The 6 most shocking military impostors ever
There’s stolen valor and then there’s you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me-stolen-and-savaged valor. Check out the faux military cred antics of these guys:
1. The fake Green Beret who botched a civilian rescue mission
People first noticed something fishy about the obese “Green Beret” when he tried to buy some ATV’s on discount for his fellow soldiers. An active-duty sergeant quickly noticed that despite the captain’s ranking on his uniform, William James Clark was wearing a black beret. Seriously?
Then things went from slimy to sinister: On May 26, 2002, a tugboat crashed into a bridge on the Arkansas River in Oklahoma, killing 14 people and sending more into the water. People rushed to the river, desperately trying to save the victims. Then you-know-who showed up.
Not only did Clark tell the emergency responders that he was in charge — disrupting the professionals who included members of the Army Corps of Engineers, National Transportation Safety Board and the FBI — he also went through the victims’ personal items and commandeered a truck from a nearby dealership on “The National Guard’s orders”. Class act.
But wait, there’s more: A real Army officer died in the accident, so Clark took it upon himself to break the news to the man’s widow, keeping up the charade even in the face of a dead man’s grieving wife.
“Captain” Clark was finally called out by the town mayor, at which point he fled to Canada where he hid for a few days before getting locked up in federal prison.
2. The “veteran” professor who fooled his whole school — and an entire academic field
Dedicating yourself to a life of teaching others is a valiant occupation — unless you’re William Hillar, and the “knowledge” you’re passing on is actually complete BS. This “former army colonel” faked a PhD and was teaching college students about counter-terrorism, drug smuggling, and human trafficking .
He also claimed that the movie “Taken” was inspired by his own life — he said his daughter actually died in real life after being sold into sex slavery and getting hacked to death with machetes. Schools and conferences around the country scrambled to get Hillar to speak at their events. And it wasn’t just civilians he fooled; many of his students were active-duty service members.
After 10 years of this charade, Hillar finally ignited the suspicions of the special forces community, and the impostor — who had never served in the military or even graduated college — was outed as a fraud once and for all.
3. The serial impersonator who BS’d his way to the White House
As shockingly easy as it was for our previous contenders to commit stolen valor in recent years, it was basically a cake walk in 1915. This was a time before CAC cards and internet databases, so if you woke up and decided you wanted to impersonate a Navy sailor, most people would have taken it at face value.
Which is exactly what Stanley Clifford Weyman decided to do — for over ten years. For Weymen’s first trick he disguised himself as a Romanian sailor, referring to himself as Lieutenant Commander Ethan Allen Weinberg and boarding the USS Wyoming unannounced. Surprisingly, the U.S. Navy was cool with this, accepting that he was just a friendly foreign officer. Apparently all you needed was a weird-looking uniform and a smile to dupe people back then — simpler times.
After an inspection, “Commander Weinberg” invited the officers to dine with him at the Astor Hotel, one of New York City’s finest establishments of the day. The captain was thrilled, and the dinner went swimmingly — until the police rolled in and cuffed Weyman, who reportedly asked if he could at least finish dessert first. (Probably not the way he envisioned the evening going.)
This wasn’t Weyman’s first duplicitous dinner, either; in 1910 he faked being the American consul to Morocco as a ticket into all of New York’s fanciest restaurants, sending the bill to the U.S. government after each meal before finally getting caught.
You would think that after this many busted dinners, Weyman would lose his appetite for crime. You would be wrong. In 1921, this serial impostor decided to take his one-man show to the big leagues, and ended up shaking hands with the president of the United States. Yes, you read that right.
To pull of his greatest stunt, Weyman donned a U.S. Navy uniform and reached out to an Afghan princess named Fatima, who was visiting the states at the time. Weyman convinced her that he was from the State Department and could arrange a meeting between her and President Warren G. Harding for the low, low price of $10,000 ($130,000 today). Fatima conceded, excited to meet the president.
But Weyman didn’t stop once he got his cash. Instead of ditching Fatima, he was true to his word, and got her the meeting with the president.
He also lost the $10,000 because he needed to rent a private boxcar suite for the princess to travel in from New York to Washington and set her up in a fancy hotel once she arrived, but this guy was in it for the thrill, not the money.
And thrill he got. The meeting happened, he met Harding, and no one was the wiser until some members of the press realized that this random naval officer looked a hell of a lot like the crazy guy who kept getting arrested for masquerading as random naval officers.
Weyman was arrested after the meeting, again. He would later get out after his two-year sentence and continue impersonating military personnel and getting arrested until the end of his days, living out his weird criminal dreams.
4. The dude who assembled his own fake Special Forces unit
You know the saying “shoot for the moon and you’ll land among the stars”? This guy took it a little too seriously.
David Deng decided that it was time to move on from civilian life, and what better way to do that than by cutting out the middle man and creating your own special forces unit?
Deng knew that in order to get this “operation” off the ground he would need something very important — recruits. Deng preyed on Chinese immigrants who had recently moved to the Los Angeles area, guaranteeing them eventual citizenship and better luck with the ladies. Sadly, over 100 gullible hopefuls “enlisted” into Deng’s secret program, paying hundreds of dollars for the chance at a better life.
Deng led the young men in drills he’d learned from old training manuals, and issued everyone uniforms and IDs he purchased from an apparently very sweet, trusting military surplus store.
Deng’s Special Forces had a good run, as far as fake military units go. The group got to take a private military tour at the USS Midway Museum, and marched in Los Angeles’ Chinese New Year parades. They became very popular among the local Chinese-American community, and few people questioned their legitimacy.
The guy even created his own fake training school by converting an old store front he bought into something that vaguely resembled a military building — all you need is some flags, right?
Everything was roses until Deng’s recruits, so convinced that they were real soldiers, showed up at real military bases to renew their military memberships. After some confusion, and undoubtedly laughter, the base called the FBI and Deng was arrested.
5. The politician who faked a military record — and paralysis — to make it to Congress
Politics can be dirty. If we’ve learned anything from “House of Cards“, it’s that everyone has a secret, and it’s only a matter of time before your enemies drag yours out and strangle you with it. Utah Representative Douglas Stringfellow was no exception in this regard. His road to success was nearly as murky and duplicitous as Frank Underwood’s (except for the murdering Zoe part).
Stringfellow knew that a surefire way to earn the love of the American people was to have a military record. Luckily, he had one — a WWII hero and a Silver Star winner, exactly what 1950s America wanted from a leader as the Cold War loomed closer. Or at least, that’s what he told people.
Stringfellow claimed that he was a member of the elite OSS (Office of Strategic Services), a WII-born intelligence agency that would later evolve into the CIA. As such, he undertook a mission to save nuclear scientist Otto Hahn from the Nazis, only to be captured and tortured by the Germans until he was left paralyzed from the waist down.
Too good to be true? Well . . . yes, actually. Stringfellow was really just a private in the Air Force, not a scientist-saving hot shot that got tortured by Nazi cronies. The OSS thing and the Silver Star were BS too. But the most shocking lie of them all? He wasn’t paralyzed.
Utah bought the wheelchair routine, however, and voted him into office. But after two years in the position, his secret got out, and his image was completely destroyed. Even The Church of Latter-Day Saints, Stringfellow’s place of worship, shamed him — forcing him to make a public confession of his misdeeds.
6. The guy who faked PTSD — on television
Sometimes impostors are cunning. Sometimes they’re crazy. And sometimes, as in this case, they’re both. 45-year-old Brian Camacho — aka Brian Kahn – managed to convince Military Minds, a community network that helps veterans find treatment for PTSD, that he needed help after several deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. Military Minds sent him to Canada to receive medical assistance, and no one questioned his legitimacy. And why would they? The guy was decked out in a full military uniform, complete with eagle, globe and anchor tattoo.
It wasn’t long after this arrangement, however, that Kahn’s brother Ian came forward, confessing his brother’s real name — and the fact that he had never served in the military. In an interview with the Military Times, Ian Kahn lamented that “It’s all a game to him. He really believes he went to Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Kahn also appeared in one of Military Minds’s promotional videos, once again referring to himself as Marine 1st Sgt. Brian Camacho. The whole situation is sad and weird, but the fact that this guy claimed that he suffered from PTSD, a very real and debilitating challenge for many servicemen and women who return home, is just sick. Stolen valor is one thing, but this is just mind boggling.
You can see Kahn in the short video below, bulls**ing his way through a Q&A as if he has actually served.