Ever since his resignation just two days ago, we’ve learned oh so much about former Rep. Eric Massa, the New York Democrat. What started as his use of “salty language” and “hair tussling” around male aides has turned into “tickle fights” and allegations of physical harassment dating back at least a year. And while Massa refuses to acknowledge whether he is gay, his own story is being told for him. Namely, that sometimes during his twenty-year Marine career, he felt obliged to use his positions of seniority to get handsy with subordinates.
Speaking with Massa’s old Navy shipmates, The Atlantic‘s Joshua Green learns the disgraced official was “notorious” for his behavior.
According to Peter Clarke, a Navy shipmate, Massa was notorious for making unwanted advances toward subordinates. He tells the story of his friend Stuart Borsch, with whom Massa shared a hotel room while on leave during the first Gulf War. “Stuart’s at the edge of the bed,” Clarke says Borsch told him at the time, “and [Massa] starts massaging him. Massa said, ‘You’ll have to get one of my special massages.’ He called them ‘Massa Massages.’” Ron Moss, a Navy shipmate and Borsch’s roommate, confirmed that Borsch told him this story at the time.
Borsch, now a history professor at Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts, didn’t addresss that specific incident, but did confirm to me in an email that he was groped by Massa: “In 1990, aboard the U.S.S. Jouett, I was awakened when a senior officer, Lt. Commander Massa, seemed to be groping me. (I was a lieutenant at the time.) I believe he may have been drinking. I shouted at him and he left. I mentioned the incident to several other officers. I did not officially report it.”
Clarke says that Massa’s roommate, Tom Maxfield was also assaulted. “Tom lived on upper bunk,” Clarke say. “When you’re on ship, you’re almost exhausted 24-7. So a lot of times you sleep with your uniform on. Tom and Massa shared a stateroom together. Massa climbed up on the top of his bunk, which is hard to do–you never crawl up on somebody else’s bunk. He wakes up to Massa undoing his pants trying to snorkel him.”
Why didn’t they report him?
Massa’s shipmates didn’t turn him in for fear that he would retaliate. “He was a cocky guy, competent, but he saw himself as a future admiral,” Moss told me. “It doesn’t surprise me he wound up in Congress.” When news of Dickert’s dispute with Massa appeared in the Rochester, New York, Democrat-Chronicle in 2006, several of Massa’s former shipmates considered coming forward.
We may never know what’s going on in Massa’s head now, or what he was thinking during his Navy career, but this has all the markings of a repressed man struggling with his sexuality, or at least being forced to mostly hide it in public corridors. We’re not even sure how much the military’s ban on gays serving is a factor here. (Before 1993’s DADT, there was an outright ban on any gay service.) Sure, if Massa is gay, the policy would have kept him in the closet. But freed from the military’s constraints, he still never came out, and continued his menacing behavior in Washington D.C., where he held even more power.
As we criticize closeted men of the cloth inside the Catholic Church for being sexually repressed operators hiding behind the cross, so too must we identify Massa for what he is: A predator.
Massa’s story continues to grow worse, and weirder, by the day. Let the story end here, and these “unwanted advances” and “unsolicited touching” remain the worst things in his shameful portfolio. Please.. We do not want to hear the R-word.
UPDATE: The House Ethics Committee’s investigation into Massa is over, namely because he’s no longer a member of the House.