James LaPorta, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and independent journalist, was indefinitely barred from accessing Camp Lejeune, a major Marine Corps base in North Carolina, on Feb. 10, 2017.
Camp Lejeune is not open to the general public, but military personnel have access to it and civilians can visit the base if they are sponsored by someone on the base. As a member of the Marine Corps' inactive reserves, LaPorta had free access to the base with his military ID.
LaPorta is a frequent contributor to The Daily Beast and has reported extensively on the Marine Corps, including sensitive subjects like revenge porn and sexual harassment among Marines.
On Feb. 5, 2017, LaPorta said, he visited Camp Lejeune to meet with a source who lives on the base. LaPorta said that his source — a woman who accused a high-ranking officer of sexually assaulting her — invited him into her home on the base so that he could interview her. LaPorta said that he did not notify Camp Lejeune's public affairs office before his visit, in part because his source specifically told him that she did not trust the public affairs office.
After interviewing the woman, LaPorta said, he went to Camp Lejeune's brig to visit the officer accused of sexual assault. Camp Lejeune's public affairs office prohibits journalists from interviewing detainees in the brig without permission, but LaPorta said that he only went to briefly visit the officer, not to formally interview him. (LaPorta said that he had already interviewed the officer twice before he was taken into custody and so had no reason to interview him again during the February visit.)
Five days later, Camp Lejeune deputy commander Col. Scalise sent a letter to LaPorta informing him that he had violated regulations by interviewing the woman and visiting the officer in the brig. The letter warned that he would be indefinitely "debarred" from entering the base:
On 5 February 2017, you participated in inappropriate and unethical activities by attempting to interview a victim of an alleged crime aboard Marine Corps base, Camp Lejeune, (MCB CAMLEJ); which is in violation of [a regulation], by gathering information/taking photographs/videotaping/exposing TV motion picture film within the Camp Lejeune area without prior approval of the Consolidated Public Affairs Office. Additionally, you violated [another regulation]; which states "Personal interviews and telephonic communications between prisoners and media representatives is not authorized, unless a determination is made that such an interview serves the legitimate public interest, or is in the best interest of the military.
Based upon the serious nature of your misconduct, you are being debarred from MCB CAMLEJ. I have determined that your presence aboard MCB CAMLEJ is detrimental to the security, good order and discipline of the Installation. Accordingly, you are hereby notified, upon the receipt of this letter, that you are ordered not to reenter, or be found within the limits of MCB CAMLEJ.
Lejeune is one of only three major Marine Corps bases — the other two are in southern California and Okinawa, Japan — and LaPorta said that being debarred from the North Carolina base will make it much more difficult to report on the Marine Corps.
"Being debarred from Camp Lejeune, it’s almost like losing 25 to 40 percent of your coverage area," he said.
LaPorta finished his service in the reserves in June 2017 and was honorably discharged. He remains debarred from Camp Lejeune, prohibited from entering the base even if explicitly invited by a resident of the base.
Rep. Jackie Speier, a Democratic congresswoman from California, has tried to intercede on LaPorta's behalf. She sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Gen. James Mattis and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford asking them to explain why LaPorta was debarred from Camp Lejeune. The generals have not yet responded.
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this post stated that a major Marine Corps base is located in northern California. The base, Camp Pendleton, is actually located in southern California.