The Army is investigating a Reserve officer and U.S. House candidate after he made an appearance on a partisan media show in uniform and later denied that President Joe Biden is the legitimate commander in chief.
First Lt. Alex Stovall is a chaplain candidate assigned to the Army Reserve's 91st Training Division; he enlisted in January 2013. He's running as a Republican in Arizona's 9th Congressional District, which is in the Phoenix area.
"We are aware of the situation and are investigating," Lt. Col. Simon Flake, an Army Reserve Command spokesperson, said in a statement. "The U.S. Army Reserve follows the Department of Defense's long-standing policy regarding service member involvement in partisan political campaigns to avoid the perception of DoD sponsorship, approval, or endorsement of any partisan political candidate, campaign, or cause."
Flake said he could not comment on any specifics in the investigation.
On a show in April, Stovall said he didn't believe Biden was president. In a separate interview on One America News Network, he appeared in uniform discussing his campaign. OANN has given airtime to multiple conspiracy theories, including that the presidential election was illegitimate.
The interview with OANN was rescheduled to a time when Stovall was on his way home from military duty and did not have a change of clothes, according to Joel Bailey, a campaign spokesman. However, Stovall could have taken off the camouflage top he wore and conducted the interview in the coyote brown T-shirt that serves as the uniform's underlayer.
In his first major campaign ad, Stovall appears multiple times in uniform, but disclosure text appears at the bottom of the screen, stating that the images do "not imply endorsement by the U.S. military or DoD."
Two other soldiers, a major and a noncommissioned officer, also appear in the ad. It isn't clear whether Stovall got their consent to feature them in a partisan advertisement.
During the ad, Stovall identifies himself as an Army chaplain and says, "Socialists like AOC hate two things, 'God and America,'" referring to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.
In an interview with Military.com, Stovall said he is a candidate to become a chaplain; chaplains must earn various credentials to be certified.
Stovall told Military.com he hasn't broken any rules and that the regulations are on his side. In that interview, he refused to comment on whether the 2020 election was legitimate. The interview was terminated quickly after Military.com pressed on specifics.
The deadly Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol by a pro-Trump mob reportedly was motivated in part by conspiracy theories that former President Donald Trump, not Biden, won the election.
Stovall's first major campaign ad prominently featured Ocasio-Cortez. He told Military.com he's primarily running against her, despite her district being more than 2,400 miles away from where he is campaigning. When asked what specific policies he's running against, he replied, "All of them."
If Stovall makes it through the Republican primary, he would likely face incumbent Rep. Greg Stanton, D-Ariz., who handily won his previous race with 61% of the vote.
Mikey Weinstein, president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, or MRFF, said he believes Stovall potentially could be found guilty of several violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, including "contempt toward officials," which states that commissioned officers cannot use "contemptuous words against the president."
Stovall also could be guilty of violating DoD Directive 1344.10, which states that troops are generally forbidden from partisan activities while in uniform, Weinstein said.
"If this isn't an example of contempt of officials, nothing is. … Just get rid of the rule at that point," he said in an interview with Military.com.
Weinstein told Military.com that MRFF pushed the Pentagon to investigate Stovall and sent a letter to Biden urging him to take swift disciplinary action against the Army officer.
"Our armed forces have the UCMJ for a reason," Weinstein wrote to the president Tuesday. "Without it, the requisite good order, morale, discipline, and unit cohesion needed to optimally command our military forces disintegrates into lethal chaos."
The Defense Department is also investigating former Army Capt. Harold Earls over whether he abused his position or misused military media assets for a partisan political ad in his own congressional bid.
Earls, who's running as a Republican in Georgia's 6th Congressional District, announced his campaign in a video using footage of Gold Star families mourning at Arlington National Cemetery and close-up images of graves. The advertisement focuses almost exclusively on his service at the cemetery. After Military.com's report, Earls' campaign took the ad off YouTube.
-- Steve Beynon can be reached at Steve.Beynon@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StevenBeynon.