I was on BBC yesterday talking about the Stolen Valor Act and the video below that has gone viral after a man was confronted in a mall on Black Friday by a veteran who called him out as a fake. (Warning: the video contains bad language). The man, identified as Sean Yetman, 30, walked by a real veteran from the famed 101st Airborne Division who was not buying the uniform or claim that Yetman is an Army Ranger. He spotted problems right away, starting with the multiple Combat Infantry badges.
There is a news report stating that Yetman was previously arrested while wearing the coat of a Philadelphia officer who died in the line of duty. In May, he pleaded guilty in Bucks County Court to impersonating a public servant, a second-degree misdemeanor and was given three months of probation for that crime along with a charge of driving with a suspended or revoked license. If it is the same individual, it would show a sad and continuing desire for social recognition and status. These people tend to desperately want to reinvent themselves and their lives.
I have previously criticized past prosecutions for stolen valor (here and here) as a threat to the first amendment. Such cases are deterred through social stigma and simple research, as it was here. The key to any criminal charge is whether the accused used the false claim to secure financial or monetary benefits, even discounts or special treatment at the mall. Obviously, a discount on a Happy Meal is not going to garner much punishment but prosecutors are likely to work hard to make a case when presented with this type of alleged crime.
What is impressive is that this fraud knew a fair amount of details but could not hold his own against Ryan Berk, from Easy Co. in the 101st. The detailed knowledge is not common with the relatively few frauds that create these lies. What is equally common is the exaggeration of rank and badges. These people are ultimately undone by their insatiable appetites for recognition — often promoting themselves to ridiculous levels like Major Generals or covering themselves with enough medals to make a Soviet General blush.
This encounter occurred in the Oxford Valley Mall near Philadelphia. Berk calls out the man and screams “Stolen Valor” and more profane descriptions as the man departs. One of the more humorous moments is when the man says that he is calling his “Sergeant Major” outside and Berk asks if he always goes shopping on Black Friday with his “Sergeant Major.” The man responds “sometimes.”
I was an outspoken critic of the original Stolen Valor Act was passed in 2005. It was later struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2012 as violative of the First Amendment. Congress then passed a largely meaningless law that made it a crime to attempt to profit from lies based on military service. It is largely redundant with existing laws and is only subject to a fine, imprisonment for up to one year, or both.