A GOP congressman is reaching out to military leadership in defense of a Marine sergeant facing dismissal from the Corps after posting comments critical of the president on a Facebook page.
Sgt. Gary Stein, an outspoken conservative who began a Facebook page called Armed Forces Tea Party, faces allegations that he violated DoD policy in engaging in political activity while in his capacity as an active-duty service member.
On the site, Stein posted critiques of the Obama administration, big government, and taxation.
“It is an Unlawful order for a Military leader to direct a warfighter to not make critical comments about the President and his policies or any other elected official,” Stein wrote in a March 6 post on the Facebook site. “If you are told otherwise, respectfully show them the Constitution. Political Correctness doesn’t change us, it shuts us up.”
On March 8, the Corps began an inquiry into his extracurricular activities, following the probe with administrative action and ordering Stein to appear before an administrative separation board that would likely opt to end his career under other-than-honorable conditions.
On Monday, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) signed a letter to Stein’s battalion commanding officer in San Diego, Col. C.S. Dowling, urging him to withdraw dismissal proceedings against the Marine.
Hunter said the policy governing restrictions on free speech for members of the armed forces was both vague and contradictory when applied to social media.
“In fact, nothing in the directive actually mentions social media and what activity is or is not approved for active-duty service members,” Hunter wrote.
Hunter said he was troubled by the lengths the Corps was going to discharge Stein, especially when he had only months remaining on his four-year contract, and asked the Defense Department to issue updates to the free-speech policy clarifying the guidelines for use of social media.
“There is a tremendous amount of grey area here,” Hunter’s deputy chief of staff, Joe Kasper, told Human Events. “Sgt. Stein does not appear to be speaking in an official capacity; he creates no illusion that he is speaking in an official capacity. I don’t think there’s any type of official recognition to that (Facebook) page. Out of uniform, people are allowed to express opinions.”
Also disturbing were conflicting standards in the services, Kasper said, citing the case of an Army reservist who appeared in uniform on national television to address a Ron Paul rally in January and last week was served with a simple reprimand for the appearance.
While a dismissal board was originally scheduled for March 31 at the Marine Corps Recruiting Depot in San Diego, the hearing was later pushed back to Thursday on account of scheduling conflicts. Attorney Gary Kreep, executive director of the U.S. Justice Foundation, said he is optimistic that that a lawsuit being filed in Federal Court Tuesday morning will further delay proceedings and give the eight-year Marine sergeant a better chance to defend himself.
The suit alleges a breach of due process in bringing Stein before an administrative separation board without sufficient time to build a defense.
Kreep said he believes that the complaint will successfully buy Stein more time to build a defense supported in case law and free speech rights.
“They’re not giving him adequate time,” Kreep said. “We’re talking about a total period of about two weeks to ruin a nine-year U.S. Marine’s career. This is outrageous. We’re saying he has been denied due process. We’re doing everything we can to keep him in.”
While attempts to reach Stein for comment were unsuccessful and sources with knowledge of his thinking said he has stopped talking to the media as proceedings move forward, the Marine posted a reflective note March 22 on the still-active Armed Forces Tea Party Facebook page.
“The allegations drummed up against me are no more than an agenda by the Marine Corps to use me as an example. I have never spoken on behalf of the Marine Corps or in uniform,” he wrote. “I have stayed within (Defense Department guidelines) and made sure to. If I am guilty of anything it would be that I am American, a freedom loving Conservative, hell bent on defending the constitution and preserving America’s greatness.”
Marine Corps spokesman Capt. Kevin Schultz said there was no system in place to monitor Marines’ social media activities for improper behavior, calling Facebook and other media “primarily a self-policing activity.”
Schultz said he couldn’t address the circumstances that led to the investigation of Stein’s activities, but said there was a difference between troops participating in political activities in an individual role and in their doing so in their position as active-duty service members.
The Armed Forces Tea Party page currently includes a disclaimer indicating that it does not represent or hold affiliation with the U.S. military. It is unclear if the disclaimer was present prior to the Marine Corps proceedings against Stein.
Regarding the many individuals who showed up in uniform to Occupy protests across the country, Schultz said prosecution presented more of a challenge than it did with Stein.
The hard part about that is one, identifying who those individuals are,” he said. “…and then if you do identify them and they’re no longer on active duty, that’s something you have to look at.”
Kreep has another view.
“My guy writes on a website with comments critical of Barack Obama and all of a sudden, ‘oh boy, you’ve got to get him out of here,’” he said. “It’s part of the ongoing anti-military bias of the Obama administration.”
Stein has also found support with other local conservative groups, including the Southern California Patriot Coalition and the Orange County branch of the conservative troops’ and veterans’ coalition Oathkeepers, who last week organized a rally for him outside Camp Pendleton. Both Stein’s Armed Forces Tea Party Facebook page, and a USJF site, GaryStein.us, are also raising money for his legal defense.
To read Debbie Lee’s, mother of the first Navy SEAL killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom, thoughts on the Sgt. Gary Stein case, click here.