Fans are flocking to support the US Army officer who was suspended for a Holocaust joke in his TikTok video
Nathan Freihofer, a US Army second lieutenant, was suspended of his leadership roles pending an investigation after he uploaded a TikTok video with anti-Semitic remarks. Freihofer claimed in the video he was making a joke. Freihofer, who amassed nearly 3 million followers on TikTok before his account was deactivated, received support from his fans. Fans have claimed the Army was being unnecessarily harsh against Freihofer, and that the organization was selectively enforcing its social media policy. Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
Nathan Freihofer, the US Army second lieutenant who was suspended after he uploaded a TikTok video with anti-Semitic remarks, has garnered the support of his online followers, many of whom appeared to be in or previously served in the US military. In the video, Freihofer, who had nearly 3 million followers on TikTok and over 135 million "likes," lamented he could not be verified on the app due to the nature of his "dark jokes." Freihofer went on to give an example that made light of the Holocaust, the Nazi-led genocide during World War II that killed millions of Jews. A "Jewish person's favorite Pokémon character" is Ash, Freihofer said in the short video, referring to the name of the protagonist in the popular cartoon, and the Nazi extermination camps in which Jews of all nationalities were killed and burned. Freihofer then proclaimed, "If you get offended, get the f--- out, because it's a joke." "Don't be a p---y," Freihofer added. Shortly after his video was shared throughout social media outlets on Monday, Freihofer's TikTok account was removed.
Freihofer did not appear in uniform during the video, but other clips on his account shows him performing military tasks in fatigues. Individual US Army commands and leaders have since condemned the video and launched an investigation. "We are investigating reports of a Soldier assigned to XVIII Airborne Corps allegedly making vile remarks on a social media video," the North Carolina-based XVIII Airborne Corps confirmed in a statement. "The statement made in the video is completely inconsistent with our values. We will review all facts and take appropriate action." In a separate statement, the Georgia-based 3rd Infantry Division also confirmed it was launching an investigation of the "vile remarks" from the TikTok video, adding that Freihofer was immediately suspended of "all leadership authorities." Second lieutenants are the most junior rank for newly commissioned officers in the Army and typically have less than two years of service. These officers command platoon-size groups of roughly 16 to 44 soldiers. Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael Grinston, the senior-most enlisted soldier in the service, also tweeted of the video: "This is completely unacceptable. On social media or not, racist jokes are racist. Period." An Army spokesman told Insider on Tuesday it was not regulating Freihofer's personal social media accounts, citing "free speech" concerns. The organization did not immediately answer if it had ordered Freihofer to deactivate his TikTok account.
'Use social media to stay connected and tell the Army's story' Freihofer's fans on social media have offered their support for the TikTok enthusiast, who regularly posted videos of his workouts and other trendy themes that mirrored the content of YouTube celebrities. Some of his fans appeared to have served in the US military and accused the Army of acting too harshly against Freihofer, while neglecting the spate of missing or dead soldiers who were stationed at Ft. Hood, Texas, or failing to enforce its social media policy for other military service members. A petition on Change.org addressed to President Donald Trump is on track to surpass 5,000 signatories as of Tuesday afternoon. "As fans of Mr. Freihofer ... I believe he had lifted many of his fans out of rough times and simply made us laugh, [sic] we all realize the mistake that was made and deeply regret it," the petition said. "I never thought his jokes or ability to spread happiness was related to or represented the US Army," one person commented in the petition. Despite his TikTok account being deactivated, Freihofer still appeared to be active on social media platforms like Snapchat. He did not respond to a request for comment. A Twitter account with the screenname "@NathanFreihofer" also began liking and retweeting tweets that were sympathetic to him. It was unclear if Freihofer had ownership of the Twitter account; however, it was created at least two weeks before his TikTok video went viral on social media.
The incident presents a case study of the Army's struggle to regulate its service members's social use. The US military officially banned TikTok for its troops, regardless of whether they appeared in videos wearing a uniform, citing concerns with its ownership of the China-based technology firm, ByteDance. Trump and Republican lawmakers have railed against the company and argued it "might take action that threatens to impair the national security of the United States." Although the ban against TikTok was in effect since 2019, US service members continued to create content on the app, many of them appearing in uniform. Some of the TikTok videos sparked backlash for its alleged suggestive content, including one where US Army soldiers danced to rapper Cardi B's song "WAP," an acronym for "wet-ass p---y." The Army notes in numerous policy directives that "social media plays a very important role in our lives," adding that it "encourages Soldiers and their Families to use social media to stay connected and tell the Army's story." While it encourages its soldiers to use social media, it stipulates that the activity must be "in a manner that is consistent with Army values and standards of conduct." "It is important that all Soldiers know that when they are logged on to a social media platform, they still represent the US Army," the Army says on a notice for social media use. "Soldiers using social media must abide by the [Uniform Code of Military Justice] at all times, even when off duty." The notice adds that online misconduct includes "any other types of misconduct that undermine dignity and respect." Official Army regulations state that a soldier is "responsible for content they publish on all personal and public internet domains to include social media sites," and notes that a punishment for a social media infraction may range from a military discharge "for unsatisfactory performance or misconduct," to other "disciplinary action deemed appropriate by the commander."Join the conversation about this story »
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David's transition from using real weapons to firing them in-game wasn't all too difficult and he says there wasn't an overlap with his military training. But there were other social barriers he needed to overcome in order to fit in with his new community. "For me, being a little older than what most people ... by 8-10 years, I'd say the hardest thing for me is that I had to learn the terminology," David said. "There's so many words people use these days that I have no idea what they're saying." 'Nerdy soldiers' David's day starts out just like any other active-duty soldier in the Army: physical training (PT) in the morning and a day out of the week for administrative tasks. "Just like a normal unit, we have PT every morning, usually around 6:30; and then go eat breakfast; shower; get in your uniform," David said. "We're usually back to work by 9:00. Basically from there, we're either practicing our game and creating content for YouTube or whatever social media platform." The esports league is part of the Army's broader Marketing and Engagement Brigade based in Fort Knox, Kentucky, where other military marketing teams are also stationed, such as the Golden Knights parachuting team. "So the cool thing about the esports team is that we're right next door to the Army Crossfit and Strongman Team — so we get that unique opportunity [for] them kind of designating a workout for us," David said. "So now we have all these, you know, 'nerdy soldiers' because of how much video games they play." David and the Army's other esports players stream to the public for roughly five hours a day, and then select highlights for upload on platforms like Twitch. "When you're gaming ... it's really hard to get off that and then go sit back and try to clip stuff and create content if you want to do multiple platforms," he said. "There's really not enough time in the day to do everything, so you have to try and micromanage that time." 'I want to enlist as a gamer' As a community outreach program and a recruiting tool, David and other members of the Army's esports league are bombarded with questions from potential recruits. Through their conversations, the esports team realized there have been misconceptions about what they do and how to become a member. "I'd say the biggest misconception about our program is that you cannot join the Army to be a 'video game player,'" David said. "It's not a job in the Army where you can just come off the street and say, 'Hey, I want to enlist as a gamer. Let's do that.'" "You're still an infantryman, you're still a medic, you're still something," David added. "You can try out as an extracurricular activity, and maybe make the E-sports team." Because the Army and every other military branch does not offer it as an occupational specialty, recruits are not able to join the esports league at the beginning of their military careers. Once they become a soldier, they can apply to become a member on an extracurricular basis, and then, hopefully, transition into becoming a full-time streamer or competitive gamer on the team. "It's almost daily — the younger guys, 16-17, they're like, 'I want to do what you're doing,'" David said. "But then they kind of want to do everything that I'm doing and they don't want to put in a lot of work. To even be a Green Beret, it's two years of school." "But I actually get a lot of interest on this," David added. "Guys actually talk to me about wanting to game, and ... maybe they want to try out for Special Forces or want to be a Ranger." Soldiers with the esports league are also required to abide by certain rules, such as not being able to solicit subscriptions from the Army's official Twitch account and keeping their profanity down to a minimum. "The last 12 years of my life I had quite a mouth on me," David said. "When we're streaming to the Army channels, we definitely try to be family friendly because you never know who's going come in and watch you." "We're usually very good about our language," David added. "I mean, every now and then we'll slip up, followed by a quick apology, Especially if we're in the heat of the moment in a 'Call of Duty' match, sometimes we do slip up." Once a soldier becomes a member of the esports team, they are assigned that role for the next three years. Soldiers must maintain the Army's requirements, including keeping up with its physical standards. "If you're in any kind of negative standing in the military, or if you can't pass your PT test, you're not even eligible to try out," David said. "Soldier first, gamer second." "You just got to remember: Yeah you're a gamer, but at the same time you're a soldier representing the United States Army," David added. "A lot of gamers these days are pretty toxic, especially in the "Call of Duty" world. 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