He was sentenced to 19 years for war crimes. After his pardon, Clint Lorance is fueling Trump's 'deep state' conspiracy about the US military.
- In the month since Clint Lorance - the former US Army soldier who was convicted of war crimes - was pardoned by President Donald Trump, he's publicly thanked Trump and even went on stage at one of his fundraisers.
- Lorance was convicted in 2013 on two counts of second-degree murder for the 2012 incident where he ordered his platoon's soldiers to fire at three unarmed Afghan men on a motorcycle, killing two. Lorance has maintained this act was in self-defense.
- Republican lawmakers and conservative commentators welcomed Lorance back - not as a convict who'd redeemed himself, but as a victim of a smear campaign by the US military and progressives.
- Lorance said he believes Trump's comments about a "deep state" in the military. But lawmakers from both parties condemned this assertion as false.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
It's been nearly a month since Clint Lorance, the 35-year-old former US Army first lieutenant who was convicted of war crimes and later pardoned by President Donald Trump, emerged from military prison at Ft. Leavenworth in Kansas to the greetings of his family.
They weren't the only ones greeting him. Republican lawmakers and conservative commentators went on the airwaves and social media to welcome Lorance back - not as a convict who had redeemed himself, but as a victim of a smear campaign by the US military and progressives.
"It feels like I have stepped out of the Twilight Zone and back into normal space and time," Lorance told Insider. "I missed swimming and hiking, neither of which I have had the opportunity to do yet."
Prior to Trump's executive action, the former Army officer was on his sixth year of a 19-year prison sentence for two counts of second-degree murder. Lorance was convicted in 2013, one year after he ordered his platoon's soldiers to fire at three unarmed Afghan men on a motorcycle.
Two people, including a village elder, were killed, and one person was wounded. No US troops were harmed in the incident.
After his release, Lorance is trying to settle into life in Texas as the controversy over his pardon lingers. He says he's currently unemployed and is receiving help from United American Patriots, a non-profit that provides legal assistance to service members found guilty of war crimes. He also went on stage at a Trump fundraiser in Florida on Dec. 7.
Lorance agreed to an interview about Trump and his life after the pardon on the condition it was over email because he wanted to keep a copy for his records, adding that he is "not exactly the most popular guy in America, and there are those who would do anything to send me back to prison."
'The tragedy of pardoning'
Lorance remains unapologetic about his orders to fire at the three Afghans, and is adamant that the split-second decision was justified.
"Anyone who calls me a war criminal obviously has not reviewed the evidence in my case," Lorance told Business Insider.
"I was the one person whose job it was to know the big picture," Lorance added. "The commander on the ground must be able to make combat decisions, as long as they are in good faith."
Lorance and his supporters have made several assertions in his
Lorance's defense attorneys also contend that the Army's prosecution team withheld evidence indicating that the Afghan motorcyclists were associated with enemy combatants. Fingerprints from one of the dead Afghans was linked to an improvised-explosive device (IED), and the lone survivor of the shooting was alleged to have been "involved in hostile action against US forces."
But the evidence raised against Lorance during his trial painted an incriminating picture. Members of Lorance's unit, including his company commander, either testified against him or publicly spoke out against the shooting. Lorance's troops also testified that their leader attempted to conceal information and mischaracterized the circumstances of the shooting, according to military court documents.
"Prior to the engagement, the victims had no observable weapons or radios, and were not displaying any hostility towards US or Afghan forces," a military appeals court said in a ruling in 2017, adding that despite all evidence to the contrary, Lorance at the time told a platoon sergeant that a US helicopter "had spotted the men on the motorcycle with weapons before his troops engaged."
In addition to the contradicting statements, Lorance, according to military judges, "was not aware" of the Afghan victim's biometric connection to an IED at the time he gave the order to shoot.
"The tragedy of pardoning Lorance isn't that he will be released from prison - I've found room for compassion there," former US Army Capt. Patrick Swanson, Lorance's company commander in Afghanistan, told The New York Times. "The tragedy is that people will hail him as a hero, and he is not a hero. He ordered those murders. He lied about them."
'He has my loyalty'
Trump's act of clemency for Lorance, in addition to absolving two other US service members who were either convicted or were still facing trial of war crimes, has been met with gratitude from the president's allies. Trump frequently claims the three service members were treated unfairly in the military's judicial system, and that their service far outweighed the allegations levied against them.
Lorance said Trump's pardon made him profoundly grateful.
"The President gave me my life back," Lorance told Insider. "He saved my life. He has my loyalty."
Lorance has toured the conservative media circuit in recent weeks, thanking Trump and his supporters during interviews with TV and radio hosts. Last weekend, Lorance and Golsteyn attended a closed-door Republican fund-raiser, where Trump invited the two former soldiers to take the stage. The two soldiers still keep in touch, according to Lorance, who says he's "honored to call him a friend."
Lorance denied that Trump had extended an official invitation to the Republican fund-raiser, and told Insider that he had "no contact with the President's team: campaign or White House."
Meanwhile, some veterans have described Trump's pardons as a subversion of military justice. Will Goodwin, the government relations director of the progressive VoteVets political action committee, said the presidential pardons and the overzealous patriotic dogma were damaging the apolitical perception of the military.
"Now, he's elevating these people and making them cult personalities on the right," Goodwin told Insider. "He's almost incentivizing this type of behavior when he's pardoning these folks and elevate them, and bring them up in front of people who are expected to cheer."
The deep state: 'You know what I'm talking about'
Critics of Trump's pardons, including his own military advisers, soon found themselves being targeted by the president's ire.
Throughout his presidency, Trump and his ardent supporters have fueled the so-called "deep state" theory - a term lifted from coup-prone Turkish politics about the military who've overthrown elected leaders - and pointed to the steady stream of unflattering leaks from unnamed law enforcement and intelligence officials as unmistakable proof.
For the first time, Trump recently expanded the theory to include the Defense Department.
"Just this week, I stuck up for three great warriors against the deep state," Trump said at a Florida campaign rally in November. "And you know what I'm talking about."
"I had so many people say, 'Sir, I don't think you should do that,'" Trump added, mockingly.
In the interview, Lorance agreed with Trump's sentiment and said he believed that "senior bureaucrats in the Pentagon who believe they do not answer to the electorate" were also members of the so-called deep state conspiracy.
"There are no checks and balances in that case. These people are not elected. They are hired," Lorance said, referring to senior US military officials. "And the CEO should be able to fire them if they do not accept the company's agenda. In this case, the company is the executive branch of the US government."
One Republican lawmaker, who asked for anonymity to criticize Trump's "deep state" comments, said US troops were more concerned with "having the best training ... to accomplish the mission and come home safe."
"That matters far more than whatever comes out of the president's Twitter feed, or the mouth of any other politician," the Republican lawmaker told Insider.
"Is there a deep state within the military? I don't even know what that means," the Republican added. "I mean, the military is the world's largest bureaucracy, so yeah, there are bureaucrats in the military, some of whom are stealing oxygen. But I think most people who work for [the Defense Department], particularly those in uniform, are patriots. They're doing it not because they want to get rich, but because ... they want to serve their country."
Democratic Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, a retired Marine Corps infantry officer, was more blunt.
"When I was serving in Iraq under George W. Bush, it seemed like a terribly divisive time because we were fighting in a war that many of us disagreed with," Moulton, a combat veteran, told Insider. "But despite my disagreements with President Bush, I never expected him to take the side of a foreign power over our intelligence agencies. I didn't expect him to hold up autocrats and attack our allies. I didn't expect him to fail to follow the law."
Trump's proliferation of the deep state conspiracy is "dangerous," said Goodwin from VoteVets.
"When the president, just as he's done with a host of domestic agencies, demeans those who've worn the uniform for decades ... and questions the integrity of senior leaders in the military, I don't think we can overstate how dangerous that is," Goodwin said. "What he's trying to do is satisfy his domestic political aims, and he's willing to trash anything in the process, and that includes the Department of Justice, the FBI, the State Department, and now, he's going after the military."
"If it weren't so dangerous, it might be funny because it's another reminder that this president has no clue when it comes to the US military," Goodwin added.
'Not much offends me'
Lorance brushes off his critics and says he had no regrets from his decision to order the attack in Afghanistan.
"I try not to disparage people who I've never met and know next to nothing about, but that's me," Lorance told Insider.
Lorance referred to his identity as "a gay Christian with two combat deployments, and six years in prison under my belt," and said his "perspective may be a little different than most."
"Not much offends me," he added.
Lorance, who graduated from the University of North Texas, says he's applying to online graduate schools that focus on leadership and project management. Prior to his exchange with Insider, Lorance said in a now-deleted tweet that his dishonorable discharge "makes it impossible to find a job. Even at Walmart or Target."
Trump "told me my record would be expunged," he said in the tweet. "His staff in the White House must have disagreed. This will be an uphill battle."
According to Lorance, his prison experience shaped his new career goals.
"Ultimately I want to go to law school and do all I can to help police and military members who are accused of crimes while in the performance of their duties," Lorance said.
Lorance also hasn't ruled out a future in politics. He said he was analyzing a potential run for office and that he "will announce something soon."