Headlines were dominated yesterday by news of the arrest of a suspect in connection with the leak of Pentagon intelligence to an online gaming community known as “Discord.”
Air National Guard Airman 1st Class Jack Teixeira is suspected of sharing classified information to a Discord community called “Thug Shaker Central,” a forum that brings together those who share a “mutual love of guns, military gear and God,” a channel member told The Washington Post.
But for many service members and veterans, Discord is often used to build communities some no longer feel as attached to.
“People love Discord because it’s a home for all their communities and groups of friends,” the platform’s page notes. “It’s a place where they can be themselves and spend time with other people who share their interests and hobbies. Conversations on Discord are driven by the people you choose and the topics you choose to talk about.”
The platform currently features several military-specific channels — Vanguard, NotInRegs, Wounded Warrior Project, and Frost Call, to name a few — that offer spaces “for groups of friends and communities to stay in touch and spend time together,” according to the website’s “What is Discord” page. “There are also larger, more open communities, generally centered around specific topics such as popular games like Minecraft and Fortnite.”
For the average professional, Discord’s interface closely resembles Slack and is highlighted by various channels and the ability to direct message or video chat. It has a reputation as a gaming platform, particularly for those who play on Twitch. However, anyone with an internet connection can create a Discord community.
Vanguard, for example, is a major military gaming community that boasts more than 8,000 members. It has service-specific channels, as well as plugins to Twitch.
The wide range of channels on the NotInRegz Discord include topics like #military-news, #vent-mental-health, and #smokepit. It boasts more that 74,000 members, and appears to have extremely robust moderator rules.
“Discord is basically a group chat that you can make a bunch of different channels — text channels and voice channels,” the anonymous moderator of NotInRegs told Military Times. “The reason I started mine is to bring my community closer and share information.”
And while it’s true that a private Discord server can host topics promoting anything, including extremism, it can also serve as a platform for community building and helpful information sharing.
Nonprofit veterans organization Frost Call, a gaming-centric group that encourages service members and veterans to stay connected, is meant to do exactly that, according to Marine Corps veteran Wesley Sanders.
“When we founded Frost Call, we built an organization around this idea of bringing veterans together, helping to improve camaraderie that’s missing from military service,” Sanders said. “[It] serves an enormous mental health need, but also ... an existential need for a lot of veterans.”
Frost Call is fairly localized to Massachusetts, with just over 200 members, but that, Sanders notes, is the reason why Discord is the perfect platform to foster the community Frost Call wanted to build.
“We look at it as an online hub to a greater in-person community orientation,” he said. “Our goal is to build this grassroots collection of veterans who can stay connected on our Discord, hear about [in-person] events, and come out to those events ... slowly growing with each event that we provide.”
When observing these military Discord communities, several common themes emerge — the need for community, information, and a place to air grievances.
Many of the users in these communities seemingly find comfort in digital camaraderie and the security of anonymity that allows them to voice concerns about everything from toxic command climates to issues with VA benefits and post-military career prospects.
“Because everyone can make their own discord community, the environment is so dependent upon the people who are moderating that content,” Sanders said. “It’s a community of veterans and military service members, and we all know how some of the humor can get dark or irreverent at times, but we still make sure that this community feels safe and inclusive. So, [with] any of that language or even the memes that we have, [we] always [have] this mindset of making sure that no one feels singled out based off of their identity.”
While not every moderator approaches the content of their Discord servers with the same level of scrutiny, the platform itself continues to largely serve as a useful tool for veterans or service members looking for the aforementioned results.
“Our main goal with it is to do something ... that is useful for people not just in the Discord as a community, but to their daily lives outside of the community,” Sanders said.
Sarah Sicard is a Senior Editor with Military Times. She previously served as the Digitial Editor of Military Times and the Army Times Editor. Other work can be found at National Defense Magazine, Task & Purpose, and Defense News.