Midshipman's lawsuit claims Naval Academy violated Trump's order barring racial sensitivity training

Midshipman 1st Class Chase Standage is shown in this undated photo taken from the U.S. Naval Academy Marathon Club website.


By HEATHER MONGILIO | The Capital | Published: October 30, 2020

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (Tribune News Service) — A midshipman suing the Naval Academy superintendent and the Navy secretary wants a federal judge to rule that the academy is violating President Donald Trump's executive order banning the use of federal tax dollars for training on racism and white privilege.

The new arguments, filed as part of an amended complaint on Oct. 16, could make Midshipman 1st Class Chase Standage's lawsuit one of the first in the nation to mention Trump's executive order.

Jeffrey McFadden, Standage's lawyer and a Naval Academy graduate, asked U.S. District Judge Ellen Hollander to find the "Superintendent's mandatory indoctrination of the Brigade of Midshipmen and MIDN Standage in critical race theory" violates Standage's First Amendment rights and orders from Trump and the Office of Management and Budget banning racism training.

He also asks that the judge stop Standage's expulsion and any training at the Naval Academy grounded in "critical race theory," which argues legal institutions are inherently racist and that racism is a concept that furthers white people's interests at the expense of other races.

Standage faces expulsion because of a series of tweets over the summer, which the academy found violated its social media policy, represented conduct unbecoming a midshipman and, in some cases, were racist.

In the original lawsuit filed on Sept. 30, McFadden initially asked for the judge to prevent Standage's separation — the military term for expulsion — and Secretary of the Navy Kenneth Braithwaite from approving it.

But the amended filing seeks to bring the wider issue of Naval Academy policy on race and racism into the courtroom.

One of the questions Hollander will likely have to decide is if the executive order is relevant in Standage's case.

Throughout the lawsuit, McFadden alleges the academy leadership who oversaw the investigation into Standage, which began in June, did not give him a fair trial because of their own views about systemic racism. He also claims the academy violated Standage's First Amendment rights by limiting what Standage could say.

McFadden did not respond to requests for comment.

According to the lawsuit, the academy leadership told Standage it was not what he said but how he said it that violated the social media guidelines. Standage, through McFadden, argues that it was what he said that caused the academy leadership to recommend his separation.

In the Deputy Commandant Conduct Adjudication Script, attached to a defense motion requesting the lawsuit be dismissed, the academy took issue with Standage's tweets, including one saying Breonna Taylor received her justice when she was killed by police, going viral.

"Several of your posts went viral, garnering yourself and USNA significant negative attention, as it became clear through the use of your name on your account and other identifying information that you are a Midshipman," according to the script.

In Standage's view, according to the amended complaint, it was that his posts went against the views of the leadership.

Those views, and statements from Commandant Capt. Thomas R. Buchanan and Superintendent Vice Adm. Sean Buck, are what McFadden argues violates the president's executive order.

McFadden highlighted a Dant Daily video from June 19, before the orders, where Buchanan encourages midshipmen to read "White Fragility," a sociologist's book that discusses white people's sensitivity to issues of racism. He also includes the superintendent's reflections from Sept. 15 that mention training on racism.

The Naval Academy declined to comment in September about the training and referred all questions about the lawsuit to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Maryland, which declined to comment.

But the executive order likely does not apply, said Becky Monroe, director of the Fighting Hate and Bias Project at The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, after reading the amended complaint.

Office of Management and Budget Director Russell Vought issued the first memorandum about federal tax dollars and training about racism on Sept. 4. Trump's executive order followed on Sept. 22 and Vought sent out a second order, with more details, on Sept. 28.

The orders promote a revisionist history of the country that glories white supremacy and racism, she said. They are vague, which makes it hard to analyze, Monroe said. But they focus on training.

Instead, she sees it as a desperate attempt that does not support Standage's arguments.

"Their citation of the executive order doesn't make sense," Monroe said.

The fact that the military is trying to take steps to make it more inclusive and address white supremacy is something that should be applauded, she said.

"And I think it is also entirely consistent with the intelligence that this administration has demonstrated shows that white nationalism, white supremacy are a real national security threat to this country," Monroe said. "So the fact that the military is taking steps to address it within its own ranks is something that is a good step and should be recognized as such."

As part of the plaintiff's response to the defense's motion for dismissal, Standage included a statement, the first time Standage has spoken about the lawsuit or investigation.

Standage describes his tweets as responses to other tweets, which he describes as inflammatory. Such tweets include responding to a tweet from conservative media personality Andy Ngȏ that called protestors in Washington State antifa or a tweet retweeting a Joe Biden Op-Ed about funding community policing and describing it as the opposite of what people want.

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