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Marine Werewolves transform into Crusaders, and back again

United States Marine Corps

Werewolves insignia for the VMFA 122 Fighter Squadron out of Beaufort, S.C. The Squadron briefly reinstated "Crusaders" as its name with cross-and-shield symbol, but has changed back after objections in and outside the ranks.

A Marine fighter squadron challenged on its use of the "Crusaders" name and cross-and-shield symbolism as its insignia has been ordered to reverse the decision, and to return to identifying itself as "Werewolves," the Marine Corps said on Thursday.

The news came a month after the nonprofit Military Religious Freedom Foundation blasted the use of the Crusaders name and logo — citing constitutional and practical objections — on behalf of dozens of soldiers, including Marines in the affected squadron, Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 122. (See msnbc.com's original report here.)

"The deputy commandant for aviation directed VMFA 122 to maintain the unit identification as the Werewolves," said Marines public information officer Lt. Col. Joseph Plenzler. "I called down there to confirm that they have changed the tail markings, squadron patches" and other places the squadron logo appears, he said.

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which advocates complete separation of church and state, welcomed the policy change.

"This is a great victory. Lady liberty is smiling today," said Mikey Weinstein, president and founder of foundation. "We commend the Marine Corps," he said, but added: "The Marines Corps does not get a gold star for doing the right thing because they shouldn’t have done the wrong thing in the first place."

The squadron, based in Beaufort, S.C., used the Crusaders symbol from 1958 to 2008, when Lt. Col. William Lieblein pointed out that imagery invoking the Christian conquest and colonization of Muslim nations during the Middle Ages was counterproductive to the U.S. presence across the Arab and Islamic world.

"The notion of being a crusader in that part of the world doesn't float," he said, ordering the change to "Werewolves," as reported by the Beaufort Gazette at the time.

News that the Crusaders had been reinstated surfaced in April, just as world attention focused on the trial of Anders Breivik, a Norwegian who admitted to killing 77 people in a crusade against Islam and multiculturalism. Breivik brandished the cross and shield symbols in his "manifesto" and YouTube video posted shortly before his bloody rampage.

Later in April, the military announced a Department of Defense-wide review of all training materials to purge anti-Islam bias. Documents that surfaced from that review exposed materials discussing the possibility of attacking Muslim populations and destroying the Islamic holy sites Medina and Mecca.

Weinstein said his foundation had received complaints by many soldiers upset by the return to "Crusaders" and that he represented 122 military members who were prepared to file a lawsuit over the name.

"I don’t know that the Marine Corps could do anything more to fuel the cause of jihad," Weinstein told msnbc.com in April. "It will directly end up costing lives and maiming members of our military."

As of May 18, legal counsel for Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos continued to defend the use of the Crusaders name and symbolism in a teleconference with a lawyer for the foundation.

The military attorney questioned whether the cross was a religious symbol and argued that the crusades were really military, not religious in nature, according to an account of the meeting verified by Caroline Mitchell, a lawyer from the firm Jones Day, which is representing the foundation.

In a letter to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and Amos on Wednesday, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation threatened legal action to force a change in the squadron name. It also submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for all communication and documentation related to the return of the squadron’s name from Werewolves to Crusaders.

But Plenzler said Thursday that a decision made weeks ago by Deputy Commandant of Aviation Lt. Gen. Terry Robling had overruled the squadron commander who reinstated the Crusaders logo.

Conversations with public affairs officers did not clarify why, in light of the policy change, the Marine Corps attorneys continued to dispute the issue with the foundation attorney last Friday. Nor was it clear when the cross-and-shield logo on the vertical stabilizers of the F-18 fighter jets had been painted over and other logos removed.  

Maj. Will Klumpp, a public affairs officer on the Marine Corps Air Station in Beaufort, said he could not confirm that the Crusaders logo had been used.

"I can only tell you that there is not an aircraft with anything but a Werewolf within that squadron," he said.

"We still demand that those who made the decision … be fully and aggressively prosecuted so this never happens again," said Weinstein. "And we want a full accounting of how much money it cost taxpayers to change the name from Werewolves to Crusaders and back to Werewolves."


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