On Friday, a military judge at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina gave Scheller a slap on the wrist. He issued a reprimand to go in Scheller’s permanent file and ordered that his pay be docked by $5,000. As part of a plea deal, prosecutors had asked for the judge to dock $30,000 in pay. Judge Glen Hines, a Marine colonel, said he considered making Scheller forfeit $10,000 but decided to go with half that amount because of nine days he spent in pretrial confinement, along with his “outstanding record before this.”
The 40-year-old Scheller is understandably upset about how the 20-year war in Afghanistan ended, but such a light penalty for such a deliberate breach of the core principle of civilian control of the military could cause real long-term harm. Good order and discipline are essential to the United States remaining the most lethal fighting force in human history. The failure to pursue a stiffer penalty could leave other officers with the impression that they can disrespect — or disregard — the chain of command and the will of duly elected leaders.
Scheller has filed paperwork to leave the military. The Navy secretary must now decide whether he will receive an honorable discharge or a general discharge under honorable conditions. Far more is at stake than the level of future benefits he will receive. More importantly, letting Scheller go with an honorable discharge would send the message that what he did was somehow honorable.
It wasn’t. Scheller has proselytized for revolution since the fall of Kabul. In a creepy video recorded from inside a refurbished school bus on Aug. 29, with a chess board sitting in front of him, Scheller told his followers: “Follow me, and we will bring the whole f---ing system down.”
In a Facebook post on Sept. 25, Scheller wrote that “the current military-industrial machine is broken” and civilians aren’t utilizing troops “in a manner that increases national power.” He added: “If the government doesn’t serve the interests of the people, it’s the people’s obligation to throw off the old form of government.”
When Scheller filed paperwork to quit the Marines amid the uproar over his comments, a separation form asked what his desired next career would be. “Revolution,” he wrote. “I reject your system. … [E]very generation needs a revolution.”
The lieutenant colonel allegedly expressed some support for Jan. 6 insurrectionists in late August, telling his battalion’s executive officer after being relieved of command: “What if the guys in January were not a bunch of p------, but they were guys that knew what the f--- they were doing? They couldn’t stop us. What could they do?”
Scheller’s defenders say he has been punished enough. He said his wife left him, and he was relieved as commander of an advanced infantry training battalion. Because he’s leaving the Marines two years before his pension fully vests, he will take a self-imposed financial hit.
But he’s likely to get financial support from far right groups that want to use him to advance their aims. In one of his videos, Scheller solicited donations to a nonprofit started by the family of Edward Gallagher, the ex-Navy SEAL who was acquitted of murder in Iraq in 2019. Scheller acknowledged in his plea deal that he knew soliciting money for the group while in his service uniform was against the rules.
Disturbingly, several elected Republicans have embraced Scheller as a cause celebre. Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.) flew to North Carolina to testify at his sentencing hearing. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) appeared via videoconference to say that President Biden should be impeached, instead.
Retired Marine Col. Thomas Hobbs said Scheller was one of his best company commanders but that he warned him long ago his arrogance could be his downfall. Hobbs told The Post’s Dan Lamothe on Tuesday that he “100 percent” believes all of this is “a ploy” by Scheller “for him to run for office.”
Nothing about his punishment will preclude Scheller from running for office. Attorney Tim Parlatore said at a Friday news conference that his client is going to “take some time for himself, some quiet time, and then figure out what he is going to do next in his life.” Speaking in court, Scheller said he won’t be “broken” by this ordeal.
Without a stronger statement by the U.S. Navy, the danger for democracy is that Scheller and others will be emboldened.