One of the most troubling campaign moments this election season occurred Sunday night, when security guards working for Alaska Tea Party candidate Joe Miller detained and handcuffed a journalist as he tried to ask the GOP Senate nominee difficult questions.
Further, two of the guards who assisted in handcuffing and forcibly detaining Alaska Dispatch's Tony Hopfinger were active-duty soldiers moonlighting for Miller's security contractor.
A review of legal documents governing the political activities allowed to members of the armed forces confirmed the incident was a violation of the government's military directives.
Subparagraph 188.8.131.52 of Department of Defense Directive 1344.10 requires that members of the armed forces not "perform clerical or other duties for a partisan political committee or candidate during a campaign, on an election day, or after an election day during the process of closing out a campaign."
Soldiers Spc. Tyler Ellingboe, 22, and Sgt. Alexander Valdez, 31, assigned to the 3rd Maneuver Enhancement Brigade at Fort Richardson, would appear to be in violation of this law.
"As I read the regulations, regardless of the moonlighting or whether they were being paid for it, they shouldn't have been there performing these functions in the course of a political campaign," said Eugene Fidell, who teaches military law at Yale Law School and is president of the National Institute of Military Justice. "Had they been mere spectators it would have been fine. But being part of the team running the event crosses the line."
The Army allows off-duty soldiers to take outside employment if the job doesn't interfere with their military readiness, according to Maj. Bill Coppernoll, the public affairs officer for the Army in Alaska.
Coppernoll told The Anchorage Daily News that while the two soldiers did not have permission from their current chain of command to work as security guards for Miller, the Army was still researching whether previous company or brigade commanders authorized their employment.
Miller's security guards were provided by DropZone, an Anchorage-based military surplus store and bail bond agency that doubles as a security firm.
DropZone owner William Fulton told Military.com that he didn't require paperwork from active-duty military personnel because it's common knowledge that Army members need authorization. "Not to throw the guys under the bus here, but that's an Army-wide policy," Fulton said.
Fidell called the incident "a teachable moment," and a tribute to the importance of being aware and respectful of the limits that the government has put on the involvement of military personnel in politics. "We don't want the military, as such certainly, deeply involved in politics," Fidell told HuffPost in an interview Wednesday.
A video taken by an Anchorage Daily News reporter shows Miller's guards threatened to detain and handcuff at least two other reporters as they tried to record what was happening to Hopfinger.
"It shows the importance of people turning square corners in terms of what the DoD Directive requires," Fidell said, "because you have untrained personnel performing a law enforcement function and not being able to exercise the kind of fine discriminating judgment that we expect of police officers."
Watch the video below for a look at just what such judgment entailed:
"I assume that these two soldiers had no idea that they were sailing in such shallow waters here," Fidell told HuffPost. "But as luck would have it, and it is bad luck on their part, they wound up in an embarrassing and potentially actionable situation."
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