A Camp Pendleton Marine said the Corps notified him Wednesday that it was taking steps to boot him out of the military because of his "Armed Forces Tea Party" web page and comments critical of the president.
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Sgt. Gary Stein, 26, of Temecula, said he was accused of making statements about the president "that are prejudicial to good order and discipline" a violation of Article 134 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
He also was accused of violating Defense Department rules when he created his Armed Forces Tea Party page on Facebook in 2010. A department directive states that service members may "register, vote, and express a personal opinion on political candidates and issues, but not as a representative of the Armed Forces."
The Marine Corps issued a statement saying that Stein's commanding officer ordered a preliminary inquiry on March 8 after receiving allegations that the sergeant "posted political statements about the president of the United States on his Facebook web page titled 'Armed Forces Tea Party.' After reviewing the findings of the preliminary inquiry, the Commander decided to address the allegations through administrative action."
Maj. Michael Armistead, a spokesman for the San Diego Marine Corps Recruit Depot who released the statement, declined to comment.
Until Wednesday Stein worked as a weather forecaster at Camp Pendleton on behalf of the recruit depot. Now he is being reassigned and restricted from computer access at work, pending an administrative hearing on his fate.
Stein said he has done nothing wrong and defended his right to express personal opinions about the president and his policies when he is off-duty and not in uniform.
"Whatever happened to freedom of speech?" he said. "There is not a document in this world that trumps the United States Constitution.
To say that the UCMJ somehow trumps the First Amendment is completely inaccurate."
Stein attracted national media attention when he started his Armed Forces Tea Party page, which has nearly 18,000 followers. Then a complaint was lodged against him with the Marine Corps this month after Stein made a comment online using his personal Facebook account.
Stein said he can't remember exactly what he posted the comment has been deleted but he paraphrased it as "I say screw Obama. I will not follow orders given by him to me."
Stein said he added a comment online a few minutes later clarifying that he meant "unlawful orders," but that additional information was not included in the complaint. The comments were part of an online debate about American troops potentially being tried for burning Korans in Afghanistan.
Stein has been served with a notice of administrative separation proceedings and could be kicked out of the Corps with a discharge under "other than honorable" conditions, he said. He also might be reduced in rank and have to pay back some or all of his $45,000 in bonus money and education fees for real estate classes.
He said he does not know when the hearing will take place, but when it does: "I will just have to educate somebody on the Constitution and what it says."
Thomas Umberg, a retired Army colonel and a partner at the Costa Mesa law firm Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, said, "I think he has no case, and I think Sgt. Stein is perhaps seeking notoriety by trying to create confrontation with the military. But my guess is his fame will be short-lived.
"If he wants to remain in the military, he has to abide by the rules and regulations that have been in place for more than two centuries."
Stein has served in the Marine Corps for nine years and deployed once to Iraq.
"You're telling me that one comment that was taken out of the context
is going to trump nine years of faithful service in the Marine Corps? That's ridiculous," he said.
Stein is married and has a 4-year-old daughter. He intended to reenlist after his current contract expires in July, he said.
"I love the Marine Corps and the Marines I work with.
I love America and I want nothing more to do than to serve my country. That means protecting the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic."
Staff Writer Nathan Max contributed to this report.
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