A Marine lieutenant colonel who was thrown in the brig for posting videos in which he criticizes the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other senior military leaders for their roles in the Afghanistan withdrawal will plead guilty to multiple charges at his court-martial Thursday, his attorney said.
Lt. Col. Stu Scheller is charged with disrespecting superior commissioned officers, willfully disobeying an officer, conduct unbecoming an officer, contempt for his senior leaders and violations of good order and discipline.
On Aug. 26, Scheller posted a video on social media in which he criticized U.S. military leaders for the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan and demanded accountability for the 13 service members who were killed in a bombing by the Islamic State terrorist group, or ISIS. He made the video hours after the attack at Abbey Gate at the Kabul airport. Scheller served in Afghanistan and claimed to know someone who was killed in the attack.
In the video, Scheller said: “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.
“I have been fighting for 17 years,” he said. “I am willing to throw it all away to say to my senior leaders I demand accountability.”
Soon after the video was posted, Scheller was relieved of command at the School of Infantry-East at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, “due to a loss of trust and confidence in his ability to command,” said Maj. Jim Stenger, a Marine Corps spokesperson. “This is obviously an emotional time for a lot of Marines, and we encourage anyone struggling right now to seek counseling or talk to a fellow Marine. There is a forum in which Marine leaders can address their disagreements with the chain of command, but it’s not social media.”
Scheller’s video went viral, and despite orders not to continue, he posted several more. In one he promised to file charges against the commander of U.S. Central Command, Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, saying, “Senior leaders need to be held accountable the same as us.”
Scheller’s notoriety grew after he dared his commanding officer to arrest him. “I’m ready for jail,” he said on Facebook on Sept. 25, and he even told the officer to meet him at 0800 on Monday morning. Military police did arrest him — and he spent more than a week in military jail.
After his arrest, Scheller said he had teamed up with the Pipe Hitter Foundation, the nonprofit organization started by former Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher, whom former President Donald Trump pardoned for his role in the murder of an ISIS prisoner. Scheller and the foundation have raised more than $2 million for Scheller and his family.
“He hit a nerve with a lot of people. You screw up, you should admit it,” said a source familiar with Scheller’s defense. Marine officers are taught moral and physical courage, the source said, and that includes “being willing to call it like you see it, and that’s what he did.”
Scheller will plead guilty as a sign of accountability, said his attorney Tim Parlatore, who also represented Gallagher. “He will show the generals what accountability looks like.”
Scheller will forfeit more than $2 million in retirement pay, Parlatore said. He is asking for an honorable discharge. His special court-martial begins Thursday at Camp Lejeune.
As part of the defense, Scheller’s team plans to invoke recent testimony by Army Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, who acknowledged that he spoke with authors of books that quoted him disparaging the commander-in-chief — Trump at the time. The defense plans to argue that while Milley is not being held accountable for criticizing his commander, Scheller is being prosecuted for the same offense.
A source familiar with Scheller’s defense said Scheller “is accused of doing what [Milley] and others admitted they have done.”
Parlatore said, “There’s no question there is a double standard here.”
According to the charge sheets, obtained by the military blog Task and Purpose, the Marine Corps alleges that Scheller made statements that seemed to incite protest, such as “every generation needs a revolution.” Defense Department regulations limit service members from protesting and advocating for revolution. The charges, however, relate to his videos, and his alleged statement about revolution does not appear in the videos.
Parlatore said allegations that his client was inciting revolution were “a complete distraction.”
“This case is about accountability and the failure of Pentagon leadership in the conduct and withdrawal from Afghanistan. The only way to avoid that is change the subject, so they want to talk about January 6,” Parlatore said.
He did not dispute Task and Purpose’s characterization of the contents of the charge sheets.
Parlatore acknowledged that Scheller had conversations about the Jan. 6 Capitol riot but described one case as “an offhand discussion” with a colleague about the security posture and his belief that the crowd was not intent on violence. He described the conversation as an expected one for a security and military professional.
In a Sept. 16 video, Scheller called for change in the military. Speaking directly to the commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. David Berger, Scheller said an awakening needs to take place at the general officer level.
In the same video, Scheller said the Marine Corps had offered him “a very fair deal,” including nonjudicial punishment rather than court-martial and an agreement to give up his retirement pay and resign his commission. Scheller would accept a general discharge under honorable conditions. He acknowledged that making the video “might destroy that deal.”
Scheller maintains that military leaders should be held accountable for their decision to close Bagram Airfield, which he believes contributed to the chaos at the Kabul airport. His attorney insisted that it was not a political endeavor and that Scheller does not criticize political leaders. He does praise two Republican lawmakers, Reps. Brian Mast of Florida and Dan Crenshaw of Texas, in one video, but most of the criticisms are focused on military leaders.
The Marine Corps declined to comment on the court-martial or confirm that any deal was offered. Milley declined to comment.