On June 20, Richard Torres-Estrada posted a picture of Trump holding a Bible in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church posted alongside a picture of Hitler in front of a crowd giving the Nazi salute. The photo of Hitler had been altered to show him holding a Bible. Torres-Estrada commented in Spanish, saying, “Let me leave this here for you and slowly back away (while I continue to work from home).” A senior defense official told CNN that the post comparing Trump to Hitler was among the social media posts under investigation.
The image of Trump in front of the church was from June 1, at the height of the Black Lives Matter demonstrations against overly aggressive policing following George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police. US Park Police and other federal authorities cleared Lafayette Square, a park across the street the White House traditionally used for peaceful protests and demonstrations. Authorities used tear gas, riot shields and batons to clear the area before Trump walked across the park for the photo in front of the church.
In February, Torres-Estrada also posted a meme to his Facebook page, which was public until Monday night, saying Republican Sen. Ted Cruz was “MISSING” after he left his home state for Cancun, Mexico, as Texas suffered from widespread power outages in the wake of a brutal winter storm. It’s not clear if that post is part of the investigation.
Special Operations Command spokesman Kenneth McGraw told CNN Torres-Estrada has been reassigned pending the results of the investigation. He did not say to what position Torres-Estrada was reassigned, but McGraw says he remains within the combatant command. Special Operations Command oversees operations for the military’s elite units, such as the Navy SEALs, Army Rangers and Delta Force.
Special Operations Command announced the hire of Torres-Estrada on Thursday, writing on Twitter, “We look forward to his contribution in enhancing the capabilities and effectiveness of (Special Operations Forces) through diversity of talent, helping us recruit the best of the best.” Torres-Estrada began his new job at the beginning of the month, the senior defense official told CNN. According to Torres-Estrada’s Facebook and LinkedIn pages, he worked as an Equal Opportunity Officer at the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. His listed work history online does not show a military background.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin was made aware of the social media posts and the Special Operations Command investigation by Gen. Richard Clarke, commander of Special Operations Command, said Pentagon chief spokesman John Kirby.
“Obviously, we take the need to promote diversity and inclusion seriously here in the department. the secretary has spoken to that many times,” Kirby said in a news briefing. “And we certainly want that work to be transparent, to be credible, to be effective, and of course professional. We want everybody to take those duties and responsibilities seriously and professionally, but we’re not going to get ahead of Special Operations Command’s investigation.”
CNN made multiple attempts to contact Torres-Estrada for comment. He has not responded. Torres-Estrada’s Facebook profile, including the controversial posts, were publicly viewable until Monday evening. It was no longer publicly viewable late Monday night.
Social media posts have come under increased scrutiny in new hires and appointments in recent years, including under the Biden administration when a divided political environment has made controversial picks and hires less palatable to lawmakers.
Neera Tanden’s nomination to lead the Office of Management and Budget was derailed by past tweets attacking Republicans and progressives. Colin Kahl’s nomination to be the under secretary of defense for policy, the third-highest civilian position in the Pentagon, is hanging in the balance after similar scrutiny of his previous tweets attacking Republicans.