By Liz Goodwin
May 9, 2011
Disgrace of a pastor lied to his congregation, and local news outlets that he was a Valorous Navy Seal during the Vietnam War. He had to be sleuthed out by actual era navy seals before he would confess his stories were nothing but a pack of lies. Which seem to have been borrowed from a 1992 Steven Segal film “Under Siege” In looking up the church online it appears that Moats has neither resigned, nor has his church demanded that he pack up and leave.
In the wake of the dramatic Navy SEAL raid on Osama bin Laden's compound earlier this month, it was perhaps to be expected that some expansive soul would step forward to claim the prestige of a fabricated tour as a SEAL for himself. Such tall tales are not uncommon, after all, amid high-profile military actions.
This time the exposed fabricator was a preacher--though people who monitor this brand of public lie note that members of the clergy are often tempted into such misrepresentations. More curious still, the prevaricator in question seems to have lifted at least some details of his account from the 1992 Steven Seagal SEAL-themed blockbuster, "Under Siege."
Yes, as his area newspaper, the central Pennsylvania Patriot-News, pulled
together a dispatch on the exploits of the elite Navy operation, Jim Moats, the
Moats told his church for five years that he was a former SEAL, and even once wore the elite program's gold Trident medal around town. He elaborated on that tale when his local paper contacted him last week as it was reporting a story about the rigors of SEAL training in the wake of the SEAL raid on Osama bin Laden's compound.
Among other things, Moats said he was subjected to waterboarding
when he trained at Little Creek Amphibious Base in
Several former SEALs wrote into The Patriot-News casting doubt on the reverend's account of his service.
"We deal with these guys all the time, especially the clergy. It's amazing how many of the clergy are involved in those lies to build that flock up," said retired SEAL Don Shipley. Shipley also speculated the waterboarding and kitchen details came from the action depicted in "Under Siege."
Moats fessed up to his whopper, and admitted he
bought the Trident medal at a military surplus store. "I never was in a class, I never served as an actual SEAL. It was my dream.
... I don't even know if I would have met the qualifications. I never knew what
the qualifications were," he told the Patriot-News. Moats did serve in the
Navy from 1970-74, but did not fight in
The paper, meanwhile, is unapologetic for printing Moats' prevarications.
"The Patriot-News regularly interviews veterans to tell their stories. We do not regularly ask those we interview for proof of their service, believing these men and women would not lie and dishonor those who have fought bravely defending our country," the paper said in a special note to readers about the incident.
The practice of claiming false military credentials is by no means confined
to comparatively lesser known public figures such as Moats. Accusations of
exaggeration and lies about military service dogged the last election
cycle. In 2008, Senate candidates Mark Kirk and Richard Blumenthal were called
for exaggerating their military service, though both still won their races.
Kirk's web site said he served "in Operation Iraqi Freedom," when he
was serving stateside, and Blumenthal incorrectly suggested he served in
In 2005, President George W. Bush signed the Stolen Valor Act into law--legislation that made it a federal crime to claim false military honors. A recent federal appellate court ruling determined that the law's provisions were an unconstitutional abridgment of free speech. A version of the same legislation is now before Congress, with language designed to avoid the free-speech quandaries raised by the 2005 law.
(Jenny Kane/The Patriot-News)