“Stupid dependa.” “Monster.” These were only a few of the thousands of online comments left on a Marine spouse’s viral TikTok dance video, but the majority were much worse and too offensive to publish.
Maryam Stagg never expected to see such negativity from a video she said was created for fun and to express her pride for her husband. The video many deemed “cringey” showed Stagg saluting, dancing, and reciting phrases like “He’s a Marine,” “Honor, courage, commitment,” and “OORAH” while her husband stood silently in the background in his uniform.
At the time she recorded the video, she had 100,000 followers on her social media platforms. But it wasn’t followers who made the video go viral or encouraged vicious commentary. It was the military community, Stagg says.
“We were like, where is all of this coming from? Though we received support from my husband’s unit, a lot of the hate we were getting was from other Marines and their spouses,” Stagg said. “I even received death threats. It all caused me to go through a very dark time in my life.”
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She adds countless men were sending pictures of their genitals while women continued to verbally degrade and even violently threaten her. There were moments she questioned staying alive.
“It was a difficult time, I’m not going to lie to you. I had some ugly thoughts,” she admitted.
What pulled Stagg through, she says, was her Muslim faith, husband, and the need to turn the experience into something good. The viral video meant making money in a number of ways, and with her passion for children, she knew what she wanted to do.
“All the ugliness I experienced was turned into money for kids in need,” she said. “It helped so many children have a wonderful Christmas in 2020 through Toys for Tots and even fed children in need for the 2021 school year.”
In fact, it was volunteering at a Toys for Tots event where she originally met her husband. Stagg said she was at a loss for words after seeing him for the first time. It wasn’t long before they were dating and she knew he was “it.”
Patriotism runs deep
Her passion for serving others is deeply rooted in her family’s values and history, she said. Stagg’s father immigrated to New York from the Middle East, searching for a better life. He felt privileged to become an American citizen.
The military was always highly respected in her “deeply patriotic” house growing up. Her father witnessed horrific conditions and war before leaving the Middle East but Stagg explained he always talked about the strength and support of the Marines in particular.
It stuck with her. She says she wanted to be a Marine herself.
“He didn’t want that life for me so I chose to teach American history,” Stagg said. “Although I didn’t realize that initial dream, I got to marry a Marine instead.”
Now married seven years, she never considers her love story easy. Her parents were incredibly supportive of the marriage between her and her Catholic husband but many family members and friends were not, leaving Stagg with feelings she then sensed and experienced within the military community, too.
Growing up in New York after 9/11, she was used to being looked at and treated differently. Her heritage and religion were also attacked in the video commentary. Pictures of her Muslim family members from her social media pages were screenshotted and turned into vulgar or xenophobic memes.
“Being a Muslim woman, it had always been hard to open up about my fasting or other things in general but after this, it was so much worse,” she said. “All I did was support my husband and share how much I love the Marine Corps. The video was meant for TikTok, which is mostly civilians, as a fun way to share but the military took it and basically destroyed us.”
As the video was going viral, Stagg was marking the 10-year anniversary of her father’s death. He taught her at a young age never to use the word hate or feel it toward another human being. He also taught her the power of love, she said.
Although Stagg wouldn’t want to go through any of it again, watching the impact made from the viral dollars made it all worth it, she says.
“With everything we raised in 2020 and 2021, it allowed us to do so much, especially for our military community,” she said. “It was important to us that with all the hate to bring love instead and really give back.”