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San Diego Navy SEAL accused of extremism faces punishment over threats

Late last year, the Navy launched an investigation into a San Diego SEAL accused of having ties with extremists. KPBS military reporter Andrew Dyer has more on the accusation and the latest in the investigation.

The Navy investigation into a San Diego Navy SEAL accused of having ties to extremists concluded the sailor didn't violate Pentagon rules against participation in extremist activity, according to a Navy official with knowledge of the investigation.

The official is not authorized to comment publicly on the case.

The Naval Special Warfare Center in Coronado launched an investigation into Chief Special Warfare Operator Bryce Henson in November. The SEAL spent more than a year prior speaking at rallies, city councils and school boards — first against Critical Race Theory then against LGBTQ+ student rights.


Photos and videos from several events showed Henson in the company of alleged members of the Proud Boys, a Southern Poverty Law Center-designated hate group.

Henson was also photographed alongside a man with a large Nazi eagle tattoo on his head and swastika tattoo on his arm during two separate Santee anti-LGBTQ+ rallies in January 2023.

Chief Special Warfare Operator Bryce Henson, appearing under the pseudonym Ben Richards at a Nov. 14, 2023, Escondido Union High School board meeting.
Alexander Nguyen
Chief Special Warfare Operator Bryce Henson, appearing under the pseudonym Ben Richards at a Nov. 14, 2023, Escondido Union High School board meeting.

He was featured in a Los Angeles Times investigation into the coordinated conservative actions at Southern California school boards in October.

The Navy's investigation into Henson was finished in mid-January, the Navy official said. Although Henson was cleared of extremism allegations the investigator did find the SEAL engaged in threatening behavior, according to the official.

Under the Uniform Code of Military Justice — military law — communicating threats is punishable under Article 115.


It's not clear what threats the Navy's investigation reviewed and the official did not say. But on Jan. 25 — after the investigation was complete — Henson took to Instagram to share a video of himself shooting guns.

"Since certain people leaked my work history to the press," Henson wrote in the video's caption, "I guess I'll share my skill sets with my friends in hopes to spread awareness of exercising our 2nd Amendment rights safely and legally. ..."

The video features Henson, in his Navy uniform, giving basic gun safety instructions and shooting.

Henson shared another video speculating on the identity of an anonymous Instagram user who runs an account called "TheChartyB." The person running the account maintains a website that charts connections between several right-wing groups and figures prominently in the Southern California anti-LGBTQ+ school board movement.

Henson is featured in the chart.

In the second video, Henson incorrectly identified San Diego journalist Brooke Binkowski as the person behind TheChartyB.

Binkowski covers disinformation and previously worked for fact-checking news sites. She said people only threaten journalists when they're doing a good job.

"Despite what far-right activists think, I am not the same person as the one running TheChartyB," Binkowski wrote in a statement. "However, I do believe the threats ... are an attempt to abrogate and interfere with my 1st Amendment rights and a threat to the public's right to a free press."

Henson also sent a direct message to TheChartyB on Instagram telling them to "show their face."

Just past midnight on Jan. 26, Henson sent his shooting video to TheChartyB in an Instagram DM and wrote, "share with your friends."

In a screenshot from TheChartyB's Instagram account, DMs from an account called "Ben Richards," an alias of Chief Special Warfare Operator Bryce Henson, he writes "show your face," then, "night Brooke Binkowski." He then sends a video of himself shooting guns in his Navy uniform and says "share with your friends."
Screenshot courtesy of TheChartyB
Screenshot of DMs sent to anonymous Instagram account TheChartyB's from "Ben Richards," an alias of Chief Special Warfare Operator Bryce Henson, in which he accuses San Diego disinformation journalist of running the account, says "show your face," and sends a video of him shooting guns in his Navy uniform with the message "share with your friends."

The person behind the account told KPBS she feared for her safety.

“It felt very threatening," she said. "To me, it’s clearly threatening. He said 'share with your friends.'"

She describes herself as a "suburban housewife" who cares about LGBTQ+ rights. KPBS agreed not to publish her name over her safety concerns.

“It’s scary having somebody send you threatening messages when they’ve been trained by the U.S. military to be a killing machine,” she said.

She began tracking Henson last year when he started showing up in Temecula where a new conservative school board took over in late 2022.

Henson first appeared early in 2023 when the school board voted to ban critical race theory. He also spoke out when the board moved to reject the California state social studies curriculum over material covering the gay-rights movement.

In August, it voted to require teachers to tell parents when their child asks to use a different name, pronoun or identifies as transgender at school. The moves mobilized Temecula's LGBTQ+ community.

Members of that community told KPBS, Henson began harassing and threatening them months before the Navy's investigation began.

Judy Bailey Savage owns the Savage Ranch. Situated in the hills overlooking the Temecula wine country, the ranch serves as a refuge for the area's queer community, Savage said.

A view of the Temecula Valley from a hill near Savage Ranch.
Andrew Dyer/ KPBS
The Temecula Valley as seen from a hill near Savage Ranch on Jan. 30, 2024.

Savage said, even though she didn’t attend Temecula Valley School Board meetings, Henson began leaving rude comments on her Instagram posts from anonymous accounts. Other community activists told her about him, so she responded the next time a troll commented on her account.

"I said, 'oh, it's you, Bryce,'" Savage said. "And he said: 'Yes.'"

Judy Bailey Savage sits on a rock in the sunshine near Savage Ranch in Temecula on Jan. 30, 2024.
Andrew Dyer/ KPBS
Judy Bailey Savage sits on a rock in the sunshine near Savage Ranch in Temecula on Jan. 30, 2024.

She said Henson once called her late at night and asked if she knew who it was. She said when she told him she didn't know, the person on the phone said "I'm Bryce."

"I asked him, 'why are you stalking me, why are you calling me?'" Savage said. "And he goes, 'well, I've already surveilled your property.'"

Temecula pastor Rachel Dennis, a parent of a trans child, said even if Henson himself isn't dangerous, she isn't sure about his nearly 7,000 Instagram followers.

"Because we see that extremism and the language on his Instagram … can then produce the violence in in some people," Dennis said.

She said the experiences of the last year have the Temecula LGBTQ+ community on alert.

"Sometimes, you know, we're sitting out here scared, honestly," she said. "Navy SEAL, I mean, you’re talking about somebody who's been trained in special operations, in weapons — so, yeah, that makes it a little bit more scary, right?"

In an emailed statement, Henson didn’t comment on the allegations of sending threats. Instead, he writes that he’s a father who’s been smeared by people.

Bishop Garrison, a senior fellow with the National Security Institute at George Mason Law School, who helped craft new Pentagon rules on extremism among service members, said there's real danger when members of the military become radicalized.

"It is a very small, minute group of actors that have engaged this type of activity, but our major concerns is that this activity has a direct outsized impact," Garrison said. "Not only can you can you deteriorate unit cohesion, not only can you disrupt the good order and discipline of units — people get hurt."

He says the Pentagon’s policy on extremist behavior is written broadly so that any allegations need to be considered in context, but it’s not perfect. Further action is needed to address the problem.

"What we need is for ... Congress to stand up and make some very specific laws and rules around what our expectations of this type of behavior, really, truly should be,” Garrison said.

The Navy classifies Henson’s investigation as administrative and a Naval Special Warfare spokesperson said he won’t comment on any administrative actions.

"When there are allegations of misconduct, we investigate and take appropriate action based on the facts," said Cmdr. William Tisdale. "We expect our sailors who choose to engage in public discourse to do so peacefully and in a lawful manner. As a matter of policy, we will not release specific details about administrative matters regarding our sailors."

A Navy official with knowledge of the case Henson could either receive minor punishment or more serious repercussions, such as being kicked out of the SEALs or the Navy altogether.

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