Jesse Ventura was awarded $1.8 million by a Minnesota jury last Tuesday in a defamation lawsuit against the late American Sniper author Chris Kyle who was tragically gunned down in early 2013. The verdict has stirred up a lot of emotion over the past week, especially from those in military circles. The lawsuit pitted two American heroes against one another and by many accounts, defied an age-old American code of honor.
Both men shared the honor and distinction of membership in the U.S. Navy SEALs, the Special Forces unit of the Navy that has officially protected the lives of U.S. citizens since 1962. Navy SEALs are touted as one of the top echelon special forces units in the world and represent a symbol of fortitude and true grit.
The SEAL code calls for action in the most dire and adverse of times, where one man stands above no other and his loyalty is to his country and to his team. SEALs seek no accolades or recognition, only to serve and protect. Their word is their bond and failure is never an option.
That is where the defamation suit brought by Jesse Ventura against Chris Kyle gets lost in translation and this is where many believe an American code of honor has been defied and broken. The federal jury ruled that Kyle’s 2012 best-selling autobiography defamed Ventura in what is described as a bar fight in 2006. In the book, Kyle writes that he decked a man he calls “Scruff Face” after he said the Navy SEALs “deserve to lose a few.” It was not until later in promotional interviews that Kyle identified the man as Ventura.
Eventually, that book would go onto sell more than 1.5 million copies, and that is when Ventura claims he became a pariah in the community that he loved – his brotherhood of SEALs. FOX News was trashing Ventura over the comments and the story was going viral and reaching millions. The $1.8 million was awarded for damages and harm done to Ventura’s reputation and the humiliation and embarrassment that he endured as a direct result of Kyle’s statements.
The one problem: Chris Kyle was not around to defend himself. The man regarded as the deadliest military sniper in U.S. history was long gone, shot and killed at a gun range by a fellow Marine veteran whom he was supposedly helping battle post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Instead, Chris Kyle’s widow, Taya Kyle became the central defendant in the case. Not only was the deceased Kyle not able to defend his actions from a lawsuit that was pending before his death, but Ventura was pushing forward in the matter against a grieving widow and single mother. His hopes were that his good name would be restored to him in time for what he told CNN’s Piers Morgan was a potential 2016 run at the Presidency.
After Tuesday’s verdict, even Ventura himself does not seem to think that is possible. According to the Washington Post, “I can’t go to UDT-SEAL reunions anymore,” Ventura said Tuesday, adding that it is not safe and that he would have to wonder who might be out to get him next. “I’d have to spend my time looking over my shoulder.”
There clearly are no real winners in this case. Both men’s names have been smeared as a result of the lawsuit. Ventura did get his day in court and he won. It was not the $15 million he was seeking, but he proved his word was stronger than that of a dead man.
Chris Kyle comes out of this legal action as no saint either. It will forever be his word against Jesse Ventura’s in life and in death. There are now accusations that he is nothing more than a fraud with a good story. There is also a movie set to be released in 2015 that stars Bradley Cooper as Kyle and directed by Clint Eastwood. It is hard to tell if that will rectify his good image. The only real truth in this matter is that the defamation suit brought against him by Jesse Ventura defies and betrays an American code of honor that never dies – the code of a Navy SEAL.
Opinion by Justin Williams