(RNS) — “My name is Alex Stovall. I am Republican. I am 26. I am a Chaplain,” wrote a 24-year-old U.S. Army lieutenant in a tweet in late May, announcing his campaign for an Arizona congressional seat. Stovall went to proclaim himself “pro-second Amendment” and an America Firster who is “running for Congress to take on AOC,” apparently referring to U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a progressive New York Democrat.
In a video attached to the tweet, Stovall presents himself in an Army uniform as part of a campaign video.
The next day, in answer to challenges about his claim to be a chaplain, Stovall posted in the same Twitter thread: “I am a Reservist Chaplain. This video does not imply endorsement by the US Military, the US Army, or the D.O.D.” The video also includes a watermark at the bottom meant to bring it in line with military regulations.
But Stovall’s self-declared credentials have resulted in an investigation by the U.S. Army Reserve Command into whether his social posts and other activity violated Defense Department regulations on how military personnel can present themselves in running for office. According to a letter provided to Religion News Service, as of July 7 that investigation was still ongoing.
Stovall, running in Arizona’s 9th District, in the Phoenix suburbs, would be the youngest African American to serve as a congressman if he is elected.
“The campaign has followed all USAR and DOD regulations,” said Joel Bailey, Stovall’s press secretary, in a statement to RNS. “Alex Stovall is proud to be in the (Army Reserves) 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.”
His campaign further stated that “Alex Stovall is a chaplain candidate awaiting accession per Army regulation 165-1. He is currently holding a license with IMF — International Ministerial Fellowship.”
In a subsequent campaign document, Stovall referred to himself as a chaplain candidate. A video produced by the campaign includes a disclaimer in line with U.S. Army regulations.
Stovall’s LinkedIn page, however, still states that he is a chaplain.
A military source told RNS on the condition of anonymity that Stovall was not promoted to a full chaplain at the last chaplain board in June. The source said that while Stovall remains a candidate, the next chaplain’s advancement board is not until August.
Department of Defense regulations bar representations that “(d)epict or allow the depiction of themselves in uniform in a manner that does not accurately reflect their actual performance of duty. For the purpose of this policy, ‘photographs’ include video images, drawings, and all other similar formats of representational media.”
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation, a watchdog group that focuses on First Amendment issues in relation to the U.S. military, received a letter dated in early July from the Office of Chaplains, stating that there was an ongoing investigation in which Stovall was “involved” but declining to comment further.
“Even a single inaccurate reference can have an impact on good order, morale, and unit cohesion which moves at warp speed and can have national security implications,” said Michael Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. “He is presenting himself in a way which is totally inaccurate and to do (so) is in violation of DOD regulation and the military uniform code of justice. A first year law student or medical student is not either a lawyer or doctor…ergo, a chaplain candidate is not a chaplain.”
For members of the military Reserves a more relaxed set of rules applies and it is unclear what relevant regulations apply to depictions on social media platforms.
A service record provided to RNS by the U.S. Army confirmed that Stovall is a chaplain candidate who joined the military in 2013 and was promoted to first lieutenant effective this year. The record notes that he has received the Army Reserve Component Achievement Medal, the National Defense Service Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Medal, as well as other awards and citations.