On Aug. 12, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation filed a 22-page complaint against Air Force Brig. Gen. John Teichert, a Christian nationalist zealot, on behalf of 41 clients under his command, alleging violations of military rules and regulations about religious proselytizing, as well as violations harmful to the military as whole, by posting online comments likely to “degrade morale, good order, and discipline.” (Salon story here.)
One month later, the Department of Defense Inspector General’s office claimed to have completed its investigation, finding virtually nothing wrong. But in doing so it ignored, if not directly contradicted the instructions of Defense Secretary James Mattis, contained in a memo issued the day after MRFF filed its complaint.
The subject of the memo was the need for discipline, explicitly including “respect for all Service members” and “responsible social media activity,” both of which are severely lacking in Teichert’s case. As for the IG's responsibility, Mattis wrote, "fairness to the accused does not prevent military officers from appropriately condemning and eradicating malignant behavior from our ranks."
MRFF is considering its options, including a federal lawsuit, to force the DoD to follow its own rules and regulations in the matter.
“How can anyone under his command really believe that they will be treated fairly by this man? Especially those who are not even Christian?” one of those 41 clients said, in a thank-you email sent to MRFF. “He has created a clear religious test for who is and who isn’t showing excellence as a USAF airman and American citizen.”
The complaint against Teichert was filed less than a month after he assumed command of the 412th Test Wing at Edwards Air Force Base. It only took that long for 41 clients to feel the need to step forward.
On Aug. 13, Secretary Mattis issued his memorandum stressing the crucial importance of discipline. “It is incumbent on our leaders to ensure that American Forces are always the most disciplined on the battlefield, whatever the domain might be,” Mattis wrote. “The discipline of today includes vigilant operational security, protection of electronic equipment, and responsible social media activity.” [Emphasis added.] He went on to say, “We must demonstrate respect for all Service members, build trust, and remove the cancer of sexual misconduct from our ranks. All Service members learn to fight well by doing the little things perfectly, otherwise they cannot possibly get the big things right when all goes wrong.”
Yet, on September 7, the Department of Defense Inspector General’s office informed MRFF that the Air Force Deputy General Counsel [DGC] had "concluded the matters in the complaint did not warrant investigation," without even whispering a word about Teichert’s impact on “morale, good order, and discipline.” The significant number of complainants in such a short period of time apparently made no impression whatsoever.
In first announcing the complaint, MRFF founder Mikey Weinstein, a former Air Force JAG officer, highlighted a variety of divisive messages Teichert has repeatedly delivered via his online fundamentalist ministry website, “PLUS” (“Prayer at Lunchtime for the United States”),“He has denigrated LGBT individuals, slammed American society at large, and, of course, delivered election voting mandate directives wherein he has effusively urged that only HIS type of approved Christian should ever be elected to American public office,” Weinstein said. While it’s true Teichert has a First Amendment right to his own personal religious beliefs, the manner of expressing those beliefs is subject to military regulations, a principle long established in law, and reflected in military rules and regulations, most notably, Air Force Instruction 1-1, cited repeatedly in the complaint.
The DoD’s decision was announced in a terse one-page letter from Marguerite C. Garrison, Deputy Inspector General for Administrative Investigations, in which she stated:
The DGC found PLUS was a privately-maintained web site on which Brig Gen Teichert articulated his personal religious beliefs. It did not find his statements revealed any partisan political activity, or that Brig Gen Teichert promoted PLUS in his official capacity. It determined statements Brig Gen Teichert made on the site were permissible free exercise of religion that did not violate a standard. They did not limit other service members’ personal freedoms, equate to religious intolerance, or evidence that he unlawfully discriminated against anyone or denied equal opportunity to anyone under his command. Accordingly, the DGC concluded the matters in the complaint did not warrant investigation.
Weinstein disputed all those findings in an interview with Salon, as well as the process itself.
“The reason we wrote this [complaint] letter to the Department of Defense Inspector General is that we have absolutely no trust in the Air Force,” Weinstein said. “Of all the services, the Air Force is by far the most corrupt, corrupted by fundamentalist Christianity.”
But even if all that could have been justified, the list of DGC findings was marred by a glaring omission: the complete disregard for perhaps the most serious allegation from the miliary’s own point-of-view—that Gen Teichert’s actions are harmful to the military itself, and its mission to protect the nation. Specifically, MRFF’s complaint drew attention to the following paragraphs from AFI 1-1:
2.15.3. You must avoid offensive and/or inappropriate behavior on social networking platforms and through other forms of communication that could bring discredit upon on the Air Force or you as a member of the Air Force, or that would otherwise be harmful to good order and discipline, respect for authority, unit cohesion, morale, mission accomplishment, or the trust and confidence that the public has in the United States Air Force.
2.15.4. Airmen who provide commentary and opinions on internet blogs that they host or on others’ internet blogs, may not place comments on those blog sites, which reasonably can be anticipated, or are intended, to degrade morale, good order, and discipline of any members or units in the U.S. Armed Forces, are Service-discrediting, or would degrade the trust and confidence of the public in the United States Air Force. [Emphasis added]
Salon emailed Garrison, seeking an explanation for this omission, but has not received any response.
As noted in my initial report on Teichert’s conduct and MRFF’s complaint, there are numerous examples of Teichert expressing a divisive religious-warrior mindset, conveying hostility to fellow Americans who do not believe exactly the same as him—hostility that cannot help but degrade the morale, good order, and discipline of those serving under him. He frequently writes as if he were at war with America itself. Examples include:
- In June 2014, he wrote, "We are engaged in a war between fundamentally opposed ideologies."
- In December, 2014, he wrote about "the enemies of Christ."
- In October 2015, he wrote, "God has entrusted us to subdue our own kingdom – 21st century America.”
- Also in October 2015, he wrote, “In 21st century America we may feel like we have landed in enemy controlled territory behind enemy lines.”
- In April 2016, he wrote that "the adversary has taken the first shots of the current battle."
- On July 28th of this year, he wrote, “Far too often, Christians move against other Christians who aren’t much different than themselves, sometimes with great violence and strife. … Each time this happens, it is a dark day for the cause of Christ when there are plenty of real enemies that should be the focus of our forces.” He closed by saying, "PLEASE PRAY FOR UNITY AMONG BIBLE-BELIEVING CHRISTIANS IN AMERICA IN ORDER TO PROPERLY OPPOSE OUR REAL ADVERSARY." [All-caps in the original.]
As if the concerns identified in paragraphs 2.15.3. and 2.15.4. were not serious enough in themselves, they were precisely the subject of Secretary Mattis’s memorandum, which went even further in spelling out responsibilities. Weinstein specifically drew attention to the following passage:
Our leaders must uphold proven standards. They should know the difference between a mistake and a lack of discipline. If a subordinate makes a mistake, leaders should learn to coach them better. But we must not tolerate or ignore lapses in discipline, for our enemies will benefit if we do not correct and appropriately punish substandard conduct.
When Mattis wrote, “we must not tolerate or ignore lapses in discipline,” he was writing to everyone under his command—including both the Air Force and the DoD Inspector General’s offices. Both of them simply assumed—against all common sense—that Teichert’s questionable conduct was limited to his online proselytizing. But nothing could be farther from the truth.
“Many of us were aware of BGEN Teichert’s overt and sometimes not so overt pushing of his Christian faith on his subordinates,” the client email referred to above explained. “His reputation for all of this preceded him well before he took command of the 412th Test Wing last month. He does it much more than just with his PLUS project. You saw his change of command speech. I was there. And the USAF should know this! No way they can’t.”
The online evidence is simply easier to establish. It doesn’t require individual complainants to come forward, testify, and have their lives ruined, as a result.
“When I talk to a client about, would any of the 41 be willing to talk to the media or come forward, they're always terrified. They’ve been terrified for all 15 years we been fighting,” Weinstein said. But now it’s even worse. “In light of the anonymous op-ed from the New York Times, and with Trump talking about treason, and going through his own internal review, looking to have its own staff take a polygraph test—that created even more of a poisoned atmosphere among our clients, who are under the control and thumb of Brig. Gen. John Teicher.”
Teichert may be the main offender here, but he is not alone. He is being sustained and supported by an entire culture that enables his abusive behavior, because it calls itself “Christian.”
“Can you imagine if we had the general officer, meaning a Brig. Gen. doing the exact same thing, it was called “PLUS”—Prayers at Lunch for the United States—and it was all Islamic?” Weinstein asked. “Can you imagine? I use the term ‘blood in the streets’ for something like that.”
The inspector general's letter actually did acknowledge something wrong, Weinstein pointed out. "The DGC did recommend that Brig Gen Teichert include a disclaimer on the PLUS web site, to state the views he expresses there are his alone and do not imply an official endorsement," the letter said, adding that Teichert had now done so.
"Clearly Teichert was out of standards," Weinstein noted. "This is like someone being convicted of first degree murder and being sentenced to a vigorous weekend of anger management counseling."