Sgt. Gary Stein voluntarily took down the "Armed Forces Tea Party" page Tuesday but relaunched it Wednesday after receiving support from the American Civil Liberties Union and being assured he was not violating a Department of Defense directive."I'm going to keep marching. My Facebook page is back up and we have the Armed Forces Tea Party Patriots and we have the Armed Forces Tea Party," Sgt. Stein said. "When I left my house about 20 minutes ago we were well over 2,000 people strong."
At the time of print, the group had almost 7000 members and was growing rapidly.
Stein said he is happy to be a Marine and respects President Obama, and that his personal views would in no way inhibit his job in the military.
"At the same time, I feel like I have a duty...as an American to defend the Constitution and to defend my beliefs," Stein said.
After becoming more involved in the Tea Party over the last three months, Stein, a married 24-year-old with a 2-year-old daughter and another baby on the way, decided to start the Facebook page to express his frustration over Obama's health care bill. According to the DOD, military personnel on active duty are not allowed to run a political organization, participate in political campaigns or conventions, or actively try to solicit votes for a candidate.
An article on the Talking Points Memo Muckraker blog attracted the attention of the Marines, who called Stein back to base.
"I sat down with Marine Corps leaders. They talked to me. They let me know that I'd done nothing wrong," Stein said. He said as long as he does not break any of the directive's rules, he will be able to administer the Facebook page.
Nevertheless, the media grabbed on to the story, with the liberal blogosphere calling for a court-martial and conservatives hailing him as a free-speech hero. The San Diego chapter of the ACLU got involved, releasing a statement defending Stein's First Amendment right to free speech.
Attending a tax day tea party in Temecula, Calif., his home town, Stein said despite the media frenzy that has centered on him over the last few days, he does not want to be seen as a leader of the Tea Party movement.
"It has been a little overwhelming," Stein said. "I don't want to be a leader, because...if you have a leader (in the Tea Party), there's a head of the snake to cut off. That's what we don't want to do."
Stein, dressed conservatively in a blue collared shirt, certainly did not stand out in the crowd of around 200 that gathered for the tea party, many of whom dressed patriotically in red, white and blue and carried American flags and signs criticizing Obama.
The party has grown dramatically in Temecula over the past year, according to event organizers. They say their groups are loosely organized, and word of mouth is a big factor, but more and more people are showing up to events. They attribute much of the growth to the area's high population of military families due to its proximity to Camp Pendleton.