So far, in cases about the Stolen Valor Act, federal judges have ruled that lying about earning military medals is harmless and should be protected speech. But Lovefraud’s research seems to indicate that people who pretend to be military heroes do it specifically to exploit others.
Right now, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver is considering the case of Rick Strandlof. Back in 2009, Strandlof was arrested for falsely claiming that he was a former Marine, had served in Iraq, and received the Purple Heart and Silver Star medals. Going by the name of Rick Duncan, Strandlof presented himself as a veterans’ advocate through the Colorado Veterans Alliance, which he founded. In reality, he never served in the military.
Read: Phony Marine due for arrest on DenverPost.com.
Watch YouTube video: Fake Marine Rick Duncan talks during forum in Colorado
Strandlof was prosecuted and convicted under the Stolen Valor Act, which makes it illegal to falsely claim to have been awarded a military medal. He appealed, arguing that his lies were protected by the First Amendment as free speech. A federal judge bought his argument and threw out the case last year, ruling that the U.S. government had not shown a compelling reason to restrict lying about earning medals. Prosecutors appealed to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The appeals court decision has not yet been released.
Xavier Alvarez case
A similar case was prosecuted in California, with similar results—Xavier Alvarez lied about being a military hero, was convicted, appealed, and a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Stolen Valor Act was unconstitutional.
Lovefraud covered the case in this post: Freedom to lie: Stolen Valor Act ruled unconstitutional.
Having lost that round, prosecutors asked for the case to be reheard by the entire 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The request was denied, meaning that the Stolen Valor Act, according to the 9th Circuit Court, was still unconstitutional, and lying was protected speech.
Concurring with the decision, Chief Judge Alex Kozinski wrote:
The Court has recognized that “[o]ne fundamental concern of the First Amendment is to ‘protec[t] the individual’s interest in self-expression.’ ” Speaking about oneself is precisely when people are most likely to exaggerate, obfuscate, embellish, omit key facts or tell tall tales. Self expression that risks prison if it strays from the monotonous reporting of strictly accurate facts about oneself is no expression at all.
Saints may always tell the truth, but for mortals living means lying. We lie to protect our privacy (“No, I don’t live around here”); to avoid hurt feelings (“Friday is my study night”); to make others feel better (“Gee you’ve gotten skinny”); to avoid recriminations (“I only lost $10 at poker”); to prevent grief (“The doc says you’re getting better”); to maintain domestic tranquility (“She’s just a friend”); to avoid social stigma (“I just haven’t met the right woman”); for career advancement (“I’m sooo lucky to have a smart boss like you”); to avoid being lonely (“I love opera”); to eliminate a rival (“He has a boyfriend”); to achieve an objective (“But I love you so much”); to defeat an objective (“I’m allergic to latex”); to make an exit (“It’s not you, it’s me”); to delay the inevitable (“The check is in the mail”); to communicate displeasure (“There’s nothing wrong”); to get someone off your back (“I’ll call you about lunch”); to escape a nudnik (“My mother’s on the other line”); to namedrop (“We go way back”); to set up a surprise party (“I need help moving the piano”); to buy time (“I’m on my way”); to keep up appearances (“We’re not talking divorce”); to avoid taking out the trash (“My back hurts”); to duck an obligation (“I’ve got a headache”); to maintain a public image (“I go to church every Sunday”); to make a point (“Ich bin ein Berliner”); to save face (“I had too much to drink”); to humor (“Correct as usual, King Friday”); to avoid embarrassment (“That wasn’t me”); to curry favor (“I’ve read all your books”); to get a clerkship (“You’re the greatest living jurist”); to save a dollar (“I gave at the office”); or to maintain innocence (“There are eight tiny reindeer on the rooftop”).
And we don’t just talk the talk, we walk the walk, as reflected by the popularity of plastic surgery, elevator shoes, wood veneer paneling, cubic zirconia, toupees, artificial turf and cross-dressing. Last year, Americans spent $40 billion on cosmetics—an industry devoted almost entirely to helping people deceive each other about their appearance. It doesn’t matter whether we think that such lies are despicable or cause more harm than good. An important aspect of personal autonomy is the right to shape one’s public and private persona by choosing when to tell the truth about oneself, when to conceal and when to deceive. Of course, lies are often disbelieved or discovered, and that too is part of the pull and tug of social intercourse. But it’s critical to leave such interactions in private hands, so that we can make choices about who we are. How can you develop a reputation as a straight shooter if lying is not an option? (Citations omitted.)
Read United States v. Xavier Alvarez, Order denying petition for panel rehearing. Judge Kozinski’s opinion begins on page 3756.
Meet Rick Gold
So that’s the background. The news is that Rick Strandlof is at it again. Recently, he gave himself another fake name, “Rick Gold,” and claimed to be an oil and gas attorney in Denver. He also claimed to be suffering from PTSD from war-related injuries. Strandlof wormed his way into a network of young Jewish professionals, sponging off of his new friends for Passover dinners and sleeping on their couches. He blamed his persistent body odor on a medical condition, when the problem apparently was that he was homeless and had no place to shower.
Read Man unmasked as fake military hero in springs reappears as “lawyer” in the Highlands on DenverPost.com.
What does Rick Strandlof’s new adventures mean for his appeals case before the 10th Circuit Court? Strandlof didn’t commit any crimes through his deceptions. All he got were some Passover dinners. He came off as “quirky,” not exploitative.So I fear Strandlof’s “Jewish professional” persona will reinforce the idea that lies like his are harmless.
Lying to exploit
All lies are not created equal. Yes, the lies that Judge Alex Kozinski quoted above are more like social niceties than crimes. But other lies are tools for people who have ulterior motives.
People who violate the Stolen Valor Act and lie about military heroism are trying to cloak themselves in the respect most of us have for true military heroes. These liars are often not harmless wannabes. They have targeted people to exploit. In order for the exploitation to be successful, they must convince the targets to trust them. Once these liars have secured the trust, they turn around and abuse it.
Earlier this year, Lovefraud conducted our Romantic Partner Survey. Readers filled out the survey describing their relationships with individuals who they now believe to be sociopaths. This was one of the questions:
When you first met, or early in your involvement, did the individual claim to be any of the following, which you later learned to be false?
Possible answers to the question were Special Forces/military, Law enforcement/CIA/spy, clergy, entrepreneur, religious/born again, medical professional and none.
We collected 1,352 responses, and 555 respondents, or 48% of the total, said the individuals they were involved with made no false claims. But 114 respondents—10% of the total—said the individual falsely claimed to be Special Forces/military.
Another part of the survey asked about the harm people suffered because of their relationships with the sociopaths. Looking at the data, it appears those who falsely claimed to be military specifically went into the relationships to drain the resources of their victims. Compare the results:
|Harm suffered as a result of the relationship||No false claims||Falsely claimed military|
|Lost under $5,000||23%||18%|
|Lost more than $500,000||5%||11%|
|Physically abused or injured||31%||37%|
|Life was threatened||24%||44%|
|Respondent considered or attempted suicide||38%||28%|
|Sociopath threatened or committed suicide||18%||27%|
|Individual cheated on respondent||72%||81%|
|Lawsuits filed against respondent||16%||26%|
|Criminal charges filed against respondent||10%||16%|
And how did the survey respondents describe the military wannabes? Here are some quotes:
Tried to sell a friends kidney on ebay. Was furious when the ad was taken down. Tried to steal a dog out of a yard for a reward. Would steal things from stores.
Taught children in his care how to kill someone without the means being detected, among other similar things.
No conscience or empathy whatsoever. Enjoyed exploiting people and would find their weaknesses amusing. Not financially, just emotionally. Thought they were “suckers”.
I would watch him “change” demeanor or ways of walking or body language according to who he was speaking to or heading towards in a room. He could manipulate people to think and say what he wanted them to think and say—even if it was contrary to what their deeply held beliefs were. I saw a counselor turn against his wife and start to fight her in a counseling session.
The actor, entertainer, life of the party. Mask came off … and total opposite, mocked those who admired him behind their back. Valued them for the reaction he got while ‘acting’ in front of them. Nearly violent if the truth was shown about him.
These are the people who lie about being in the military. Do we really want their lies to be protected by the freedom of speech?
P.S. Complete survey results will appear in my new book, Red Flags of Love Fraud—10 Signs that you’re dating a sociopath, which will be published early next year.