Veterans are Burning Their Military Uniforms on TikTok to Protest the End of Roe

"I swore an oath to protect the people from foreign and domestic terrorism."
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Image: TikTok

On July 7, Army veteran Ashley Zur posted something unlike any of her previous TikTok content. Standing in her backyard, she held up her retired uniform. Then, she tossed it into a pit, drizzled it with lighter fluid, and set it on fire.

“I am NOT proud to be a veteran,” the overlaying text read with an accompanying caption urging viewers to “stand up, fight back!”

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Zur lives in a state that banned abortion, and is one of several military veterans—a group typically associated with unwavering patriotism—posting videos burning, ripping, or otherwise destroying their uniforms in response to the Supreme Court overturning of Roe v. Wade and ending the constitutional right to abortion.

Some videos have gone viral. One by user @katstuckey_, in which she takes a pair of scissors to her uniform and then watches it go up in flames, has garnered 5.1 million views, while others remain relatively obscure with less than a hundred.

Zur, whose TikTok has more than 100,000 views, wasn't expecting the video to receive the amount of attention that it did—both positive and negative. Despite some of the backlash, she said that burning her uniform felt like the right thing to do. 

“I swore an oath to protect the people from foreign and domestic terrorism,” Zur told Motherboard, adding that she believes the overturn of Roe v. Wade is domestic terrorism.

Melinda Grisby served as a medic in the Air Force until 2011 and was deployed to Iraq twice. She said that after Roe was overturned, it didn’t feel right to see her uniform hanging in the closet. So she set it on fire, posting a video of the uniform burning to TikTok and telling viewers that the phrase “thank you for your service” doesn't mean the same thing to her anymore. Grisby said the ubiquitous expression now translates to, “thank you for protecting my rights while I strip away yours.”

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She said that she posted the video because she wants her viewers to understand that veterans do not stop serving even after they have been discharged.

“We're going to continue to fight, and we're not going to back down,” she told Motherboard.

Grisby’s voiceover has been used in 84 videos on TikTok, and though nearly all of them feature female military veterans, she said it has been “heartwarming” to see men participate as well.

One of these participants is @ma_taxpro, a “salty veteran” who served for 10 years in the infantry and asked to be identified by his first name, Dan, because he feared retaliation against his family. In his video, which he posted on Independence Day, he steadily records from behind his phone as fire engulfs his uniform. He said that Grisby’s video inspired him to burn his uniform and post it on TikTok.

Dan lives in a state where abortion is likely to remain legal and posted the video because he couldn't find a protest to attend nearby. He said that as a single parent of three daughters, traveling to a protest isn't feasible for him, so posting on TikTok was a way for him to make his voice heard.

By posting the video, he also hoped to dispel the notion that all veterans support the GOP and has a message for Republicans who believe that veterans will always be on their side: “Not so much,” he said.

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As a parent of a daughter in the LGBTQ community, he is particularly concerned about the additional implications of the overturn outside of abortion. There has recently been renewed disussion surrounding gay rights after Justice Clarence Thomas’ concurrence calling for the reconsideration of Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same sex marriage nationwide.

“My kids are directly affected by this,” he said. “So I take this quite personal.”

Grisby, who is also a parent, echoed Dan’s sentiment, saying that she does not want her son to have to fight for the same things that she and her mother had to. Unlike Zur, who has been outspoken about her lack of pride in being a veteran, Grisby said her feelings are complicated.

“I do have pride for the people that sacrificed many things, not just their lives—their limbs, their mental health,” she said, noting that she wants to be a voice for these individuals.

She said that while she wants to be proud of having served her country, she feels like America has turned its back on her.

“It's very conflicting. On one hand, you do have pride but on the other hand, you feel betrayed,” she said.

The Department of Defense (DoD) announced on June 28 that it would keep performing abortions for servicemembers “consistent with federal law.” As Motherboard wrote at the time, the memo is an affirmation to service members that there will be little change in the Pentagon’s existing policy, but it also acknowledged that the Supreme Court decision “will have significant implications for our Service members, dependents, and other beneficiaries of DoD health care services, and civilian employees, as well as the readiness of the Force,” the memo said. “The implications of the Supreme Court’s decision are complicated and must be evaluated against various state laws, together with the views of the Department of Justice.”

Dan’s attitude regarding his identity as a veteran has remained consistent. Despite his stance on the overturn, he said that he remains proud of his veteran status.

“I still have pride in my service,” he said. “I swore an oath to the constitution, not an administration.”