When U.S. Army Cpl. Jesse Thorsen delivered a speech at Ron Paul's caucus night rally in Iowa on Tuesday, he never expected to become a pseudo-symbol. He just had a few things on his mind. The 10-year veteran who served in Afghanistan was invited to the stage by the Republican Presidential primary candidate to finish a thought. By the time he finished speaking, the 28-year-old would come to embody a breed of supporter seemingly unique to the Ron Paul universe: The War-Weary Veteran.
If there's any man that's had a vision for this country, it is definitely him, Thorsen said about Paul. His foreign policy is by far, hands down, better than any candidate's out there, and I'm sure you all know that. We don't need to be picking fights overseas and I think everybody else knows that too.
Paul invited Thorsen to the stage after CNN cut off an interview the vet conducted with the news outlet earlier in the night. He had a much more captive audience on the stage, and the man he just voted for was standing a few feet away from him.
Thorsen stepped back from the podium mid-speech to glance at Paul and flash a wide grin, then said, I'm flabbergasted right now. This is an incredible moment for me, I can't believe it. It's like meeting a rock star.
Effusive but gentlemanly, he rounded off his roughly one-minute-long speech with, We are going to make sure this man is the next President of the United States.
Thorsen left the stage but not the national social conscious. He was due for his third tour in the Middle East. But within 24 hours of giving his speech, Thorsen was under investigation by the Dept. of Defense for violating strict military rules banning active duty service members from politicking.
What Thorsen did, besides exercise a common right afforded most Americans, was put a face to the many active duty service members, as well as veterans, who have thrown their support behind Paul. The group has remained in the shadows physically, but been vocal in other capacities (just check the comments section of any Ron Paul story on this Web site).
Thorsen, with his Sept. 11 neck tattoo and rabid support, is a hero in some circles. The Iowa-based reservist is also the new reason so many Ron Paul-ites are pretty pissed off at the mass media. He could also be a big reason Ron Paul remains strong presence throughout the campaign.
Support For Paul
Paul himself has not been shy about brandishing the support he gets from active service members. They constitute a devout bloc of campaign contributors.
We all know where active military people send their money when they're campaigning. They send it to our campaign for liberty, our campaign for the constitution, our campaign for limited government and our campaign for personal liberty and privacy and a wise foreign policy, Paul said after Thorsen's endorsement.
The numbers speak for themselves. Paul has made the claim that members of the military have given his campaign more money than all other current presidential candidates combined -- including President Barack Obama. Politifact ranked the statement as true. And how.
According to the Center for Responsive politics, members of the armed forces have given Paul $95,567 towards his campaign. His opponents? Obama comes closest with $72,616. But that figure combined with all the remaining presidential contenders amounts to less than Paul's largesse. Granted, the sum remains a drop in the $12 million bucket of funds Paul has garnered, but money talks during campaign seasons.
Paul fanaticism among service members translates beyond individual donations to a full-on network of support. Most notably, supporters staged a Nov. 11, 2011 Money Bomb for the Texas libertarian, with the stated goal of raising $1 million.
The veterans and active service members have also jumped to the Twitterverse, Facebook and various online pages not officially endorsed by Ron Paul. There is even a 13 minute YouTube video, filled with all the pomp, history and talking-head interviews any sincere support ad needs -- but it isn't made by the Paul campaign. It's a notable grass roots operation that has organically sprouted around the candidate, who served as a flight surgeon in the U.S. Air Force in the 1960s.
But the exact reasoning behind service members' and veterans' support for Paul remains hard to quantify in anything but esoteric terms.
Paul touts what has often been termed an isolationist foreign policy, with virtually no intervention in international affairs, a willingness to ignore a nuclear Iran, and zero support for Israel. Many term it an anti-establishmentarian stance. And it fuels a lot of the mass media paranoia that consumes Ron Paul 2012 discussions.
In fact, it was around when Thorsen was saying Israel is more than capable of... that his feed was cut off on CNN.
The anti-war sentiment has a strong pull in the modern military. A Pew Research Center Poll released in October 2011 showed 44 percent of Post-9/11 veterans thought the Iraq war was worth fighting. Half felt the conflict in Afghanistan was a good idea. The figures are deceptive. The U.S. Military prides itself on high morale. By that standard, the poll's finding that 34 percent of vets thought both conflicts were a good idea ranks as paltry.
Could Paul's pacifism, promising an end to the war in Afghanistan while fixing domestic issues, speak to a war-weary band ready to come home?
The most important thing we have to remember is we want to have influence in the world, we want to be active in the world, Paul said after Thorsen's speech. Set an example and get the rest of the world to emulate us.
As for Thorsen's infraction, the military's definition of politicking remains steadfast. No public participation in partisan political events. No interviews with the media advocating for or against any politician, party, or cause. And under no circumstances should any partisan political work be done while in an official capacity -- especially in uniform. Thorsen was decked in camouflage during his televised appearances.
It's not in keeping with the spirit of the letter of the DOD directive, said an Army spokesman, George Wright, according to The Washington Post.
Thorsen Issue Outcome Is Unclear
Thorsen's fate is uncertain, and depends on whether or not he was on active duty. He could face penalties ranging from a letter of reprimand to a drop in rank or a straight boot out of the service.
In an interview with Stars and Stripes, Executive Director of Veterans for a Strong America Joel Arends called Thorsen's choice to appear in uniform irresponsible, adding the Paul campaign should have known better than to draw an active duty service member into digging a deeper hole after the CNN interview.
We need troops and veterans at the table, and we need them to be part of the election process, he said. But we don't need troops to be violating regulations. It's all about common sense, and most troops understand that we cannot mix the use of a military uniform with political campaigns.
Arends characterized Paul's repeated lauding of support from veterans as exploitative, pointing to campaign fliers containing photos of uniformed service members wearing Veterans for Ron Paul t-shirts.
Thorsen's cut-off moment on CNN has lived in YouTube infamy among Paul supporters. His second shot at expressing his opinion very cheekily aired during the same broadcast.
Paul Reickoff, founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, tweeted after Thorsen's speech, Soldier who just spoke on behalf of Ron Paul is gonna be in some trouble. Politics in uniform is a big no-go. And Paul should know better.
When Twitter users brought up First Amendment rights, Reickoff noted members in the active service are bound by the military justice system.
If we learned one thing in Iowa last night, it's that vets will be one of the most popular politics props of 2012, he later wrote.