Drew Zahn is a WND news editor who cut his journalist teeth as a member of the award-winning staff of Leadership, Christianity Today's professional journal for church leaders. A former pastor, he is the editor of seven books, including Movie-Based Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching, which sparked his ongoing love affair with film and his weekly WND column, "Popcorn and a (world)view."More ↓Less ↑
Marine Sgt. Gary Stein
The White House may not be happy about Marine Sgt. Gary Stein’s Facebook fan page criticizing the commander in chief, but the social media have embraced him, making his page a beehive of conversation and soaring his “likes” count to over 23,000 and growing.
Stein’s Armed Forces Tea Party page was founded in April 2010 as a way to give even active military members a forum for voicing opposition to the Obama administration’s allegedly unconstitutional actions.
Stein’s first post discussed politicians’ plans to repeal Obamacare and was followed the next day by post quoting Theodore Roosevelt: “To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.”
But Stein’s assertions of free speech on Facebook – coming from an active duty Marine – have become a springboard for controversy.
The page is filled with comments from some cheering him on with the Marine motto, “Semper Fidelis,” while others are calling him a “traitor.”
The military has also taken notice, beginning an investigation that could lead to Stein’s dismissal from the Marine Corps.
As the Associated Press reported, Stein’s commanding officer ordered a preliminary inquiry after receiving allegations that Stein had posted political statements about Obama and declared he would not follow unlawful orders from the commander in chief.
According to Pentagon directives, the AP continued, military personnel in uniform cannot sponsor a political club; participate in any TV or radio program or group discussion that advocates for or against a political party, candidate or cause; or speak at any event promoting a political movement. Commissioned officers also may not use contemptuous words against senior officials, including the president.
If found in violation of military rules, Stein could face both discharge and having his rank reduced to lance corporal.
On the Facebook page, Stein claims he has already been removed from his job at the Marine Corps Recruiting Depot in San Diego and given a desk post with no access to computers.
“I’m completely shocked that this is happening,” Stein said earlier this week. “I’ve done nothing wrong. I’ve only stated what our oath states, that I will defend the Constitution and that I will not follow unlawful orders. If that’s a crime, what is America coming to?”
Shortly thereafter, Stein posted a public statement on the site (edited for grammar and spelling):
“I swore an oath to obey the orders of the president … but those orders must be lawful,” Stein writes. “It is the duty of each and every service member to know the difference between an unlawful and lawful order. We need to educate our service members on the Constitution. Just following orders is not a defense when having to answer for following unlawful orders.
“The allegations drummed up against me are no more than an agenda by the Marine Corps to use me as an example,” he continues. “I have never spoken on behalf of the Marine Corps or in uniform. I have stayed within guidelines DOD Directive 1344.10 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.”
The Marine Corps, the AP reports, said Stein is allowed to express his personal opinions as long as they do not give the impression he is speaking in his official capacity as a Marine.
Notably, the Facebook page at the heart of the controversy states clearly at the top, “We do not represent, and are in no way affiliated with the military, or United States Armed Forces.”
The page describes its purpose is to “offer a forum that will allow the voices of the U.S. Armed Forces to stand with the tea-party movement and be heard.”
It asserts, “Our Armed Forces place their life on the line for political agendas every day; is it common sense to think that they should have no opinion about what they are potentially sacrificing their lives for? We say no! Let them be heard.”
Among the 21,000-plus people who have “liked” Stein’s page and the many more who have commented at Armed Forces Tea Party are a wide range of opinions.
“Gary, Americans support our First Amendment right to free speech,” writes poster Maureen Taylor. “We support you and defend your rights. Semper Fidelis, my friend!”
A man claiming to be a Marine veteran and posting under the moniker Jamaica Jim asserts, “The military is here to defend democracy, not practice it. … This is blatant insubordination of an active duty Marine.”
“I have the deepest respect for Sgt. Stein. I’m just not sure he’s going about this the right way,” posited a poster calling herself Sugar Babet. “It didn’t work out so well for Col. Lakin. This administration likes to strong arm people. I will be praying for you.”
Lt. Col. Terrence Lakin, a career Army soldier, eventually faced court martial for refusing to obey orders from a commander in chief he believed ineligible to hold the office of president. During his court martial, Lakin was not allowed to call witnesses or present evidence regarding his reason for disobeying orders. Under the burden imposed by the judge, he was convicted of missing a movement and disobeying orders and served six months in the military prison at Ft. Leavenworth.