Sgt. Gary Stein, discharged for Obama criticism, "scared," not backing down
(CBS News) LOS ANGELES - Sgt. Gary Stein is now a former Marine. He had hoped to be a Marine lifer, but now it's over, because of something he posted on the Internet.
Last week, he was ordered to leave the military. He was officially discharged Thursday. Now, he's trying to get his job back.
"I want to be the best of the best," he says.
Stein says he always wanted to be one of the few and the proud. And he was, for nine years, with an excellent record. He has a house, a wife, a three-year-old daughter, and a baby on the way.
He put it all at risk.
Are Stein and his wife scared?
"Of course we are. I think anybody would be scared in this position."
Two years ago, the signing of the Obama healthcare plan gave him a passion for politics. But he wound up being a public example of how the Marines handle personal opinion in the Internet age.
Stein says he saw President Obama's sweeping health care law as "a great travesty to -- to every citizen."
He co-founded the Armed Forces Tea Party website, a forum for strong political opinions. He knew he had to tread a fine line as an active-duty Marine, with legal limits on public political activity. Sometimes he crossed it.
He posted that he was an active-duty Marine, but at first insisted it was on his personal page. When told of a post on his Armed Forces page saying, "As an active-duty Marine, I have seen firsthand what government-run healthcare is," Stein conceded, "OK. Then it was me."
But what got him in big trouble was a private Internet chat.
"I said on there," Stein read, "'As an active-duty Marine, I say, "Screw Obama," and I will not follow the orders from him - all orders from him."'
He also said he would not salute President Obama, that he's the economic enemy, the religious enemy, also, a domestic enemy.
"That's what it says," Stein concurred.
The post spread on the Internet and, ultimately, Stein was thrown out of the Marines with a "less than honorable discharge".
To David Loy, from the American Civil Liberties Union, this is a free speech issue, and he's helping Stein with his legal fight.
"The real problem," says Loy, "seems to be that what he said wasn't in the barracks, it wasn't in a bar, it wasn't at the mess hall. He just happened to be on Facebook and it happened to go public and go viral."
It wasn't just where he spoke, but what he said.
"And I've said and my lawyers have said that what I said was - was not tasteful," Stein admits.
And it was within the Marines' discretion to fire him, says Neal Puckett, a former Marine lieutenant colonel who is now a lawyer specializing in military law.
"The type of speech that he engaged in is not only not protected, it's prohibited by the regulations," Puckett says. "You don't want a politicized military."
Even this past month, during hearings, with his Marine career on the line, Stein continued as one of the hosts of that Tea Party website featuring posts mocking the president.
One post refers to the president as "Jackass number one."
Stein says he didn't post it - but didn't take it down. "Call it ignorance, call it what you want," he says. "I didn't take it down."
He's apologetic for the way he spoke, but not what he believes. Stein points out that, "George Washington, said, 'When we become a soldier, we do not lay aside the citizen."'
Giving up being a Marine is very hard for him. He had to turn in his uniforms the other day and said it was a very emotional moment.
Stein is suing in federal court to have his discharge overturned, or at least to get it upgraded to honorable. His chances of that are probably not very good.
To see Brian Rooney's report, click on the video in the player above.
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