Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Good Order and Discipline and Tea

Sgt. Gary Stein (pictured) created the Facebook page "Armed Forces Tea Party" in 2010. 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.”
. . .
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.


  1. it's a shame, but he will be discharged. every year that i was in the military we were briefed on the limits to our speech while on duty. he crossed the line.

  2. Isn't the real problem here the current generation's inability to understand that there are repercussions for saying things on Facebook. Whether its the funny photo of felonious activities that gets you arrested or something more along the lines of Tourette syndrome, there seems to be an inability to self-edit oneself or take responsibility for one's actions when they don't.

  3. He has full rights to express his views as an American citizen. He has no right to lend his views potentially undue credibility by identifying himself as a Marine. (Capitalized,as it should be)

    He is correct, of course, but,as you say,that is beside the point.

  4. I disagree. It does not go beyond any anti-Bush rhetoric that was aired by several military members in the early Iraq War days (e.g., CBS interview). All he has to do is compare and contrast what he did and said to that period, and the fact those service members remained, and he should be good to go.

  5. I agree that it's too bad about the discharge. As a retired member of the military, I have strong feelings about the need for the military to actually be and appear to be completely subordinate to civilian control. It is a strength of our military that allows it to have great credibility within its rightful sphere. To Mutnodjmet's point, certainly this administration is probably more prickly about the issue, however, this was more of a sustained effort over time, than a one time comment on CNN. That makes a difference.
    Kelly also makes a good point. I agree that Sgt. Stein's comments "screw Obama" or "I am not going to obey" show lack of self control. It also doesn't advance the terms of the debate you want to have, when you make inflammatory comments. Human nature seems to get the better of us; but that's why it's called self-discipline to refrain. Thanks for the reminder Kelly, I'm not perfect in that regard myself.