May 28, 2024

DIGHTON, Mass. (AP) — The Massachusetts Air National Guardsman accused of leaking highly classified documents had set his sights on joining the military from an early age. But more recently he had expressed disillusionment about having enlisted.

Jack Teixeira, 21, was charged Friday in U.S. District Court in Boston with unauthorized removal and retention of classified and national defense information — a breach that has caused an international uproar and exposed explicit U.S. assessments on the war in Ukraine and other closely held secrets. A magistrate judge ordered Teixeira held until a detention hearing next week.

Teixeira grew up in Dighton, a rural community south of Boston that is dotted with single-family homes interspersed with small farms. His mother’s home sits down a long driveway in heavy woods. A florist, she sometimes puts out a flower cart by the side of the road, selling bouquets on the honor system.

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Two of his classmates told The Boston Globe that Teixeira revered the military and showed an early interest in joining. He was especially focused on the history of war and weapons.

“From a young age, I remember he would have a book on, I believe, U.S. military aircrafts, armaments, like a real big textbook,” John Powell told the Globe.

Though Powell remembered Teixeira being bullied in middle school, he told the newspaper that the young man was an optimist and “sweetheart,” with an especially close relationship with his stepdad, an Air Force veteran.

High school classmate Kailani Reis told the newspaper Teixeira was “super quiet” and gave off “loner vibes,” while another classmate, Sarah Arnold, told AP she remembered him as being quiet and keeping to himself.

Teixeira enlisted in the Air National Guard in September 2019, according to military records. He graduated from Dighton-Rehoboth Regional High School the following year, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced the school to close and go virtual.

It was during the pandemic that Teixeira developed a close relationship with other members of a chat room on the social media platform Discord, where members of the group have said the leaks showed up. The chat app is used by video gamers and others to connect online.

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A member of the Discord chat group spoke to AP about the conversations, but declined to give his name, citing concerns for his personal safety. The group, called “Thug Shaker Central,” drew people who talked about their favorite types of guns and shared memes and jokes, some of them racist and anti-Semitic, the person told the AP.

The group also included a running discussion about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. For months, a member nicknamed “the O.G.” posted reams of classified material, said the Discord member who confirmed that O.G. was Teixeira.

Teixeira liked to chat about guns, was an observant Christian and would often pray with group members, the fellow member said. In recent months, Teixeira had become disillusioned about the U.S. military and had begun to express “regret (about) joining,” the person said. “He even said he’d kick my ass if I thought about joining.”

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Teixeira also worried the federal government had become too powerful, according to the Discord user.

The chat group member said he wasn’t sure why Teixeira enlisted, but believed he needed money for college. He added that O.G. was skilled at making memes.

“He was good at his craft. He was good with, you know, Photoshop,” the group member told AP, adding that Teixeira ”was never a very, super serious guy, usually was all like laughs and giggles.”

Teixeira was recently promoted to Airman 1st Class and assigned to the 102nd Intelligence Wing at Otis Air National Guard Base, where his job was listed as a cyber transport systems journeyman.

Despite his relatively low rank, the technology position would have given Teixeira responsibility for maintaining computer networks with access to classified information. Teixeira began active duty in October 2021, serving full time at the base, which is located on Cape Cod in Massachusetts.

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Members of the Discord group described Teixeira as someone looking to show off, rather than being motivated by a desire to inform the public about U.S. military operations or to influence American policy.

Without any evidence, some prominent people on the right have begun hailing Teixeira as someone who aimed to expose the Biden administration and prevent further U.S. involvement in the war in Ukraine.

On Twitter, U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, using the wrong first name, posted that Teixeira was “white, male, christian, and antiwar. That makes him an enemy to the Biden regime.”

The Discord member told AP he did not believe Teixeira leaked documents to undermine the U.S. government or for an ideological reason.

“If I had to give a gauge on it, it would be more or less just some nerds wanting to glance over some stuff and compare and contrast and kind of have a little joke about it,” he said, adding that, ”At the end of the day, I mean we’re just trying to have a fun time.”

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Merchant reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Jennifer McDermott in Dighton, Massachusetts, Ali Swenson in Seattle and Alan Suderman, Michael Bieseker and Richard Lardner in Washington contributed to this report.