Marine Sergeant Booted For Anti-Obama Facebook Comments

Marine Sergeant Gary Stein will soon be free to criticize the commander-in-chief all he wants. As a civilian.

Marine Sergeant Gary Stein will soon be free to criticize the commander-in-chief all he wants. As a civilian.

AP (“Military board says Marine should be dismissed“):

A Marine who criticized President Barack Obama on his Facebook page has committed misconduct and should be dismissed, a military board recommended late Thursday.
The Marine Corps administrative board made the decision after a daylong hearing at Camp Pendleton for Sgt. Gary Stein. The board also recommended that Stein be given an other-then-honorable discharge. That would mean Stein would lose his benefits and would not be allowed on any military base.

The board’s recommendations go to a general who will either accept or deny them. If the general disagrees with the board, the case could go to the secretary of the Navy.

Stein’s lawyers argued that the 9-year Marine, whose service was to end in four months, was expressing his personal views and exercising his First Amendment rights.
“We’re truly surprised and disappointed but it was an honor to fight for a hero like Sgt. Stein and every other Marine’s right to speak freely,” Stein’s defense attorney Marine Capt. James Baehr said. Stein addressed board members during Thursday’s hearing, tell them he loved the Marine Corps and wanted to re-enlist, Baehr said.

During the hearing, the prosecutor, Capt. John Torresala, said Stein went as far as superimposing images of Obama’s face on a poster for the movie “Jackass.” Torresala argued that Stein’s behavior repeatedly violated Pentagon policy that limits the free speech rights of service members, and said he should be dismissed after ignoring warnings from his superiors about his postings.

The government submitted screen grabs of Stein’s postings on one Facebook page he created called Armed Forces Tea Party, which the prosecutor said included the image of Obama on the “Jackass” movie poster. Stein also superimposed Obama’s image on a poster for “The Incredibles” movie that he changed to “The Horribles,” the prosecutor said.

Torresala also said anti-Obama comments by Stein that were posted on a Facebook page used by Marine meteorologists were prejudicial to good order and discipline, and could have influenced junior Marines.

This is not a hard case. When a young Specialist violates regulations by endorsing a presidential candidate, he can be given a good ass chewing in hopes of achieving the appropriate attitude adjustment. When a sergeant does it–repeatedly, and after numerous warnings–there is no choice but to boot him from the Corps.

There is no First Amendment argument here. Members of the Armed Forces–all of whom have been volunteers now for going on four decades–agree to be bound by the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the regulations of their services, and the lawful orders of those above them in the chain of command. While commissioned officers are held to a higher standard on matters like this than NCOs*, there’s simply zero question that publicly criticizing the commander-in-chief is a violation of the code of conduct to which all service members are held.

*Article 88 states that, “Any commissioned officer who uses contemptuous words against the President, the Vice President, Congress, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of a military department, the Secretary of Transportation, or the Governor or legislature of any State, Territory, Commonwealth, or possession in which he is on duty or present shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.”

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Al says:

    As my drill instructors often said: You Signed the MFing Contract.

  2. michael reynolds says:

    I agree. And I hope people reading this understand what a rare thing it is to have a military consistently maintaining its own separation from politics. The US military has never in more than two centuries intervened in politics. No coups, no threats, no refusal to follow legitimate orders.

  3. Boyd says:

    Sgt. Stein refused to submit to the authority of the UCMJ and the officers and NCOs appointed over him, which shows he’s not qualified to be a Marine.

    Or even an Airman. [/Interservice snark]

  4. Scott says:

    I didn’t follow this case closely but it seems to have been resolved correctly. The guy seems to be pretty clueless and un-self aware. Armed Forces Tea Party? What a total contradiction in terms. Well, as he leaves his government supplied healthcare, subsidized meals, housing, daycare, and uniforms, and generous pensions that are part of the Armed Forces cocoon, he will be able to live out his Tea Party fantasies.

  5. Vast Variety says:

    @Boyd: Hey now. =)

  6. David says:

    @Boyd: Or a squid…

  7. sam says:

    About Marines and politics. My brother, as I’ve told you before, was a career Marine. Nobody, but nobody, is more conservative than he. But nobody. And I know you’re wondering how we get along. Like porcupines mate — very gingerly. Nah — well, almost, Nah. We love each other, and I was a Marine, too, so that helps… Anyhoo. Years ago when he was active duty and Olly North pulled his shenannies in front of Congress, and was found out, I asked him how the officers he knew — he was major then — felt about l’affaire North. He told me that to a man they despised North for violating his oath. So, what Michael said upthread.

  8. Jenos Idanian says:

    The Sergeant’s statements are totally true and protected by the First Amendment.

    Unfortunately for him, he himself isn’t, by his own choice.

    The Corps did the right thing.

  9. al-Ameda says:

    I am surprised at the number of people who have not yet figured out that everything they post on the internet is potentially available to their employers, and that employers may find those comments to not be in the best interest of (or reflect favorably up) their organization.

    Free Speech? Well sure. Consequences that may result in your being unemployed while you exercise your Free speech? Absolutely.

  10. John Burgess says:

    The Foreign Service had the same general rule. You could have your own private opinions as long as you kept them private, that means spread no further than among your immediate family. One the clock or off the clock, in the office or at a night club or a party, if you didn’t have anything good to say about the government that employed, you, you were to keep your mouth shut.

    While a court martial wasn’t an option for those flouting the rules, firing was.