I have a confession to make to several women I knew in college: I did not, in fact, play hockey in high school. And that scar over my left eye? Yeah, that was not from a high stick, but from my sister pushing me into the legs of a rocking chair when I was two years old. But the hockey narrative always seemed sexier to me. Besides, when you asked about those hockey pants I so often liked to wear (which once belonged to a friend who did in fact play high school hockey), I just found it more beneficial to my ego if I cast my lot with Gretzky.
Pastor Jim Moats can no doubt relate to this line of thinking, as the Pennsylvania clergyman reportedly regaled his congregation with stories about his service in the Navy SEALs—a bald-faced lie that Moats had been spreading for more than five years, and which blew up in his face when he shared stories about his past with a local newspaper and real Navy SEALs began questioning the verity of these items—which, they noted, shared elements with Steven Seagal’s character in Under Siege.
Moats, who served in the Navy from 1970-74 but did not fight in Vietnam, had told The Patriot-News in Pennsylvania that he “ was subjected to waterboarding when he trained at Little Creek Amphibious Base in Virginia Beach in 1971 and was assigned dishwashing duty for his bad attitude.
“I had almost no discipline. I was as wild as they came. That was my nemesis,” he told the paper, which was interviewing avowed veterans for a story. “They weren’t looking for a guy who brags to everyone he is a SEAL. They wanted somebody who was ready but had an inner confidence and didn’t have a braggadocio attitude.”
Seagal’s character was assigned to be a chef in Under Siege in part because of his bad attitude.
When confronted about the suspicions of real SEALs, Moats confessed.
“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.”
Retired SEAL Don Shipley said Moats is not the first pastor to claim service in the elite unit, which was most recently credited with killing Osama bin Laden.
“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.”
Before you build up the flock, you need to build up yourself. And claiming to be a Navy SEAL is really going for the brass ring. Still, I can relate to the impetus behind Moats’ decision. He probably never thought he’d get caught. Or maybe he thought the risk was worth whatever temporary boost in self-esteem he experienced. It doesn’t make him a horrible person. Heck, I cast my vote for Richard Blumenthal in the 2010 Senate race from Connecticut even after he got caught taking liberties with his Vietnam record. Why? Because as a reporter in Greenwich, Connecticut, I’d followed his career for many years and felt the good deeds he’d done (and could continue to do) outweighed his transgression.
At one time or another, almost everyone I’ve known has played a little fast and loose with some aspect of their backgrounds, often as a means of casting themselves in a more positive light. Some people just take it way further than others, perhaps because they find success with it.
For my part, that line about playing hockey never curried any favor with the ladies. If it had, well, I might have augmented it to say I’d been on the 1980 U.S. hockey team that beat the Russians. Granted, I would have been seven years old at the time, but we don’t often think of the consequences—specifically, how foolish we’re going to look—when we start lying.
(Photo: Read the Movies)