Lt. Col. Stu Scheller was formally charged by the Marine Corps on Wednesday with six violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and referred to a special court-martial, the latest in a legal saga that unfolded after he criticized senior leaders on social media over the Afghanistan withdrawal.
The charges include contempt toward officials and disrespect toward superior officers, among others, following Scheller’s video posts beginning at the end of August, including at least one showing him in uniform, the Marine Corps said in a statement.
The filing puts the embattled Marine officer one step closer to a court-martial. But Scheller still hopes to cut a deal for an honorable discharge, according to a source with knowledge of the discussions, and the case might never make it to trial.
“I think it’s very likely that they will accept a resignation in lieu of court-martial,” said Greg Rinckey, a former U.S. Army prosecutor and Judge Advocate General’s Corps defense attorney who has handled hundreds of cases as a civilian lawyer.
Scheller rose to prominence Aug. 26 for a viral video of himself in Marine cammies demanding accountability from senior military leaders following a suicide bombing that killed 13 U.S. troops in Afghanistan that same day.
After that first video, Scheller was removed from command and, according to one of his subsequent Facebook posts, ordered to undergo a mental health screening. He also was ordered to stop posting on social media — an order he seems to have ignored.
Other charges filed Wednesday include willfully disobeying a superior officer, dereliction of duty, failure to obey an order, and conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman.
Rinckey said the case now will head to an Article 32 hearing, where an officer will make sure that the charges are appropriate to move forward to a court-martial.
If the case does go to court-martial, any punishment probably would be light and it’s unlikely Scheller would be dismissed from the Corps, Rinckey said.
“A panel may give him a letter of reprimand,” he said. “There is always the risk that they could give him some confinement for disobeying an order.”
In the meantime, the case has set off a discussion about the freedom troops — especially officers — have to comment publicly on service policies and their leaders.
Marine Corps spokesman Sam Stephenson said there are “proper forums” in the military through which to raise concerns with the chain of command.
Generally speaking, “posting to social media criticizing the chain of command is not the proper manner in which to raise concerns,” he said.
Rinckey put it more plainly: As a commissioned officer, freedom of speech is limited.
“His first video, if he had stopped there, I don’t think we’d be talking right now,” Rinckey said.
However, Scheller made more than 10 posts, including several videos that included the unofficial resignation of his commission and threats to “bring the whole f—ing system down.”
He claimed to have made the posts despite advice from friends, family and lawyers. In Sept. 16 posts on Facebook and LinkedIn, he wrote that he would make a public recommendation of charges of dereliction of duty against Marine Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the head of U.S. Central Command.
Scheller’s supporters, such as Eddie Gallagher, the now-retired Navy SEAL who was found not guilty after his former colleagues accused him of war crimes during a tumultuous deployment to Iraq in 2017, have made social media posts that call the gag order against Scheller unlawful.
However, Rinckey disagreed and said he believes it is a valid order, especially since Scheller posted in uniform.
Since being released from the brig Tuesday, Scheller has not made any posts on social media.
Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, has pointed to this case as an argument for the need to reform the military justice system.
“The UCMJ was created to facilitate the exigencies of war but is now too often abused and merely strips our soldiers of their constitutional rights,” Gohmert said in a statement.
Although Congress recently has focused on making reforms to the military justice system, the changes have targeted how the military prosecutes sexual crimes, not cases like Scheller’s.