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2010-02-12
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Crime of Impersonating a Soldier and Falsely Claiming Medals

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So I was just browsing around the web the other day when a random headline in an RSS feed caught my eye. It was about a legal case between Rick Strandlof, the ACLU and the government. In a nutshell, this guy was arrested after being exposed for faking his survival of the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon and being a disabled vet after surviving a roadside IED in Iraq. He was using these claims to found and operate the Colorado Veterans Alliance, an organization that questionably funneled donations for wounded vets to Strandlof. One of the peculiar twists to his story is that he used his false resume (which included being a Naval Academy graduate) to pitch an anti-war message at rallies and actually raise positive awareness for actual disabled vets. Fellow [real] veterans that he worked with said, "It seems like his heart was in the right place. He was a really hard worker. He did a lot of good by raising a lot of awareness, but then you find out that he's a fraud."

The fraud part aside, two Title 18 Federal laws apply to this situation. USC Title 18 § 702 covers wearing of the uniform without authority in the context of impersonating a soldier and USC Title 18 § 704 covers falsely claiming military medals (to include a section specifically for fraudulently claiming a Medal of Honor). The ACLU and the Rutherford Institute got involved with Strandlof's defense, claiming First Amendment rights protect his freedom to speech and expression as the lie of his background doesn't hurt anyone as in the clear and present danger application. The government has responded to the defense arguing the Stolen Valor Act of 2005 (pdf) does not trample First Amendment rights, indicating the case will move forward.

NOTE: Curious, why choose the Naval Academy for false bona fides? I suppose claiming to be part of the Nation's Fourth Best Military Academy makes one more likely to fly under the radar.


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