Marine Lt. Col. Stuart Scheller pleaded guilty on Thursday to numerous charges in connection with his very public battle with top military and civilian leaders that began over the Afghanistan withdrawal and then morphed into a grudge match over “the system,” Task & Purpose has learned.
The military judge overseeing the case must now approve Scheller’s guilty plea. That process is expected to take most of Thursday morning.
Prosecutors have charged Scheller with several offenses under the Uniform Code of Military Justice for comments that he has made since Aug. 26, when he first posted a video on Facebook and Linkedin demanding that senior military leaders face consequences for their failures in Afghanistan.
Specifically, Scheller has been accused of showing contempt toward officials, showing disrespect toward superior commissioned officers, willfully disobeying a superior commissioned officer, dereliction in the performance of duties, failure to obey an order or regulation, and conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman.
His charge sheet, which was obtained by Task & Purpose, is six pages long and lists everything he has said that has incurred the wrath of his superiors.
Scheller first made waves on Aug. 26 when he posted a video to social media in which he argued that military leaders had not been held accountable for mistakes they made during the Afghanistan withdrawal. The video was posted the same day that 11 Marines, one Navy corpsman, and an Army special operator were killed in an attack on the Hamid Karzai International Airport. In the video, Scheller said that he had a “personal relationship” with one of the fallen service members but did not specify whom.
“I’m not saying we’ve got to be in Afghanistan forever, but I am saying: Did any of you throw your rank on the table and say ‘hey, it’s a bad idea to evacuate Bagram Airfield, a strategic airbase, before we evacuate everyone,’” Scheller said in the video, which was shared to both Facebook and LinkedIn.
“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.’”
That initial video set off a frenzy of responses, and ensuing media coverage. Scheller earned praise for risking his career just a few years short of retirement to say what many service members, veterans, and military families were thinking as they watched the Taliban overrun Afghanistan, resulting in the humanitarian catastrophe at Hamid Karzai International Airport.
But others saw Scheller as a rogue Marine officer who broke with established norms and brazenly criticized military leaders while in uniform.
That simple narrative — that Scheller was either a solitary Marine speaking truth to power, or a disobedient officer — quickly became much more complicated. The day after he made his first video, he announced that he had been relieved as battalion commander for Advanced Infantry Training Battalion at School of Infantry East at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
Then he made an Aug. 29 video from inside a refurbished school bus in which he announced he intended to resign his commission and he urged his followers, “Follow me and we will bring the whole f–king system down.”
As his messages grew in frequency, they became more brazen than that opening salvo of criticism he levelled at military leaders on Aug. 26, and the rhetoric took on a tone that the Marine Corps found alarming.
On Aug. 31, Scheller claimed on Facebook and Linkedin that Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger wanted to court-martial him. Those posts were later deleted.
Scheller then announced in a Sept. 16 video that he intended to file charges against Marine Gen. Kenneth McKenzie Jr., head of U.S. Central Command, in connection with the deaths of 13 service members who were killed in the Aug. 26 suicide bomb attack at Hamid Karzai International Airport’s Abbey Gate.
Eventually, Scheller was placed in the brig for continuing to post on social media despite being ordered to stop.
Legal documents obtained by Task & Purpose show that Marine Corps officials were concerned with Scheller’s repeated calls for starting a revolution, which a command investigation found violated the Defense Department’s policy that lists which acts of protest and dissent that service members are not allowed to engage in.
Scheller’s comments about fighting the system were not limited to social media, according to a copy of his charge sheet that Task & Purpose obtained. To wit: Prosecutors claim that at one point Scheller wrote on a transition plan form that his desired career field was “Revolution,” adding: “I reject your system. I plan to change the system;” and, “every generation needs a revolution. It is time for change.”
If the military judge approves Scheller’s guilty plea, sentencing is expected to begin later on Thursday.
This is a developing story and will be updated as more information becomes available.