U.S. Army Reserve Command is investigating a young officer’s references to his ongoing military service in an advertisement announcing his run for U.S. Congress in Arizona, a command official confirmed.
1st Lt. Alex Stovall is a chaplain candidate currently assigned to the Army Reserve’s 91st Training Division, according to service records released to Army Times. He first joined the military in 2013.
Stovall announced in March he was running for Congress in Arizona’s 9th District as a Republican.
One of Stovall’s recent campaign ads attacking Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., introduced him as a “26-year-old Army officer chaplain running to stop AOC and her cronies from taking over our Congress and our country.”
“I don’t fight for this country to watch it get taken over by AOC,” he said.
His tweets, which sometimes go viral in conservative circles, also frequently criticize senior Democratic officials such House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and apparently questioning President Joe Biden’s legitimacy in an April interview.
The advertisement featured several photos of Stovall in uniform and contained a text disclaimer intended to comply with strict Defense Department restrictions on political campaigns by reservists. But it might not have been enough.
Air Force Reserve chaplain Lt. Col. Doug Collins, then a congressman running for a Senate seat in Georgia, received a warning from Air Force officials about a similar issue in 2020.
Stovall also said “I don’t think [Biden] is president,” during an interview in April.
Mikey Weinstein, president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, said in a letter to Pentagon leadership Thursday that Stovall violated Uniform Code of Military Justice provisions prohibiting commissioned officers from saying “contemptuous words” against the president, vice president, Congress and other senior government officials.
Such provisions typically do not apply to off-duty reserve component troops, though.
“We are aware of the situation and are investigating,” Lt. Col. Simon Flake, an Army Reserve Command spokesman, told Army Times. “Due to the ongoing investigation we are unable to provide more information at this time.”
Chaplain Maj. Andrew Calvert is appealing with the assistance of First Liberty Institute, a right-wing legal advocacy group.
Flake also emphasized the importance of upholding the military’s tradition of non-partisanship.
“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 in an email. “Standard procedural steps are being taken to ensure the investigation is conducted in a timely and thorough manner and appropriate rights will be afforded to all involved.”
Stovall’s campaign denied that it broke any rules in a statement emailed to Army Times.
“The campaign has followed all USAR and DOD regulations,” said Joel Bailey, Stovall’s press secretary. “Alex Stovall is proud to be in the USAR and he decided to run to serve his country in Congress as well. Americans are tired of seeing this country lurch further left toward policies that hurt them.”
“Candidate Stovall recognize[s] Mr. Biden’s authority through the chain of command,” added Bailey when asked about Stovall’s comments concerning Biden’s legitimacy.
Partisan political speech has been a recurring issue for troops across all branches. The investigation into Stovall’s advertisement comes amid a slew of investigations across the force concerning speech and online conduct.
DoD launched an investigation this month into whether a former commander of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown abused his position when he incorporated extensive footage of Arlington National Cemetery into his launch advertisement for a congressional campaign in Georgia.
An active-duty chaplain appealed a pending reprimand earlier this month for anti-transgender comments made on the Army Times Facebook page.
And on the other side of the political spectrum from Stovall, a Colorado National Guard judge advocate general officer is suing his chain of command over punishments he says he received for his participation in Black Lives Matter protests in 2020.