Read Part 1:“The making of Lt. Col. Stuart Scheller.”
With an admirable career, many saw Lt. Col. Stuart Scheller ending up with stars.
But on Aug. 26, 2021, in the immediate wake of a deadly suicide bombing in Kabul at the Hamid Karzai International Airport, which killed 11 Marines, one sailor and one soldier, one video posted to social media effectively ended his 17-year career.
In a four minute and 45 second video posted to Facebook and LinkedIn, a uniformed Scheller called for accountability and aired his “contempt” for those in government and the military who made the decisions during the U.S. withdrawal in Afghanistan and that day’s deadly result.
“The reason so many people are upset on social media right now is not because the Marine on the battlefield let someone down,” Scheller said, noting that those service members always have risen to the occasion. “People are upset because their senior leaders let them down, and none of them are raising their hands and accepting accountability or saying, ‘We messed this up.’”
The video, which took like wildfire and to this day has garnered more than one million views on Facebook, was a clear violation of the military’s Uniform Code of Military Conduct.
It was just a day later that he was fired from his job as battalion commander at the Advanced Infantry Training Battalion, School of Infantry-East, in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. And just three days later he appeared to resign his commission in a new social media video.
Subsequent videos and social media posts had others — who maybe had agreed with Scheller’s first video — now questioning his mental health.
In October 2021, as part of a plea deal with the Marine Corps, Scheller pleaded guilty at a special court-martial to violating Article 88 (contempt toward officials), Article 89 (disrespect toward superior commissioned officers), Article 90 (willfully disobeying a superior commissioned officer), Article 92 (dereliction in the performance of duties), Article 92 (failure to obey an order or regulation) and 27 specifications of Article 133 (conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman).
By late December 2021 Scheller was a civilian.
His initial video and subsequent posts garnered national attention and the involvement of conservative politicians at his court-martial.
Ultimately his case marks more than the sudden end to a once promising career. It also could be used as a case study on the dangers of military members entering the partisan landscape.
Within the system
In his initial post, Scheller was obviously distraught over the news of 13 U.S. service members and more than 170 Afghans killed in Afghanistan.
But he largely provided a sober and calm call for accountability from senior members in the Department of Defense.
“I have a growing discontent and contempt for my perceived ineptitude at the foreign policy level,” Scheller said in the video.
He brought specific complaints about decisions made in the withdrawal and its lead up, like the sudden abandonment of Bagram Air Base, and asked if any senior Department of Defense official was willing to admit they had made a mistake and take responsibility for it.
Kori Schake, the senior fellow and director of foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, said, “He was likely to be disciplined for undercutting good order and discipline since there are other means for him to express his concerns internal to the service.”
Which is something Scheller publicly admitted from the beginning.
Retired Army infantry officer Jason Dempsey, who deployed to Afghanistan twice and Iraq once, said Scheller had years to make his complaints known.
“It’s a bit of a clown show … where have you been the last 10 years?” said Dempsey, now an adjunct senior fellow with the Center for New American Security, also in the nation’s capital.
“There’s way to change policy that don’t invite in external political actors to tear apart the armed forces,” Dempsey said, noting that Scheller could have written an article in the Marine Corps Gazette or even opinion pieces in the Marine Corps Times if he wanted to get his complaints out.
But there are plenty of others who disagree that Scheller should have kept his complaints within the system and chain of command.
“I am a believer that sometimes-doing things slightly outside the box garners attention,” a Marine veteran known as Chaps, who was wounded in Fallujah, Iraq, and who currently hosts the Zero Blog Thirty podcast, told Marine Corps Times.
For the Purple Heart recipient, the failures surrounding the Afghanistan withdrawal justified going outside the box.
“If you’re willing to put yourself out there because you believe in the cause, that’s something that I respect too,” Chaps said.
In his eyes, that first video was about helping Marines and calling out people who made mistakes that costs lives.
Chaps said that if he was still a staff noncommissioned officer he never would have recommended Scheller’s choice to any of his Marines.
But as time went on, Scheller continued to post videos and written screeds on his social media pages, slowly eroding some of the goodwill he had after his first post.
Between Aug. 26, 2021, and Sept. 25, 2021, the Marine made more than a dozen posts on his Facebook page.
In the posts, he doubled down on his criticism of high-ranking members of the Department of Defense, attempted to charge Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., the chief of U.S. Central Command, with 13 separate violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice via a Facebook post and called for a revolution.
He ended multiple posts by saying, “every generation needs a revolution,” a misquote from Thomas Jefferson.
“Follow me and we will bring the whole f*cking system down,” Scheller said in an Aug. 29, 2021, video.
The escalation in his videos and his calls for revolution caused many to leave his cause.
“I would have preferred for him just to make the initial statement, take the lashings from the DOD and be on his way,” Chaps said.
Chaps was turned off by Scheller’s calls to burn the system down and the former lieutenant colonel’s willingness to turn what originally was a nonpartisan call for accountability into a political message.
Even though he was losing some support, his message got taken over by politicians who saw in him an opportunity to go after President Joe Biden.
Marek Posard, a military sociologist with Rand, said losing control of the message to partisan actors is one of the risks that comes with military members airing complaints on social media.
“What happens when you use these alternative means to express dissent, whether you know it or not, you run the risk of injecting yourself into a broader political debate,” Posard said.
“Those various groups on the right and the left and everything in between can coop parts of that message, without the proper context and use it for whatever they’re trying to achieve,” he said.
In later posts, Scheller attempted to separate himself from all political parties.
On Sept. 25, 2021, Scheller wrote a lengthy Facebook post where he criticized U.S. presidents from Donald Trump to Bill Clinton along with retired Gens. James Mattis, David Petraeus and Michael Flynn and his current chain of command before reiterating his desire to “bring the whole system down.”
On Sept. 27, 2021, Scheller was taken into Marine Corps custody and sent to the brig, where he remained until Oct. 5, 2021, when his lawyers struck a plea deal with the Corps.
Any attempts to get away from politics failed.
Two days after his confinement, several Republican members of Congress wrote a letter addressed to Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger demanding Scheller’s release, in spite of Scheller’s attack on Republican leaders. The Sept. 25, 2021, post that attacked conservatives has since been deleted.
A more recent post from Dec. 28, 2021, has Scheller apologizing to former President Donald Trump.
“The truth is, you and I will probably never agree on everything,” Scheller said. “We come from different worlds. But that still doesn’t mean I can’t have humility and admit you handled this better than me.”
During Scheller’s court-martial, Republican Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Georgia, Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, and Ralph Norman, R-South Carolina, testified on behalf as character witnesses for Scheller.
All three had difficulty acting as a character witness for the Marine because none of them had ever met him. But they did not waste an opportunity to make their political points.
The sequence of events was no surprise to Dempsey.
“The playbook has been obvious for a while,” Dempsey said. “There was extra willingness, particularly under the Trump administration, to jump in and grab individual members of the military and squeeze them dry for their own political purposes.”
Posard said in a politicized military service members may start relying on political affiliations and allies to ensure advancement instead of their actual job expertise. Over time that could erode the quality of the force.
“We really cherish that idea that the political debates that occur are separate from the training and professional ethos of being in the military,” Posnard said. “That’s why we have a strong military in the world.”
The remaking of Stuart Scheller
At some point in Scheller’s fall from grace, his family life seemed to fall apart.
His second video, posted on Aug. 29, 2021, which featured Scheller seemingly unhinged and in an abandoned bus in the woods somewhere in North Carolina, pushed people to donate to his wife, Jacklyn.
Attempts by Marine Corps Times to reach her for comment went unanswered.
“After I post this video my wife, I love you, you’re a great mother… I don’t know what decisions you will make in the next 72 hours,” Scheller said before giving out his wife’s PayPal and encouraging people to donate to her.
In a later video he says his wife left him.
“I lost everything ― my wife, my career, my family,” Scheller said.
On Dec. 23, 2021, Stuart Scheller left the Corps and started his second career as a civilian.
As part of that career Scheller launched a “television media blitz” and started his own website, authenticamericans.com. Though Scheller says will not run for office himself — at least not yet — he is working to get veterans that share his vision for America get elected.
“I think there needs to be leaders in Congress,” Scheller told Marine Corps Times Dec. 26, 2021. “Right now, we have a bunch of politicians, and I just don’t think that’s enough. They’ve demonstrated that a lot of them don’t have the courage that’s required to be up there.”
Dubbed the “Disabled Veterans PAC” and housed on his website “Authentic Americans,” Scheller told Marine Corps Times that the PAC is supporting about, not yet publicly disclosed, twenty candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives and five candidates for the U.S. Senate.