The veteran — a former infantryman with the 101st Airborne Division — lobs a series of questions at the heavyset man in uniform while at Oxford Valley Mall near Philadelphia. He appears confused when asked why is wearing more than one Combat Infantry Badge, an award for those who have personally been in combat, and a U.S. flag on the wrong part of his sleeve.
“You got me on that one, buddy,” the man in uniform says, moving the flag higher on his shoulder at the direction of the veteran.
The situation escalates, with the veteran cursing at the man in uniform and calling him a liar.
“Why don’t you just admit you’re a phony?” the veteran says. “You know that’s illegal, right?”
DISCLAIMER: The videos in this blog post include profanity.
The clip has been viewed more than 2 million times since it was posted Black Friday. But it’s hardly the only one like it. It illustrates a broader trend in which veterans and active-duty troops spot people they believe are faking military service, confront them on video and then post the results on social media.
“I watched this guy talk to this little kid for like 10, 15 minutes. I heard him say he was Special Forces,” the veteran in the video, Ryan Beck, told Army Times. “Nothing added up with this dude.”
U.S. troops and veterans have long loathed those who fake military service. But in an era of social media and cell phone cameras, they now expose them rapidly, with the videos distributed widely with scorn because of the sales discounts, free drinks and other perks faking military service can yield.
But the practice also has a dark side. The fiancee of the man in the video, told Army Times that they have faced fierce cyber bullying, with contact information and family photographs posted online. Beck told the newspaper that was never his intention.
“That’s a shame,” Berk said. “His kids obviously have nothing to do with it. That’s wrong. That wasn’t my intention. My intention was to have this guy put on blast so he stops doing it.”
The video was first posted by the Guardian of Valor website, which has a “Hall of Shame” for those caught faking. Army Staff Sgt. Anthony Anderson, an infantryman and website administrator, said he thinks the clip went viral because civilians don’t understand why faking military service is looked at so negatively by the troops and veterans.
“They don’t understand the anger he felt because he had lost friends wearing that uniform, had friends wounded in combat,” Anderson said. “So they want to watch because they are trying to figure out why it makes Veterans so angry.”
In another video example, a female veteran calls out a man claiming to be an Army major, despite saying he is only 21 years old. Earning that rank typically takes about eight to 12 years.
Another video distributed widely this year shows Marines confronting a man wearing an Army dress uniform with a dubious stack of medals on it. The man is wearing the uniform of a sergeant major — an enlisted soldier — but tells the Marines he is an officer.
The troops who confront the alleged fakers in these videos aren’t wrong about fraudulently wearing a military uniform being a crime, although there is some nuance to it. The Stolen Valor Act of 2013 says it is illegal for someone to wear military awards like the Medal of Honor, Navy Cross or Purple Heart “to obtain money, property, or other tangible benefit.”
An earlier version of the Stolen Valor Act was passed in 2005, but tossed out by the Supreme Court in 2012 for infringing on the First Amendment. The newer version of the law doesn’t make it a crime to lie about military service, but says that anyone found guilty of attempting to profit from it is subject to a fine, imprisonment for up to one year, or both.