Gregory Bull / AP
The Marines say Staff Sgt. Gary Stein will be discharged for criticizing President Barack Obama on Facebook. He has since apologized to the president.
Sgt. Gary Stein, the 26-year-old Marine who learned Wednesday he would be discharged for his online comments criticizing President Barack Obama, wishes he could take it back.
“People ask me, ‘Would you go back and change those words?’ I would most definitely,” Stein told msnbc.com. “I would articulate my point better.”
On March 1, Stein wrote on a closed forum for active-duty meteorologists and oceanographers that he would say "Screw Obama" and not follow all orders from him, according to Courthouse News.
“Obama is the economic enemy,” he wrote in the post. “He is the religious enemy ... He is the ‘fundamentally change’ America enemy … He IS the Domestic Enemy.”
Five minutes later, another Marine took down his post, but not before someone Stein knew took a screen shot and forwarded the comment to Stein’s superiors.
Stein had already been warned about a Facebook page he had started in 2010, which he named Armed Forces Tea Party.
“They said, ‘All we ask is that you write that the views are not that of the Marine Corps or the Department of Defense,’” Stein said. He said he put up the disclaimer that day.
The Facebook page, which had six moderators, including Stein, included posts about contraception, gays in the military, pundit Keith Olbermann and Obama. One post included a photo of Obama with the word, “Jackass” written underneath. Stein said that was not his post.
Service members are, according to Directive 1344 of the Department of Defense, allowed to express personal opinions on political candidates, but not as representatives of the Armed Forces.
Last month, a three-member military panel recommended that he be booted from the Marine Corps. On Wednesday, Brig. Gen. Daniel Yoo accepted their recommendation that Stein be dismissed for violating military law.
Stein said he repeatedly told Marine Corps officials he would shut down the Facebook page and not speak with the press if they allowed him to complete his contract, which ends in three months, but they refused.
“I think they’re trying to use me as an example,” Stein said. “Senior officers don’t want to hear, ‘You were the person who let this Gary Stein situation get out of hand. I think there might have been peer pressure among the senior enlisted.”
Maj. Michael Armistead, a Marine Corps spokesman at Camp Pendleton, could not confirm whether this negotiation took place.
Stein, an Arizona native, has been a Marine for nine years and was deployed to Iraq from 2005 to 2006. Although he regrets his post, he still believes his online activity should be protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution. Still, he said he would caution other service members to think before posting their opinions.
“I’m not telling them to zip it up or shut up; be conscious of what you post,” he said. He said he believes the Marine Corps should clearly rewrite the rules for social media in the wake of his dismissal.
In a phone interview Wednesday, Stein sounded tired. A former weather forecaster, he lost his security clearance and started working as a scheduler on a rifle range at Camp Pendleton. He said his wife’s grandmother died Tuesday night and he was diagnosed Monday with a throat disease. He said the Marine Corps is waiting to discharge him so that he can go through treatment.
“It’s been a rough day,” Stein said. “I’m disappointed. Not only in the Marine Corps, but in myself.”
He said he plans to go through treatment and tend to his wife and 4-year-old daughter. He has been a licensed real estate agent for two years; last night he posted a house for sale on his personal Facebook page.
He also wrote on Facebook that he would not accept racist or vulgar posts.
“I will ban you and you will never be on the page again,” he said.
And he said he has also apologized to the president.
“If he was in front of me right now, I would salute him, say, ‘Yes, Mr. President, No, Mr. President,’ and when I walked away, I would still disagree with his policies. But those are two separate things.”
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