Alek Skarlatos, one of three U.S. soldiers who in August, 2015 stopped a terrorist attack on a Paris train, is finding out how fickle fame and glory is in an era of social media.
Skarlatos, from a Greek-American Oregon family, was blistered by critics after appearing on Instagram wearing a shirt backing Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump.
It said Trump: Make America Great Again, the candidate’s oft-repeated slogan that he uses as part of his mantra to restore America on the world stage again after he said it had been denigrated by politicians and critics.
While some of Skarlatos’ followers praised his Presidential choice, others attacked him. “Racist” and “uneducated” were among the insults hurled at him. One especially nasty commenter called him a “small-minded bigot,” and even worse in more profane language.
“How quickly we forget Skarlatos’ sacrifice,” Cortney O’Brien wrote in Townhall, adding: “Some commenters applauded the nasty remark, but others stood up for Skarlatos’ right to free speech – considering, you know, he is one of a few Americans who actually fought for it.”
Skarlatos, a National Guardsman, with friends Spencer Stone, an Airman, and Anthony Sadler, stopped a gunman on the train, heroically charging and disarming him of an AK-47 automatic weapon before he could cause carnage.
They were honored by France and President Francois Hollande, and the United States, got medals at the Pentagon for bravery and Skarlatos rose to celebrity fame with an appearance on Dancing With The Stars with a patriotic performance.
The three friends were on a vacation and traveling from Amsterdam to Paris on the Thalys train when the attack occurred and as they overcame a 25-year-old Moroccan man who also had a pistol and half a liter of gasoline.
Another man, Mark Moogalian, was wounded when he tried to stop the attacker. A British man, Chris Norman, 62, jumped in to help subdue the terrorist with Skarlatos using the butt of the AK-47 to beat the attacker.
Skarlatos told the British newspaper The Guardian how charged up the three were, pumped and fighting through instant chaos. “The adrenaline messes with your memory. I do remember certain moments very sharply and very clearly. When I first saw the guy with the AK, that part is burned in my mind.
“Then I tapped Spencer on the shoulder and said, ‘Let’s go!’ and from that moment to pretty much when I grabbed the handgun was totally blank. I remember the end of the struggle very clearly and then when he was on the ground and tied up. It was 35 minutes between him beginning the attack and when we got to the station.”
The heroism brought him instant fame but now he’s found out in the world of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and a world in which news cycles are now measured in minutes that even bravely charging a terrorist on a train won’t prevent criticism from wearing a T-shirt supporting a Presidential candidate of his choice.