Robert J. O'Neill (also Rob O'Neill; born 1975 or 1976) is a motivational speaker, Fox News contributor, and former United States Navy SEAL (1996–2012). 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 1975 or 1976, Robert 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, Montana as "idyllic". He graduated from Butte Central High School in 1994, and has attended Montana Technological University.
A fan of the Washington Redskins, O'Neill was able to meet the team a week after his claims to shooting bin Ladin were publicized.
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.
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."
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 (2011), 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 $66,818 in 2019).
Killing Osama bin Laden
In an anonymous interview, O'Neill told Esquire in February 2013 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 claims 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. In contrast, fellow SEAL Matt Bissonnette claims in No Easy Day that the unnamed sailor actually fired the killing shots.
As of August 2020, 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 counter-terrorism, and Operation Neptune Spear; in 2020 it retailed for $29.00.
After separating from the US Navy, O'Neill began working as a motivational speaker. In 2015, he became a contributer to the cable news channel Fox News.
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, and he told Fox Business that he wanted to meet with Delta CEO Ed Bastian to dispute his violation of the airline's policy.