it would tossed out if challenged in court, if not for how dramatically Trump has transformed the courts—yet another reason that Democrats must expand the Supreme Court if they are to undo the long-term damage Trump has done. The basis for this rewriting is the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, itself a vehicle for a decades-long campaign to turn religious freedom into its opposite—transforming it from a shield protecting religious minorities into a sword used to attack them.

However, even if one swallowed this monstrous lie, that by itself wouldn’t support the new DoD changes. That’s because the 1974 Supreme Court decision which held that The First Amendment can be applied differently in the military context because of its distinctive character and purpose: “Speech that is protected in the civil population may nonetheless undermine the effectiveness of response to command. If it does, it is constitutionally unprotected.”

As Weinstein told me in a 2018 interview. “the compelling government interest in the military” is not to ensure maximal religious freedom for individual servicemembers, but “to make sure that you maximize lethality of our military to protect the full panoply of constitutional rights of the rest of us,” which in turn requires maximizing “good order, morale, discipline, and unit cohesion,” all of which can be severely damaged by religious proselytization. That is the constitutional law background behind regulations like Air Force Instruction 1-1, Paragraph 2.12, cited above, which—properly understood—lies well outside the scope of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act..

So, to uphold the kind of changes that have been made to satisfy Collins, the courts would have to either ignore or overturn Parker v. Levy. With the kinds and quantity of judges that Trump has appointed, that’s not out of the question. But it does go to show just how much radical change has been under way without really registering, and how much depends on a wide-awake response—not just in the upcoming election, but in what we do afterwards. And that in turn, underscores just how much is at stake in this US Senate race.

Of course, Loeffler could still win, but she's nowhere near as strong a candidate as the GOP establishment had hoped and her battle with Collins is driving them both to the right, creating an ever wider opportunity for Warnock to reach people with a message that brings them together. So, two extreme possibilities stand out: On the one hand, we could end up with Doug Collins, a religious zealot as incapable of listening to others as Donald Trump. On the other hand, we could have Senator Rev. Raphael Warnock, a leader in the tradition of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, an open-hearted ecumenical tradition that's been marginalized in our nation's politics for far too long.

This is part of our continuing coverage of the 2020 elections.

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