Since Lt. Col. Stuart Scheller rose to prominence for publicly criticizing senior military leaders for the Afghanistan withdrawal, his supporters have seen him as a military officer being punished for speaking truth to power, but Marine Corps officials have been unsettled by Scheller’s repeated calls for “revolution” during remarks on social media that ultimately landed him in the brig, according to legal documents obtained by Task & Purpose.
These legal documents show that Marine Corps officials believe that Scheller’s comments such as “Every generation needs a revolution” violated the Defense Department’s policy that limits the acts of protest and dissent that service members can engage in. Task & Purpose has independently verified the authenticity of the documents.
Tim Parlatore, one of Scheller’s attorneys, was emphatic that his client has never called for an actual revolution.
“At no time has Lt. Col. Scheller ever advocated any violent overthrow of the government or any other insurrection,” Parlatore said. “He does believe that there does need to be a change in the leadership, both the military and the political class, which is what he was referring to in all of these things.”
Now the matter is expected to go to court. His next hearing is scheduled for Oct. 14 at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
Scheller’s embrace of the word “revolution” in public remarks is far from the only reason why he is in legal trouble. Since his first video in August, Scheller has openly criticized multiple military and civilian leaders – including his own chain of command – and he has vowed to file charges against Marine Gen. Kenneth McKenzie Jr., the head of U.S. Central Command, in connection with the deaths of 13 service members at Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport on Aug. 26.
Despite warnings from his command, Scheller continued his polemics on social media, going so far as to dare Col. David C. Emmel, commanding officer for School of Infantry-East, to place him into pretrial confinement.
“Col Emmel please have the MPs waiting for me at 0800 on Monday,” Scheller wrote in a Sept. 25 Facebook post. “I’m ready for jail.”
Scheller got his wish and spent more than a week in the brig before being released on Tuesday. Now, Maj. Gen. Julian D. Alford, head of Training Command, has referred several charges against him to a special court-martial, said Capt. Sam Stephenson, a Marine spokesman.
A copy of Scheller’s charge sheet obtained by Task & Purpose reveals the Marine Corps methodically went through Scheller’s many comments on social media to determine all the ways he may have violated the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Scheller stands accused of showing contempt toward officials, showing disrespect toward superior commissioned officers, willfully disobeying a superior commissioned officer, dereliction in the performance of duties, failure to obey an order or regulation, and conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman.
‘I reject your system’
For the charge of conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman, Marine Corps officials allege that several of his comments could be construed as inciting a revolution, the charge sheet says.
In one incident, Scheller allegedly wrote on a transition plan form that his desired career field was “Revolution,” the charge sheet says. He also allegedly wrote: “I reject your system. I plan to change the system;” and, “every generation needs a revolution. It is time for change.”
The command investigation into Scheller’s social media posts also noted his comments that appeared to be calling on his supporters to rise up, including, “Follow me and we will bring the whole f–king system down,” according to a copy of the document, which Task & Purpose also obtained.
Scheller engaged “in prohibited dissident and protest activities, to include advocating for ‘revolution,’ calling for the use of violence in ensuring accountability of senior government leaders and to affect political change, and for advocating for the dismantling of the current political and military system, all in contravention of the laws of the United States,” the investigating officer concluded.
Specifically, the command investigation cites a Sept. 10 video that Scheller made in which he talked about one of his experiences 10 years ago fighting the Taliban. After describing a firefight in Afghanistan, Scheller then transitioned to talking about anger, rage, fear, pain, love, and the need to respect other people’s opinions.
“The postwar movement after Vietnam was pro-love, anti-war,” Scheller said. “And, as I’ve contemplated on it, I think that’s wrong. You definitely want pro-love, but it’s definitely not anti-war: It’s pro-love from a position of strength. You have to have the ability to project violence for somebody that’s throwing acid in a woman’s face,” Scheller said, referring to the Taliban.
“You can have all the celebrities in the world come up with a video telling him to stop doing that; and guess what, that’s not going to work,” he continued, “You need patriots that are going to go out there and commit violence when evil is not listening to reason.”
Scheller went on to say that general officers have consistently provided bad advice over the past 20 years and yet none have been held accountable.
“The people in the establishment right now currently have the power because we allow it to happen,” Scheller said. “There is change upon us. I love and respect all people with different opinions. I possess the ability to inflict violence. I am asking for accountability of my senior leaders. I love the Constitution. I love America. I love Americans. I love my family. And I believe in myself. And I believe in a higher power.”
Scheller’s statement that he had the “ability to inflict violence” was explicitly referenced in the command investigation and his charge sheet. Marine Corps officials declined to answer Task & Purpose’s questions about the legal documents. “We cannot comment on matters regarding ongoing legal proceedings,” Stephenson said.
In the Marine Corps’ most recent official statement about Scheller’s case, Stephenson said service members have proper forums to raise concerns with their chain of command.
“In a general sense not specific to any case, posting to social media criticizing the chain of command is not the proper manner in which to raise concerns with the chain of command and may, depending upon the circumstances, constitute a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice,” Stephenson said. “Orders and directives regulate the conduct of members of our military and ensure good order and discipline.”
“Adhering to these orders is every service member’s obligation, backed by an oath of enlistment or commissioning that each service member takes when entering the service and at various times throughout their career, and a service member’s failure to adhere to such orders and directives may subject them to prosecution for that failure under the Uniform Code of Military Justice,” he continued.
Martyr or loose cannon?
Scheller first burst onto the world stage on Aug. 26 when he shared a video on both Facebook and Linkedin in which he argued that top military leaders were not being held accountable for failures that resulted in the chaotic Afghanistan evacuation.
The video was posted on the same day that a suicide bomb attack outside of Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul killed 11 Marines, one Navy corpsman, and an Army special operator. Scheller said he had a “personal relationship” with one of the fallen service members but did not specify whom.
Thus began Scheller’s very public battle with just about everyone in a position of authority – both in and out of the military – and that has made him either a martyr or a loose cannon in the eyes of many service members. The day after his first video posted, he was relieved as battalion commander for Advanced Infantry Training Battalion at School of Infantry East at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
He has gone on to defy his command by making a series of accusations against top military leaders. At one point, he claimed on Facebook and Linkedin that Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger personally wanted to court-martial him, but that post was later deleted, the command investigation into his social media comments found.
A recurring theme among Scheller’s online missives has been a call for a massive overhaul of America’s political and military leadership.
“Follow me, and we will bring the whole f—king system down… in a constitutional manner with one loud voice,” Scheller wrote in a Sept. 2 Facebook post.
However, according to the documents provided to Task & Purpose, Marine Corps officials became concerned about a conversation that Scheller had with an unnamed officer, in which he allegedly expressed support for some of the people who took part in the Jan. 6 Capitol Hill riots.
“I am going to burn the system down,” Scheller allegedly said, according to the charge sheet. “What if the guys in January were not a bunch of p—ies, but they were guys that knew what the f—k they were doing? They couldn’t stop us. What could they do?”
Marine Corps officials claim that Scheller made the comments to his battalion’s executive officer on Aug. 27, shortly after Scheller was relieved of command, according to the charge sheet. This is the only time in which Scheller is accused of referencing the Jan. 6 Capitol Hill riots, according to the legal documents provided to Task & Purpose.
But Parlatore said that Scheller has been misquoted in the command investigation and charge sheet.
The entire conversation is presented out of context in the legal documents, said Parlatore, who also represented Navy SEAL Chief Eddie Gallagher. Rather than expressing support for the rioters, Scheller was saying the situation could have been much worse because the security at the Capitol building was so weak.
“These protesters went in there with very little resistance,” Parlatore said. “Imagine if it really were people hellbent on violence what they would have done. He’s not saying that he would do that.”
Five people died as a result of the Jan. 6 riots including Brian Sicknick, a Capitol Hill Police officer who had also served with the New Jersey Air National Guard. As of August, four police officers who responded to the riots had subsequently died by suicide. About 140 police officers were injured by the mob that attacked the Capitol building, causing lawmakers to flee for their safety.
Scheller has also not made any overt calls for an insurrection, but one detail about his Sept. 10 video raises questions about exactly what his message is. In the video, Scheller is seen sitting behind a stack of books that includes “Imperium” by Francis Parker Yockey, an American fascist who dedicated the book to “the hero of the Second World War,” an apparent reference to Adolf Hitler, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
Parlatore said that Scheller had not read “Imperium” before the video and he was curious about what it said. First published in 1948, “Imperium” has been described by Anthony Mostrom in the Los Angeles Review of Books as the American equivalent of Hitler’s manifesto “Mein Kampf,” replete with thinly disguised anti-Semitism.
Moreover, the fact that Scheller is no longer in the brig speaks volumes about how Scheller does not have any ties to extremists, Parlatore said.
“From the very beginning, the Marine Corps investigators, they made a diligent effort to see if he was associated with any of these Jan. 6 or fringe groups and the defense cooperated fully in that and there was no evidence to that because he’s not a member of any of those fringe groups,” Parlatore said. “Had there been even a colorable claim, he’d still be in jail, and the FBI would be involved — but they’re not because none of that stuff exists.”
CORRECTION: This story was corrected to make clear that Lt. Col. Scheller was charged with one specification of conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman.
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