Robert J. O'Neill
|Born||10 April 1976|
Butte, Montana, US
|Other names||Rob O'Neill|
|Known for||Claiming to have|
killed Osama bin Laden
|Branch||United States Navy|
|Rank||Senior chief petty officer|
|Awards||Silver Star × 2|
Robert J. O'Neill (born 10 April 1976) is a former United States Navy SEAL (1996–2012) and former Fox News contributor. After participating in May 2011's Operation Neptune Spear with SEAL Team Six, O'Neill was the subject of controversy for claiming to be the sole individual to kill Osama bin Laden.
Born in Butte, Montana on 10 April 1976, Robert J. O'Neill is the son of Tom O'Neill, Jim and Diane Johnson, and the brother of Tom O'Neill. O'Neill described his childhood in Butte as "idyllic". He graduated from Butte Central High School in 1994, and has attended Montana Technological University. O'Neill married in March 2004, and has at least two children, though he and his spouse were legally separated by February 2013.
On 20 August 2020, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, O'Neill tweeted a selfie of himself seated aboard a Delta Air Lines plane without a face mask; it was captioned "I'm not a pussy" and was followed by another that said, "Thank God it wasn't @Delta flying us in when we killed bin Laden … we weren't wearing masks". He later tweeted that he was banned by Delta.
O'Neill told Esquire that he found himself in a United States Navy recruiting office after a relationship breakup. After expressing interest in becoming a sniper, O'Neill enlisted on 29 January 1996, and joined the Navy SEALs that same year. O'Neill reported to Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training (BUD/S) at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado and graduated from BUD/S class 208.
In 2013, O'Neill told The Montana Standard that he helped rescue SEAL Marcus Luttrell in Afghanistan, and that he was SEAL Team Six's "lead paratrooper" in the rescue of Richard Phillips from the Maersk Alabama hijacking; these missions were the bases of the 2013 films Lone Survivor and Captain Phillips, respectively. However, the former commander of SEAL Team Six said in 2014 that O'Neill had not played a "singular role" on either mission, adding that "O’Neill's specific role on any of these missions is irrelevant because everything we do is as a team."
During his enlistment, O'Neill received two Silver Stars, four Bronze Star Medals, a Joint Service Commendation Medal (with "V" device), three Presidential Unit Citations, and two Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medals (with "V" device). He served with SEAL Teams Two (1996–2001), Four (2001–2004), and Six (2004–2012), and attained the rank of senior chief petty officer. Upon his discharge from the Navy on 24 August 2012 (after 16.6 years), O'Neill was still assigned to SEAL Team Six at Virginia Beach, Virginia and had six months and 15 days of sea service to his credit. O'Neill claimed in 2014 that he left the military because he no longer felt "adrenaline when people are shooting, and I knew that that could lead to complacency because if I am not afraid of, that I might wind up doing something stupid thinking that I can't get hurt". O'Neill estimated that with the Navy and SEALs, he annually earned US$60,000 (equivalent to $67,636 in 2020).
Killing Osama bin Laden
In an anonymous February 2013 interview, O'Neill told Esquire that he had killed Osama bin Laden during Operation Neptune Spear. In late 2014, in the run-up to credited Fox News and Washington Post stories on the same topic, O'Neill's name was leaked by other former special forces personnel who were protesting his violation of "a code of silence that forbids them from publicly taking credit for their actions." O'Neill claimed that he and another unnamed member of SEAL Team Six cornered bin Laden, and that after the other SEAL fired and missed, O'Neill killed the terrorist leader with shots to the head.
Fellow SEAL Matt Bissonnette claims in No Easy Day that the unnamed sailor actually fired the killing shots. According to The Intercept's interview of a former SEAL Team 6 member, when O'Neill arrived at the terrorist leader, bin Laden was already "bleeding out on the floor, possibly already dead, after being shot in the chest and leg by the lead assaulter on the raid." According to another SEAL, O'Neill merely walked over to the immobile al-Qaeda leader and shot him twice in the head. The Intercept said that both O'Neill's and Bissonnette's accountings of the mission "contain multiple self-serving falsehoods."
As of August 2020[update], the federal government of the United States had neither confirmed nor denied O'Neill's claims, though Rear Admiral Brian L. Losey and Force Master Chief Michael Magaraci did encourage all SEALs to abide by their code of silence, saying, "At Naval Special Warfare's core is the SEAL ethos […] A critical tenant [sic] of our ethos is 'I do not advertise the nature of my work, nor seek recognition for my actions.' Our ethos is a life-long commitment and obligation, both in and out of the service. Violators of our ethos are neither teammates in good standing, nor teammates who represent Naval Special Warfare."
Of his decision to lay claim to killing bin Laden, O'Neill told CBS News that "I think it's a difficult secret to keep, […] Everyone was proud. I think it was apparent that we had done it." In 2015, O'Neill and his family were allegedly threatened by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. In 2017, he published a book with Simon & Schuster (The Operator, ISBN 9781501145032) about his childhood, joining the SEALs, Naval counterterrorism, and Operation Neptune Spear.
On October 14, 2020, US President Donald Trump re-tweeted an unfounded conspiracy theory that suggested Osama bin Laden was still alive and a body double was shot. O'Neill responded with a series of tweets, including "It was not a body double. Thank you Mr. President." That same month, CNN published an interview with retired Admiral William H. McRaven; the former flag officer who oversaw Neptune Spear responded to the claims mentioning that "Rob O'Neill, the SEAL that, in fact, shot bin Laden".
After separating from the US Navy, O'Neill began working as a motivational speaker. In 2015, he became a contributor to the cable news channel Fox News, though had left the company by August 2021, instead appearing on competitor Newsmax TV that October.
- O'Neill, Robert (2017). "Timeline". The Operator: Firing the Shots that Killed Osama bin Laden and My Years as a SEAL Team Warrior. Sixth Avenue: Scribner. p. ix. ISBN 978-1-5011-4503-2.
- Dodd, Johnny (7 November 2014). "Alleged Osama bin Laden Shooter Accused of 'Violating' Navy SEAL 'Ethos' for Going Public". People. ISSN 0093-7673. OCLC 794712888. Archived from the original on 2 September 2017. Retrieved 24 August 2020.
In advance of Robert O'Neill's TV interview, two high-ranking officers pen an open letter reminding SEALs not to seek fame
- "Amber and Robert O'Neill". The Montana Standard. 10 April 2004. Archived from the original on 20 April 2018. Retrieved 23 August 2020.
- "The Operator | Book by Robert O'Neill". Simon & Schuster. Archived from the original on 3 December 2018. Retrieved 23 August 2020.
- Bronstein, Phil (11 February 2013). "The Man Who Killed Osama bin Laden... Is Screwed". Esquire. ISSN 0194-9535. OCLC 824603960. Archived from the original on 6 July 2020. Retrieved 23 August 2020.
For the first time, the Navy SEAL who killed Osama bin Laden tells his story — speaking not just about the raid and the three shots that changed history, but about the personal aftermath for himself and his family. And the startling failure of the United States government to help its most experienced and skilled warriors carry on with their lives.
- "Bin Laden Shooter -- Kicks It With NFL Team ... Let's Take Out the Bucs!". TMZ. 16 November 2014. Archived from the original on 7 April 2020. Retrieved 24 August 2020.
- Farzan, Antonia Noori (21 August 2020). "Former Navy SEAL who claims he killed bin Laden says Delta banned him for maskless selfie". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. OCLC 2269358. Archived from the original on 23 August 2020. Retrieved 24 August 2020.
- Trotter, J.K. (29 March 2017). "Robert O'Neill's Military Record". MuckRock. Archived from the original on 25 December 2019. Retrieved 4 December 2020.
- Myers, Meghann (5 November 2014). "Osama bin Laden shooter ID'd ahead of Fox interview". USA Today. ISSN 0734-7456. Archived from the original on 7 March 2020. Retrieved 22 August 2020 – via Navy Times.
- "SEALs class graduates". Coronado Eagle and Journal. 87 (1). 3 January 1997. p. 5.
- Kulish, Nicholas; Drew, Christopher; Naylor, Sean D. (7 November 2014). "Another ex-commando says he shot bin Laden". Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Archived from the original on 3 August 2016. Retrieved 23 August 2020.
- "Former Navy SEAL Rob O'Neill joins FOX News". Fox News. 12 March 2015. Archived from the original on 23 August 2020. Retrieved 23 August 2020.
- "'I'm not trying to make this about me'". CBS News. 14 November 2014. Archived from the original on 31 October 2019. Retrieved 23 August 2020.
- "Osama Bin Laden killing: US Navy Seals row over shooting". BBC News. 7 November 2014. Archived from the original on 27 May 2020. Retrieved 22 August 2020.
A public row has arisen over which US commando fired the shot that killed Osama Bin Laden, more than three years after the al-Qaeda leader's death.
- Cole, Matthew (10 January 2017), "The Crimes of SEAL Team 6", The Intercept, archived from the original on 2 June 2021, retrieved 9 June 2021,
Officially known as the Naval Special Warfare Development Group, SEAL Team 6 is today the most celebrated of the U.S. military's special mission units. But hidden behind the heroic narratives is a darker, more troubling story of "revenge ops," unjustified killings, mutilations, and other atrocities — a pattern of criminal violence that emerged soon after the Afghan war began and was tolerated and covered up by the command’s leadership.
- "Delta Bans Purported Bin Laden Killer for Not Wearing a Mask". Atlanta: Bloomberg. Associated Press. 20 August 2020. Archived from the original on 21 August 2020. Retrieved 29 August 2020.
- Lester, Tiffany (8 April 2016). "Butte residents discuss Rob O'Neill DUI arrest". Butte, Montana: NBC Montana. Archived from the original on 27 February 2018. Retrieved 24 August 2020.
- Palmer, Ewan (14 October 2020). "Navy SEAL Attacks Trump for Tweeting QAnon bin Laden Body Double Conspiracy: 'I Know Who I Killed'". Newsweek. Archived from the original on 14 October 2020. Retrieved 23 October 2020.
- McRaven, William H. (20 October 2020). "He oversaw the bin Laden raid. See what he says about Trump" (Interview). Interviewed by Tapper, Jake. CNN. Retrieved 23 October 2020.
- Rumpf, Sarah (7 October 2021). "Ex-Fox Contributor Rob O'Neill Attacks Network in Scathing Tweets: 'They Don't Care About You. It's All About Money'". Mediaite. Archived from the original on 9 October 2021. Retrieved 12 October 2021.