Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.A Marine officer who called for his supporters to help him “bring the whole fucking system down” and who is now sitting in a military jail, has become a hero in MAGA world despite slamming former President Donald Trump for “dividing our county.”
Unraveling viral disinformation and explaining where it came from, the harm it's causing, and what we should do about it.
Lt. Col. Stuart Scheller became famous in August of this year after videos he posted to Facebook went viral. In the videos, Scheller criticized U.S. military leadership’s handling of the withdrawal from Afghanistan and said they should be held accountable for the deaths of 13 Marines—one of whom Scheller said he was close to.While the initial video was focused on criticism of the Biden administration’s handling of the Afghanistan withdrawal, a second video posted a few days later on Scheller’s LinkedIn account took a darker turn, when the Marine echoed rhetoric used by pro-Trump insurrectionists on Jan. 6.“Follow me, and we will bring the whole fucking system down,” Scheller said in the video.At the time, Scheller said he was planning on resigning his commission, but he was instead relieved of his command and told to stop posting content on social media.But he refused, and for the last month has continued to post messages slamming everyone from Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley to former President Barack Obama.He also slammed Trump. “I was told by everyone to kiss the ring because of your following and power,” Scheller wrote in a Facebook post last Saturday. “I refuse. While I respect your foreign policy positions, I hate how you divided the country. I don’t need or want your help. You do not have the ability to pull US together. You may even win the next election. But your generation’s time is running out.”
While Trump himself has not commented on Scheller’s case, the former president’s son, Don Jr., has tweeted support for the Marine, but such support was not welcome. ‘Tell your son to stop tweeting about me,” Scheller wrote. “Your whole family knows nothing about U.S. or our sacrifices. I could never work with you. I’d rather sit in jail and be released with a dishonorable than make compromises in my beliefs.”By Monday, the Pentagon had had enough, and Scheller was put in a military brig at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. He was scheduled to appear at a pretrial hearing on Thursday, but it was postponed until next Tuesday.Despite his obvious disdain for Trump, Scheller has become something of a cause célèbre within the MAGA community. Almost immediately, a fundraising campaign was set up to support Scheller and his family. It was organized by a group called the Pipe Hitter Foundation, a nonprofit that supports servicemen and women and is run by disgraced former Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher.Gallagher was convicted in 2019 of posing with the dead body of a teenage Islamic State captive. Trump granted him clemency in November 2020, a decision that angered military leaders.
Gallagher’s fundraising drive for Scheller has been hugely successful. The campaign blew past the initial goal of $1 million within days, and as of Friday morning it’s about $200,000 shy of its second target of $2 million.The fundraising page says the money will be used to support Scheller’s wife and three children, a possible relocation, mounting legal expenses, and “possible loss of military benefits and retirement.” Scheller’s cause was promoted by a wide range of right-wing figures, including QAnon icon Ron Watkins, who told his 436,000 Telegram followers: “Lt. Scheller is a true hero, and we must do everything we can to spread his message.”On Twitter, Scheller’s case was flagged by Arizona State Sen. Wendy Rogers, who took time out from promoting conspiracy theories about the Arizona vote recount to spread more conspiracies about Trump being reinstated.
Other GOP lawmakers who lined up behind Scheller are Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, and Madison Cawthorn. Meanwhile, a group of dozens of Republicans, led by Rep. Louie Gohmert, signed a letter calling for the military to release Scheller.
The right-wing media ecosystem also supported his cause: Scheller’s parents appeared on Fox News’ top-rated Tucker Carlson show on Wednesday night, before appearing on Glenn Beck’s show on Thursday night, and Fox News host Laura Ingraham shared a link to the Pipe Hitter fundraiser.While it seems that most Trump supporters are willing to overlook or ignore Scheller’s anti-Trump comments, others aren’t willing to do so.“Scheller is anti-Flynn and anti-Trump,” one Telegram user called American Backwoods wrote in a major QAnon channel. “I think he’s a Judas goat.”