It was Sept. 29, 2006, when Master at Arms 2nd Class Michael Monsoor smothered a grenade in Ramadi, Iraq, to shield other Navy SEALs and Iraqi soldiers they were working with from harm. His actions immediately became the stuff of military legend, and resulted in a posthumous Medal of Honor in 2008.
The resulting wake the following month spawned another story that, in turn, led to a high-profile defamation suit being heard in court this week.
Fellow SEAL Chris Kyle said in his bestselling 2012 book “American Sniper” that he punched out a celebrity in a bar while mourning Monsoor’s death with other SEALs after the individual “started running his mouth about the war and everything and anything he could connect to it.” That included President George W. Bush and deployed SEALs, who “were doing the wrong thing, killing men and women and children and murdering,” the man said, according to Kyle’s book.
Kyle, who was shot to death in 2013, said in his book that he tried to get the man — identified only as “Mr. Scruff Face” — to keep it down, and he responded by saying the the SEALs in the bar “deserve to a lose a few.” The man eventually took a swing at him, Kyle alleged, and all hell broke loose.
“Being level-headed and calm can last only so long,” Kyle said in his book. “I laid him out. Tables flew. Stuff happened. Scruff Face ended up on the floor.”
Kyle concluded: “I have no way of knowing for sure, but rumor has it he showed up at the [SEAL] graduation with a black eye.”
It’s far from the only dramatic part in Kyle’s book — at one point, he accuses his commanding officer during the March 2003 invasion of Iraq of being a coward for failing to involve them in more combat. But it’s the “Scruff Face” passage that now has Kyle’s widow in court facing Jesse Ventura, the former governor of Minnesota, WWF wrestler and Vietnam War era veteran. Ventura sued Kyle in 2012 after the sniper said in media interviews like this one that the individual in question was Ventura, and that Kyle punched him in the face.
Disclaimer: There’s some rough language in this radio interview Kyle did with the “Opie and Anthony Show,” but it’s believed to be the first place he named Ventura as “Scruff Face”:
The whole mess is in court now, as a Hollywood film version of Kyle’s book makes its way through production with a planned 2015 release. It will star Bradley Cooper as Kyle, and is directed by Clint Eastwood. Other Navy SEALs will reportedly have roles in the film.
Ventura pursued the defamation lawsuit against Kyle even after police said the sniper was shot to death by a fellow veteran on a Texas gun range in February 2013. Ventura says the incident never happened, and that it is important for him to clear his name. But critics have pointed out that he is doing so as the profits from “American Sniper” continue to pour in — they’re reportedly over $3 million. Ventura has said that he was worried about looking like a traitor, considering his own ties to the Navy and its Underwater Demolition Teams, which were merged with modern SEAL teams in the 1980s, after he served.
It will be a tough case for Ventura to win. As a public figure, he must prove to the jury that Kyle knew the story was false, or that he told it without regard for the truth. Kyle’s widow, Taya, said in court Wednesday that her husband doesn’t lie, and that he planned to donate the proceeds from his book to charity. The trial is expected to take about three weeks.
UPDATE: July 9, 10:45 a.m.: This post has been updated to clarify the relationship between the Navy’s UDT units and modern SEAL teams.
UPDATE: July 11, 3:15 p.m.: The excellent special operations website SOFREP.com takes on the controversy over whether Ventura should be allowed to call himself a SEAL veteran. The opinion of Brandon Webb, a SEAL veteran himself: “Like it or not, Jesse Ventura is a Navy SEAL. He did the pushups and put up with the cold water, just like the rest of us.”