Sgt. Gary Stein created the Facebook page “Armed Forces Tea Party” in 2010. He has been stationed here in San Diego. As you might expect, he eventually made comments critical of the President on Facebook. He is now facing discharge from the Marine Corps (pronounced “core” for the pronunciation challenged) for Conduct Prejudicial to Good Order and Discipline. He argues that he has merely been exercising his free speech rights. However, those rights are not absolute. A member of the Armed Forces may not participate in partisan political activity nor appear in uniform while endorsing a political candidate for office. These are sensible rules that keep the Armed Forces from unduly influencing or being drawn into partisan politics. The subordination of the Armed Forces to the civilian control of the President and the Congress have served our nation well.
At issue is whether Gary Stein’s comments critical of the President and his statements that he wouldn’t follow Obama’s orders, later amended to not following unlawful orders, cross that line. At first blush, the Facebook page doesn’t appear to violate the rules as I understand them. However, it may have changed after Stein came under investigation. The Marine Corps seems to have taken a different view.
The Marine Corps issued a statement saying that Stein’s commanding officer ordered a preliminary inquiry on March 8 after receiving allegations that the sergeant “posted political statements about the president of the United States on his Facebook web page titled ‘Armed Forces Tea Party.’ After reviewing the findings of the preliminary inquiry, the Commander decided to address the allegations through administrative action.”
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Stein attracted national media attention when he started his Armed Forces Tea Party page, which has nearly 18,000 followers. Then a complaint was lodged against him with the Marine Corps this month after Stein made a comment online using his personal Facebook account. Stein said he can’t remember exactly what he posted — the comment has been deleted — but he paraphrased it as “I say screw Obama. I will not follow orders given by him to me.”
I think the key issue that will sink Gary Stein is that he has identified himself as a member of the armed forces and publicly criticized the President. More subtly, his comments seem to indicate that the President is contemplating issuing unlawful orders. I think that would cause me concern if I were the Commanding General.
A more cautious approach by members of the Armed Forces would be to comment primarily on law and policy rather than criticize individuals. For example, in the above mentioned case, Sgt. Stein could have said that in keeping with his oath of office, he intended to not arrest civilians or perform some other act that was unlawful.
I wish Sgt. Stein well, but I think he is going to be discharged and that he won’t be reinstated on any sort of appeal.