To supporters, he was a rare patriot willing to speak harsh truths to power, at the cost of his career and his financial security. To his superiors, he was wildly out of line and unwilling to register his complaints through the time-honored internal channels.
Either way, Lt. Col. Stuart Scheller will likely not be a Marine much longer.
The 17-year Marine Corps veteran who waged a one-man social media campaign demanding accountability from top U.S. military officials following the withdrawal from Afghanistan won’t deny what he did Thursday when his court-martial commences at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, one of his lawyers confirmed Wednesday. Lt. Col. Scheller will plead guilty to each of the charges filed against him and seek a discharge no worse than “general under honorable conditions.”
For a string of social media posts slamming the Pentagon leadership for its Afghanistan record, Lt. Col. Scheller faced charges that include displaying contempt toward officials; disrespecting superior commissioned officers; willfully disobeying a superior commissioned officer; dereliction of duties; failure to obey an order; and displaying conduct unbecoming an officer.
“He made these statements. He’s not a hypocrite,” said attorney Timothy Parlatore, one of at least three civilian lawyers working on his case. “But we still get a sentencing hearing where we can present evidence to put everything into context.”
Lt. Col. Scheller‘s social media posts, including a viral video in which he wore his camouflage uniform, blasted top civilian and military leaders for not accepting responsibility in the days after 13 U.S. troops — mostly his fellow Marines — and more than 100 Afghans were killed in an Aug. 26 suicide attack at the Kabul airport.
“He is going to give the Pentagon a personal class in accepting responsibility,” said a source familiar with the case, who asked not to be identified because of a gag order imposed by Marine Corps officials.
The charges were referred to a special court-martial by USMC Maj. Gen. Julian D. Alford, who leads Marine Training Command. Mr. Parlatore said he hopes Marine Corps officials agree to issue Lt. Col. Scheller no more than a letter of reprimand which could allow him to retain some of his veteran benefits after he leaves the service.
With 17 years in uniform, he agreed to forgo a 20-year pension and resign his commission, his lawyers said. But military commanders denied his request and fired him from his job as an infantry battalion commander at Camp Lejeune.
When his commander ordered him to quit his social media crusade, Lt. Col. Scheller went on the internet to talk about that as well, saying at one point that “the system” needs to be taken down. He was fired as a battalion commander and spent a week in the brig at Camp Lejeune even before any charges were filed.
“We need fresh blood and perspective. It’s time for a new generation to assume American power,” Lt. Col. Scheller said in a video. “Follow me, and we will bring the whole [expletive] system down — in a constitutional manner — with one loud voice.”
In addition to demanding a round of resignations from senior leadership at the Pentagon, Lt. Col. Scheller called for dereliction of duty charges against Marine Corps Gen. Frank McKenzie, Jr., commander of U.S. Central Command who was in overall command of Afghanistan during the collapse of the U.S.-backed Afghan government and military.
His jailing sparked sharp responses from the public, turning him for some into a political cause celebre. His attorney contrasted the treatment of Lt. Col. Scheller for making videos critical of military leadership with that of Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, who gave interviews slamming former president Trump to Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward for his new book.
“It’s a double standard. How hard do you want to hit [Lt. Col. Scheller] unless you’re willing to bring Milley in next and any number of other people?” Mr. Parlatore said. “Stu Scheller is going to give the Pentagon leadership a lesson on what accepting responsibility looks like.”
More than a dozen GOP lawmakers on Capitol Hill last month called for his release from pretrial confinement. Some have compared his case to that of Army Gen. Billy Mitchell, whose advocacy of the need for airpower in the wake of World War I and sharp criticism of his superiors resulted in a court-martial but who later was praised when many of his criticisms proved valid.
But Lt. Col Scheller has also attracted some criticism online for the way he went about airing his opinions, including from veterans and military members.
“He had a bit of moral high ground until that second video when he trashed it all,” wrote a Reddit poster who called himself “Imperial Engagement.”
Another commentator said Lt. Col. Scheller was “determined to be a rebel and it’s getting annoying.”
“I knew him years ago and he was good to go. This version of him is sad and annoying,” said the commentator who called himself “Old Rebel.” “… Now he’s posting on social media just to disobey a written (and) direct order not to post on social media.”