Despite his defense counsel denouncing the charges as a “laundry list of grievances” meant to appease general officers, a Marine colonel who had taken to social media to demand accountability from senior leaders about failures in Afghanistan pleaded guilty to all charges against him.
Lt. Col. Stuart Scheller will resign his commission, per a plea agreement confirmed at a special court-martial trial held Thursday morning at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
In the trial’s sentencing phase, which started Thursday afternoon, he faces a maximum punishment of forfeiting two thirds pay for twelve months. He also will receive a punitive letter of reprimand.
Scheller, who appeared to be mostly relaxed on Thursday, seemed to understand his fate, saying, “Either people love me or hate me,” acknowledging that his continued service in the Marine Corps would be a “distraction.”
Questions by the judge, Col. Glen Hines, focused not so much on Scheller’s motivations, but rather the impact that his comments had on good order and discipline.
Scheller’s first viral video showed him speaking in uniform and was posted to Facebook and LinkedIn on Aug. 26 after 11 Marines, one Navy corpsman and one soldier were killed in a suicide bombing in Kabul.
That first video, which as of Thursday had nearly 1.5 million views on Facebook and LinkedIn combined, garnered him much support and attention, but after that, “the system had turned its back against me,” Scheller said Thursday.
In the video he asked if the secretary of defense or chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which includes the Marine Corps commandant, had thrown their rank on the table and said, “Hey, it’s a bad idea to evacuate Bagram Airfield, a strategic air base, before we evacuate everyone? Did anyone do that? And when you didn’t think to do that, did anyone raise their hand and say, ‘We completely messed this up.’”
“Within eight hours,” Scheller said Thursday, the infantry Marine had been relieved from his job as battalion commander at the Advanced Infantry Training Battalion at the School of Infantry–East at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
He continued to post videos and messages about accountability and “taking down the system” to social media, including some posts that reportedly landed him in the brig.
Scheller’s confinement followed Facebook posts, which, according to a statement sent to Marine Corps Times by Scheller’s parents, broke a “gag order” that required him to remain silent.
Scheller was sent to the brig Sept. 27, but was released on Oct. 5 after his lawyers came to an agreement with the Marine Corps.
Scheller was then charged with 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 order or regulation) and Article 133 (conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman), Capt. Sam Stephenson, a spokesman for Training and Education Command, previously told Marine Corps Times in an email. On Thursday Scheller pleaded guilty to all six charges against him.
Before the trial, Tim Parlatore, an attorney representing Scheller, said that his client would accept responsibility for his actions.
The Associated Press and Philip Athey contributed to this report