Former Special Warfare Operator Chief Edward “Eddie” Gallagher, who was acquitted of alleged war crimes in a high-profile case last year, has unveiled a new charitable organization focused on legal advocacy for service members.
The Pipe Hitter Foundation, led by Gallagher, his wife Andrea and his brother Sean, offers financial support and legal defense, advocacy work, and public affairs services to defend “the rights and freedoms of our men and women in uniform,” according to the foundation’s website.
The 501(c)3 seeks to be “a voice for those who serve” while advocating “for a military and civilian justice system that preserves and respects the constitutional rights of police officers and military service members,” the website states.
The Gallagher family founded the organization after an ongoing legal dispute between Gallagher and his original civilian counsel, attorney Colby Vokey, who alleged the SEAL violated their contract, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported in August 2019.
In a September 2019 legal filing, which named both Vokey and United American Patriots Inc. (UAP), a legal defense organization, Gallagher alleged Vokey engaged in a “dark and predatory money-making scheme” that prioritized fundraising over Gallagher’s defense.
“The Piper Hitter Foundation is something the Gallagher family decided to do after the ordeal they went through, and in particular how they were treated by another nonprofit organization that purported to do this work, United American Patriots,” Gallagher’s attorney Tim Parlatore told Military Times.
Parlatore himself is not involved with the new nonprofit, citing inherent conflicts of interest of paid attorneys who also serve on the boards of legal defense groups.
“What the Gallagher family is trying to do here fills a very necessary need, and I think anybody that would be opposed to military members having access to competent, conflict-free legal counsel should reexamine their understanding of the constitution,” Parlatore added.
But just as Gallagher’s trial was ripe with controversy, some legal experts are skeptical of how the Pipe Hitter Foundation may impact future cases in the military justice system.
“On the surface there’s nothing wrong with a foundation that aims to provide justice and a voice for service members who are accused of serious crimes,” said Andrew Bell, Ph.D., an assistant professor at Indiana University who has written about Gallagher’s case. “But I think the danger is that this foundation that [Gallagher] started seems to sort of crystallize a sense of underlying change in some aspects of the military and American society.”
“I think what seems to be different about this particular moment in time is that, unlike ever before, these advocacy groups appear to be catalyzing involvement from both the White House and influential, conservative media sources, such as Fox News,” added Bell, who specializes in the law of armed conflict and ethics in war. “We’re at this very strange moment now where there seems to be an almost active, ongoing battle for the culture of the military in some ways.”
“Eddie is not a war criminal - he never was. His name was slandered by prosecutors and pundits alike prior to his trial where he proved his innocence and was acquitted on all serious charges by a jury of his peers,” Sean Gallagher, Chief Gallagher’s brother, told Military Times. “What happened to us is happening to many others wearing the uniform - and they need and deserve help.”
“Our family and legal team exposed the massive cancer that is the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). We revealed corruption, civil rights violations, unlawful command influence, the list goes on and on," Gallagher added. "That is why the Pipe Hitter Foundation was created and we will continue to fight for those who fight for us!”
Gallagher was arrested on September 11, 2018, and charged with murder, attempted murder and a series of other alleged war crimes in connection to a 2017 deployment to Iraq. Gallagher stood accused of stabbing to death a wounded Islamic State fighter in May 2017 near Mosul, Military Times previously reported.
Ultimately, a panel of military jurors disagreed with the most serious charges, finding Gallagher guilty only of posing in an inappropriate photograph.
Throughout the case, the defense pointed to failures of the military justice system as unfairly tilting the field against Gallagher. Before the trial began, Navy judge Capt. Aaron Rugh “sanctioned the prosecution” for violation of constitutional rights. The lead prosecutor, Cmdr. Christopher Czaplak, was dismissed from the case for engaging in a “warrantless surveillance program” of Gallagher and his legal team, Navy Times previously reported.
Gallagher received financial support from another nonprofit organization, the Navy SEALs Fund, for his legal defense, allowing him to retain Parlatore.
Now, Gallagher’s foundation appears to be an alternative option to UAP for service members seeking representation.
“Although Mr. Vokey has filed an arbitration demand in Texas seeking to collect fees for his professional services rendered as part of a contract with Chief Gallagher, UAP is not a party to the contact between Chief Gallagher and Mr. Vokey, nor part of any legal action against Chief Gallagher whatsoever,” said UAP chairman Bob Weimann in a statement posted on the organization’s website.
The Navy SEALs Fund, Colby Vokey and UAP did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
On New Year’s Day, Gallagher announced a new clothing line, Salty Frog Gear, in collaboration with veteran-owned Nine Line Apparel and Black Rifle Coffee Company. The former had previously released a “Free Eddie” t-shirt to help raise funds for the SEAL’s legal defense.
Late last month, Gallagher posted a 3-minute video calling out some of the men who testified against them, ending the video with the hashtag #THETRUTHISCOMING.
The Pipe Hitter Foundation was founded after the “Gallagher family tragically learned how broken the system is, that our warfighters can be unfairly and unjustly targeted, and how vital outside help can be in fighting back against this kind of corruption,” the website states.
Currently, there are no specific cases highlighted on the Piper Hitter Foundation website.
Dylan Gresik is a reporting intern for Military Times through Northwestern University's Journalism Residency program.