An Army Reserve major in North Carolina received an administrative punishment akin to a “slap on the wrist” after he shared his religious and political opinions in a YouTube video in late July — prompting both him and a longtime activist to cry foul, but for different reasons.
Maj. Jamie Schwandt received a Developmental Counseling Form on Aug. 5, saying that his YouTube video discussing abortion and transgender issues was prejudicial to good order and discipline.
“We have turned a deaf ear to the truth thinking that a man can be a woman, that a woman can be a man, that a man can get pregnant. Mr. President, I would like to see you do the following: push hard for a complete ban on the murder of the most innocent with a ban on abortion,” said Maj. Jamie Schwandt in the clip. “Recognize that pro-choice is not this is not pro-choice. Abortion is not pro-choice. It’s pro murder.”
Schwandt told Army Times he was simply expressing facts, not opinions, and the punishment doesn’t fit the crime. Mikey Weinstein, who runs a watchdog group often fighting alleged Christian proselytizing in the military, said this light punishment is another example of military leaders being afraid to tackle religious or political proselytizing in the service.
Schwandt shared his Developmental Counseling Form on Twitter Aug. 13 and called for the conservative news network OANN and soon-to-be one-term congressman Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-N.C., to elevate the story of his punishment from the Army to national attention. There’s no indication members of either team have taken up Schwandt’s cause.
However, as Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation and a former Air Force judge advocate, points out, a counseling form is hardly punishment at all. The fact that the punishment was so light has far-reaching consequences and perpetuates the idea that proselytizing of a particular religion or political viewpoint among U.S. troops will be tolerated by the military, according to Weinstein.
Schwandt’s command’s request, per the counseling form, was simply to remove the video from YouTube. But he said he won’t take down the video, because he didn’t engage in any political rhetoric.
Army Reserve Command did not wish to comment on Schwandt’s case, but noted its concern for politicization of the military.
“The U.S. Army Reserve takes all allegations of Soldier or Army Civilian involvement in activities that are not aligned with DoD and Army policies seriously, and will address this issue in accordance with Army regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice to ensure due process,” wrote Reserve spokesperson Lt. Col. Addie Leonhardt in an email to Army Times.
Weinstein believes the Defense Department is worried about turning these offenders into martyrs, which in turn has created a military that tolerates the promotion of a particular religious or political set of ideals. He believes harsher punishment is needed.
“Unless the (DoD) is prepared to levy extremely serious penalties on these violations of their own internal regulations, to support the Constitution, the core values of each branch, the UCMJ, it’s going to be a disaster for this country,” Weinstein said.
It’s a short line from overt political and religious proselytizing to extremism, Weinstein argued.
“There are so many people like this, and [the military is] hamstrung through willful ignorance,” he added. “Even under (Defense Secretary Lloyd) Austin and Biden, you don’t just weed that stuff out that quickly. We need people to be visibly and aggressively and publicly court-martialed for doing this.”
Mike Berry, director of military affairs with the conservative First Liberty Institute, disagreed. He suggested that extremists only make up a small minority of troops.
“The DOD’s efforts to address religious freedom and free speech leave much to be desired,” he said. “At best, the Pentagon pays lip service to the very religious freedom our service members sacrifice so much to protect.”
He also considers religion to be a boon to the U.S. military.
“History has repeatedly shown us that religion and religious freedom within the military is a force multiplier,” Berry said. “I experienced this first-hand multiple times during my time in the Marine Corps, including during combat operations in Afghanistan. The current recruiting and retention crisis in our military can be directly traced to the Biden Administration’s utter contempt for religious freedom.”
It is prohibited for service members to share partisan views in uniform on social media. But Schwandt, who explicitly identified himself as an Army officer in the video, told Army Times that his proclamations were not political opinions, but facts. He also said it is his sworn duty to express his ideas to the commander-in-chief, President Joe Biden, as an officer in the Army.
However, as Weinstein points out, service members do not enjoy the same level of free speech protection as civilians.
“The first amendment rights he has are severely curtailed by the U.S. Supreme Court case of Parker vs. Levy, in which it clearly states the reduced latitude for members wearing a uniform,” said Weinstein.
Weinstein believes that such a meager response from the Army to Schwandt was exactly what he wanted: some attention, but no real consequence, like an Article 15.
“What’s particularly heinous is that it’s not just what this guy did,” he said. “It’s the tepid response from Army Reserve Command.”
The Pentagon set its sights on curbing extremism with updated rules to aid commanders in finding and stamping out racist or anti-government behavior. However, these rules only apply when troops are on federal orders and under the command of the president, which excludes off-duty reservists and and National Guard members.
The Army Reserve has dealt with sporadic extremism cases — most noteworthy, perhaps, being the 2019 incident involving Maj. Jeff Poole, an Army Reserve infantry officer at Fort Benning, Georgia, who spent a significant amount of time on Reddit, aggressively advocating for violent anti-government insurrection.
As of now, it seems Poole separated from service in March 2022, according to Army Reserve Command. Army Times had filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the details of Poole’s investigation in December 2021. However, the request was passed off to the Army’s Office of the Judge Advocate General.
Sarah Sicard is a Senior Editor with Military Times. She previously served as the Digitial Editor of Military Times and the Army Times Editor. Other work can be found at National Defense Magazine, Task & Purpose, and Defense News.