Jesse Ventura vs. Chris Kyle: A case where no one won

Jesse Ventura just walked away from a defamation lawsuit against late Navy SEAL Chris Kyle with $1.845 million. But the former Minnesota governor and WWE Hall of Famer is clearly walking away with some damage to his reputation as well.

A Minnesota jury decided Tuesday that Ventura had been defamed when Kyle alleged he had punched Ventura in a bar in 2006 over comments he made. The sniper claimed Ventura disparaged Navy SEALs and said that they “deserved to lose some” for their actions in the war. Ventura, in turn, insisted the whole event never happened, and the majority of the jury — it was an unusual split 8-2 decision — appeared to agree with him.

But in taking money from the Kyle estate, Ventura is taking a pounding from many military supporters and veterans. The common refrain: Even if Kyle lied about Ventura, they say, the defamation case should have been dropped after Kyle was shot to death on a gun range in Texas in 2013, allegedly by a Marine veteran he was helping through post-traumatic stress.

Even Anderson Cooper, CNN’s relatively unflappable newsman, weighed in viscerally Tuesday night. His response: “I cannot believe that Jesse Ventura successfully sued the widow of fallen Navy SEAL. Has he no shame?”

Cooper, challenged shortly afterward on Twitter on why Ventura should let people “trash” his name, fired back at a follower: “dude, I saw Jesse Ventura’s conspiracy theory tv show once, he’s done quite a good job of trashing his own name.”

High-profile SEAL Marcus Luttrell, the author of “Lone Survivor,” also piled on Ventura in tweets that went viral. “I don’t want to formally say anything because I don’t want to get sued,” he said, “but this about sums it up…”

Luttrell, whose own story of surviving a horrific ambush in Afghanistan has been challenged in part, then posted a sarcastic Internet meme. It acidly depicts Ventura in his WWF days with the message: “HIT ME.. I WON’T FIGHT BACK. ILL [sic] JUST WAIT FOR YOU TO DIE AND SUE YOUR WIFE.”

The trial verdict doesn’t help Kyle’s reputation, either, though. It has caused some to question anew the veracity of the details in Kyle’s book, just as a movie that will star Bradley Cooper as Kyle and get direction from Hollywood legend Clint Eastwood is in production. The issue has come up before, as Washington Post colleague Terrence McCoy points out this morning, but it will hang now as part of the narrative forever.


In this April 6, 2012, photo, former Navy SEAL and “American Sniper” author Chris Kyle poses in Midlothian, Tex. (AP Photo/The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Paul Moseley)

Kyle said in his bestselling 2012 book “American Sniper” that he punched out a celebrity in a bar after a verbal altercation. In the book, he didn’t identify the celebrity as Ventura, but did so in media interviews later.

Royalties from Kyle’s bestselling book are believed to be in excess of $3 million, and the movie, set for release in 2015, could earn many more.

Not surprisingly, though, his widow’s lawyer, John Borger, acknowledged to the Star-Tribune in Minnesota on Tuesday that she was upset when she heard about the verdict. She had returned to the family’s home in Texas to be with the two children she had with Kyle.

Ventura, for his part, told the Star-Tribune on Tuesday that he understands he will no longer be welcome at reunions of veterans who served as SEALs or in the Navy’s Underwater Demolition Teams. He has spent years around them, and served with UDT units based in the Philippines in the 1970s, before remaining UDTs were redesignated as SEAL Delivery Vehicle Teams in the 1980s.

“I can’t go to UDT-SEAL reunions anymore because that was the place I always felt safe, and who will be next to throw me under the bus?” Ventura said Tuesday. “I’d have to spend my time looking over my shoulder.”

Dan Lamothe covers national security for The Washington Post and anchors its military blog, Checkpoint.
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Dan Lamothe · July 29