By Eric Dehm
When John Burk was an Army drill sergeant, he often had the attention of some 200 soldiers at a time.
These days, his audience is slightly bigger. More than 700,000 people, and counting, actively follow him across social media — in large measure because of the often-controversial positions he stakes out on public issues. Well over 10 million viewers, for instance, have viewed his recent video supporting President Trump’s announcement of a ban on transgender service members — 9.9 million having watched on Facebook alone.
Burk, an Army vet who completed tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan, posts on a variety of veteran-related topics, current events and physical fitness.
Not everyone likes what he has to say.
“Quite honestly, if we ever get involved in another war out there we are so f—ed,” Burk states in a video he posted before President Trump’s announcement of a transgender service ban. “Because now we are infesting our ranks with the most girly men possible. They no longer allow the alpha-male warrior to even be prevalent in the military.”
His posts draw lots of comment, with some detractors referring to him as “a cancer” or “a disgrace” — and some supporters terming him a “hero” or “patriot.”
Burk says no matter the reaction he’s going to continue speaking his mind.
“I’ve gotten a lot of hatred from certain veterans out there who disagree with me from a political standpoint or accuse me of being a sellout or whatever the case may be,” Burk told ConnectingVets.com. “You’ve got some people out there, I call them vetflakes. They’re nothing but crybaby veterans, that have never done anything good with their lives. They were probably a disgruntled E-4 that got out of the military and hated the Army and want everyone to be as miserable as them. They hate me for, number one, my ambition and my drive. I want to be successful and I want to be remembered.”
Burk’s impact has extended beyond social media to numerous TV appearances. In the second season of Fox TV’s American Grit, he plays a starring role alongside WWE superstar John Cena. His posts on the state of many Americans’ physical fitness led to an appearance on the nationally syndicated TV show The Doctors, on which he defended himself against allegations of “fat shaming.”
He encourages other veterans to use social media as a means of making themselves and their views known. He warns, though, that you’ll need thick skin, a strong work ethic — and one more thing.
“You’ve got to be yourself, and you’ve got to be original,” Burk explained. “Your content has to be the driving force of how you grow your channels… Be authentic and be genuine but also ask yourself, what makes you different from anybody else trying to do the exact same thing. Me? I pushed in the drill sergeant style when it came to motivational videos; when it came to politics, I handle it in a different manner. But you’ve gotta understand that you have to be true to yourself, be creative, be authentic and be different.”
Burk says that there’s nothing manufactured about his personality — and that he’s not taking stances simply to be a contrarian or generate buzz. He says it is being himself that causes his videos to go viral — and that whether people agree, disagree, love or hate him, they’re reacting to the genuine point of view of John Burk.
“I don’t sugarcoat things and I’m not gonna sit there and play around people’s feelings because they’re so tender-hearted,” Burk said. “If you want to follow me, then follow me, y’know? Whenever I have new followers that come on and say, ‘I’m new to your channel,’ I tell them, ‘Just give me a minute, I’ll offend you here in a second somehow, just by truth. People say, ‘What political side are you on?’ I say, ‘The side of the truth.'”