The Navy SEAL who claims he killed Osama bin Laden was banned from Delta Air Lines after he tweeted a photo of himself failing to wear a mask — in contravention of airline policy that all passengers must use face coverings to fight the spread of coronavirus on flights.
On Wednesday, Robert O’Neill, a former member of SEAL Team 6 who fired several shots into bin Laden during the 2011 raid which killed the Al Qaeda leader, tweeted a photo of himself maskless on a plane with what appeared to be a Delta logo on the seats. “I’m not a pussy,” O’Neill wrote in the tweet alongside the photo.
O’Neill, who spent the better part of two days griping about the attention for his tweet attracted, announced Thursday afternoon on Twitter that Delta Air Lines had banned him from flights.
The tweet was later deleted. A subsequent tweet said O’Neill’s wife took the picture down. Later, O’Neill said it was an “attempt at a joke,” but he has previously tweeted out that airline passengers on a different flight he was on were “sheep” for abiding by the mask requirement. Later in the afternoon, he tweeted, “I am not the bad guy. I killed the bad guy.”
Earlier, on Wednesday, Delta Air Lines told The Intercept that O’Neill faced a ban. “We’re aware of this customer’s tweet and are reviewing this event,” a spokesperson for Delta told The Intercept. “All customers who don’t comply with our mask-wearing requirement risk losing their ability to fly Delta in the future. Medical research tells us that wearing a mask is one of the most effective ways to reduce the COVID-19 infection rate.”
A spokesperson for O’Neill did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In his tweets, O’Neill has repeatedly cast doubt on the seriousness of Covid-19, the virus that has already killed roughly 170,000 Americans since it began spreading in the U.S., and the efficacy of masks — which he has called a “novelty” — in combating the spread of the virus.
Airlines started requiring masks for travel in the spring, though enforcement was reportedly lax. Airlines have come under increasing pressure to enforce the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-recommended mask mandates for flying, particularly after outraged passengers posted pictures of people not wearing masks onboard to social media. In response, airlines have become stricter in recent weeks about enforcing compliance, as well as dictating what type of masks meet their requirements. In addition to removing noncompliant passengers from individual flights, several airlines, including Delta, have said they will in some cases ban passengers for life.
Last Friday, Delta CEO Ed Bastian told CNN the airline had already banned dozens of people for refusing to wear masks. “We’ve had well over 100 people that have refused to keep their mask on during the flight,” Bastian said.
A consensus has developed among scientists and health experts that wearing a mask is one of the best tools for impeding the spread of coronavirus. But masks have been politicized by right-wing political figures, not least President Donald Trump.
After serving 16 years in the Navy, O’Neill was fired from his team shortly after the bin Laden raid, after SEAL Team 6 discovered he was frequenting Virginia Beach bars and openly bragging that he was the man who killed bin Laden. The Intercept previously reported that O’Neill has misstated and embellished his role in bin Laden’s death.
O’Neill is a polarizing figure even in the tight-knit Navy SEAL community. His former teammates credit another SEAL with fatally wounding bin Laden before O’Neill entered the room and fired several shots into the terrorist leader’s face. Following his separation from the Navy, O’Neill’s name was added to SEAL Team 6’s “rock of shame,” an unofficial list of unit pariahs, and he was banned from the team’s Virginia Beach headquarters.
After he left the Navy, O’Neill became a right-wing celebrity, including gigs as a paid Fox News contributor and popular public speaker. The former Navy SEAL frequently uses Twitter to troll “libs” — liberals — as well as to hit on far-right themes.
These are not protesters. These are terrorists.— Robert J. O'Neill (@mchooyah) June 2, 2020
For instance, O’Neill has used Twitter to decry social activism in the wake of George Floyd’s killing by Minneapolis police in May. During the George Floyd protests O’Neill tweeted, “Rubber bullets might as well be white flags. Shoot. Or you don’t shoot.” He then referred to police who “retreated” during protests as “pussies.” He later compared activists pushing to take down statues of Confederate officers with “ISIS, al Qaeda and the Taliban.”
His tweets against wearing masks amid the coronavirus pandemic have also sometimes been tinged with racism.
Update: August 20, 2020
This post has been updated to reflect that, on Thursday, O’Neill tweeted that he had been banned from Delta Air Lines.