Peter Clarke, former shipmate of ex-Rep Eric Massa, told the world about Massa's "snorkeling" expedition. He's been telling anyone who'd listen about Massa for years. All he wants in return? To warn future victims. And to be on Howard Stern.
"19 years I've been dealing with this," Clarke told me today. He's talked to reporters about Massa's history of what Clarke calls predatory behavior before. But because the victims of Massa's advances were unwilling to come forward themselves, on the record, Clarke's warnings went nowhere.
That's not the case anymore. Since Josh Green published some of Clarke's (many) Massa stories at The Atlantic, Clarke's been busy with interviews. "I've been on the computer for 48 hours straight," he said. He's doing Fox later today. "People are loving the snorkeling thing." That would be this story:
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."
Clarke says a friend looked up "snorkeling" on Urban Dictionary after the story started getting around. Those definitions were slightly more obscene than theirs. "I was just using it as a substitute for oral copulation," he told me. (Attempted, non-consensual oral copulation, it should be noted.)
Maxfield and Massa had roomed together for a while, and were friendly. After this incident, according to Clarke, Maxfield didn't know what to do. Massa "begged and pleaded with Tom not to turn him in."
"Massa gets on his hands and knees and he's sobbing," Clarke said. And while he was begging, Massa told Maxfield about a friend on another ship he'd served on. That friend and Massa said had an understanding. According to Clarke, Massa said that understanding was: "What happens at sea stays at sea."
A couple years after the snorkeling, in 1997, Clarke met a Naval officer a few years younger than him in San Diego. Massa, it turned out, was this guy's commanding officer. "He's a huge asshole!" the guy said. "Everyone hates him!" They exchanged stories. This was his:
"He used to take his laundry down to the self-serve laundry on the ship," Clarke said. Which is odd, because everyone else used the laundry service. But the self-serve laundry was right by the berthing, where junior officers slept and showered. So Massa, the ship's Executive Officer, "just happens to be doing his own laundry at 6 am right when everyone's waking up."
"He was freaking totally meat-gazing!" As Clarke imagined Massa's internal monologue: "Who needs Playgirl when I can just come down here and pretend I'm doing my laundry?"
After the "Massa massage" incident (Massa rather forcefully attempted to give a subordinate one of his special massages while they shared a hotel room) Clarke says everyone on the ship called him "Lt Commandr Massa-ge."
The Mark Foley page scandal broke when Massa was running for congress. Clarke got an unsolicited email from an old shipmate: "I guess Massa is pretty pissed off that that Rep from Florida blew the lid off this Page scam," his friend wrote. "I bet he was chomping at the bit to get to DC. Now he's gonna have to work instead of going after little boys."
Clarke paints Massa as slightly pathetic. No one ever took their complaints to superiors because "they felt sorry for Massa." He was a "freak" and an "asshole," but he was also a competent officer. And Clarke feels especially sorry for his family. He's coming forward now—largely against the wishes of his friends—because he doesn't want anyone else to be victimized. "For years he's been abusing people and getting away with it."
Massa's 2006 campaign alarmed Clarke. "This guy's running for congress and he's molesting people!" He called a TV reporter in Rochester, NY, and told the stories of Massa's gropey tendencies. The reporter got Tom Maxfield to confirm the allegations, but then he told Maxfield he was going to fly him out and get him on camera. That spooked Maxfield, and he backed out. The reporter abandoned the story, despite having confirmation of serious misconduct by a man running for congress. Clarke emailed the reporter this week—"you should stick to weather and traffic," he told him.
Clarke wants it made clear that the Massa incidents are not by any means common in the Navy, as Massa himself has claimed in interviews. Clarke is sick of potshots at the Navy, and sick of people snickering about the outrageous stories on TV. "There were no boundaries being broken," he told me. "A guy was assaulted!"
As for MSNBC's coverage of the whole affair: "If I ever have a chance to see that O'Donnell guy I'm gonna pop him."
As I said, what Clarke wants is to tell his stories on his own terms and in his own words—and he'd like to do it on Howard Stern's show. Which, honestly, would make great radio. So if anyone from Stern's program is interested, I'll get you in touch with Peter Clarke. You won't regret it.
[Top pic: Getty]