Anheuser-Busch hasn’t exactly been teaching a master class on marketing after its poisonous partnership with Dylan Mulvaney. When sales crashed, CEO Michel Doukeris tried the “It wasn’t a campaign — it was just a can” excuse for Bud Light’s relationship with the trans influencer, but it was $6 billion too late. Now, the U.S. Navy seems to be floating the same alibi for its drag queen recruiting videos. “The program has concluded, and the Navy is evaluating it,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin claimed. Well, the evaluation from House and Senate Republicans is in, and if this doesn’t stop, “heads will roll.”
For the last two months, the Navy has defended the salacious posts of 2nd Class Petty Officer Joshua Kelly (who goes by stage name “Harpy Daniels”) against the criticism of leaders like Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), who asked how and why the branch chose a drag queen as one of its five “digital ambassadors.” “Do you believe TikTok videos of sailors dressed in and performing in drag is the best use of the Navy’s recruitment efforts?” he asked, before pointing out that Kelly is dressed in lingerie, underwear, or nothing with captions too grotesque and profane to repeat.
Lt. General (Ret.) William Boykin, who spent 36 years serving his country, openly seethed about Kelly’s posts. “I can’t even watch that,” he told Family Research Council Tony Perkins of Kelly’s videos, revolted. “I mean, I saw it earlier today on the computer, and I can’t watch. … They’re trying to add another 5,000 people to the Navy,” and this is the “kind of nonsense [they think is] going to help recruiting?”
Boykin wasn’t alone in his disgust. Rob O’Neill, the Navy SEAL who killed Osama bin Laden, held nothing back on Twitter, fuming, “Alright. The U.S. Navy is now using an enlisted sailor Drag Queen as a recruiter. I’m done. China is going to destroy us. YOU GOT THIS NAVY. I can’t believe I fought for this bull—-.”
Yet officials defended Kelly’s involvement, insisting that his social media presence didn’t violate military policy since it wasn’t technically endorsed by the Navy. That’s interesting, House and Senate Republicans fired back, since the branch asked their ambassadors to use their accounts to attract new recruits.
“[The Navy said] they weren’t paying him,” Perkins, a Marine veteran, pointed out. “But when you’re in the military, all of your time belongs to the military. … And this is what he is — a ‘digital ambassador’ as a drag queen representing the Navy. I mean, think about what our enemies [are saying], how they responded. They’ve got to be laughing at this.”
The sick images caught the attention of more than a dozen senators, who sent a letter to Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro on May 3, demanding to know if the Navy approves of these sexually explicit performances. “Would the Navy enlist burlesque or exotic dancers to reach possible recruits? Such activity is not appropriate for promotion in a professional workplace or the United States military,” Republicans Ted Cruz (Texas), Tom Cotton (Ark.), Tommy Tuberville (Ala.), and 11 others insisted.
The controversy has been even more infuriating when you consider that the Biden administration was already under fire for hosting Drag Queen Story Hours on military bases. At a House hearing in March, Secretary Austin testified that the DOD does not “support or fund” drag shows. But, Banks argued, “If he was testifying honestly, then he has an obligation to discipline the officials who decided that sexually explicit content should be featured [here] in the Navy’s Digital Ambassador’s program. [This] divisive and woke insanity [is what’s] helped drive recruitment to a record low.”
Like Bud Light, which should be a cautionary tale on how to offend heartland consumers, the Navy is alienating the very patriots who’ve historically made up the military. Putting a man in women’s lingerie isn’t how you appeal to people with conservative values, the most likely pool of future soldiers, sailors, and airmen.
Congressman Mark Alford (R-Mo.) agreed. “I’ll tell you what … the word salad that you just heard from the DOD [defending Kelly’s role], that is standard for the Biden administration,” he said on Thursday’s “Washington Watch.” “What is happening here, I think, is an abomination. … This is not any way to recruit anyone into the military. The only thing that should be dragging in the Navy is an anchor.”
“When we have China on the march, Russia threatening nuclear activity, China launching warships almost on a weekly basis, and we’re focused on pronouns and drag queens,” Perkins shook his head, “something is seriously wrong.”
Worse, Alford pointed out, “only 9% of young people surveyed recently said they had any interest whatsoever in joining the military. … [W]e could possibly be at war with communist China in less than three to five years. We’ve got to rebuild our military. We’ve got to bring some sanity back to the Department of Defense.”
In his testimony, Austin said he would get back to the committee in “due time.” “I’m here to tell you, Secretary Austin, it better be quick,” Alford warned. “We have some serious answers that we need on these serious questions … about the wokeness that has infected our military. … We have got to put a stop to this … and someone’s head is going to roll on this. I don’t know who, but we cannot continue down this path where we are turning our military into [a] circus.”
And before someone accuses him or other conservatives of being “anti-gay” or “transphobic,” he reminded them, “If this were a woman doing burlesque in an oversexualized manner trying to recruit people into the military, it would be wrong as well. … This is not getting people passionate about America again. We need Normal Rockwell … not the ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show.’ And that’s what we’re living in.”
Kelly, meanwhile, was quite content to play the martyr. He blamed critics for creating “toxic environments and hate.” “You only want to support the military when it benefits you and doesn’t involve queer people. … Well, as a service member, a queen, and an open queer person, you don’t scare me and you won’t stop the LGBTQ+ community [from] thriving,” Kelley continued. “Haters only hate when we’re winning.”
But winning — as a nation — is exactly what Republicans are concerned about. “The situation … is so serious with China,” Alford warned. “They are getting ready to invade Taiwan; Russia [is] in this illegal war against Ukraine. What’s going on in the Sudan? We have serious problems in America, and we are asleep. … The big bad wolf is at the door. As I’ve said before, he is huffing and puffing. Our house right now is not made out of brick. And I’m worried that it’s going to be blown down.”
Suzanne Bowdey serves as editorial director and senior writer at The Washington Stand.
EDITORS NOTE: This Washington Stand column is republished with permission. All rights reserved. ©2023 Family Research Council.
The Washington Stand is Family Research Council’s outlet for news and commentary from a biblical worldview. The Washington Stand is based in Washington, D.C. and is published by FRC, whose mission is to advance faith, family, and freedom in public policy and the culture from a biblical worldview. We invite you to stand with us by partnering with FRC.