We've all met a bullshitter -- the guy who claims he's been in a ton of street fights, or a secret agent. But nothing is worse than the fake war heroes -- dudes who want all of the glory and cool stories of people who served without the actual "risking their lives" part. It's not surprising that those ridiculous, compulsive liars exist. It's surprising that some of them managed to fool the world.
William James Clark liked to pretend to be a Green Beret. That doesn't mean he was good at it, mind you. In fact, we would have named Clark the worst impostor in the history of military fakers ... had his own government not believed him.
For instance, in 2010, an active-duty sergeant saw this whale of a man lumber by him in Army combat fatigues at a gun show. Of particular note were the special forces patch on his arm and his rank, which was captain. Also of note, he was claiming to be a member of the Army special forces group the Green Berets, yet he was wearing a black beret. Clark was hitting up an ATV representative for a special deal on a few for "his guys." To review, an overweight man in uniform indicating that he was an officer in the Green Berets was trying to convince someone to sell him ATVs for use in combat, all while wearing the wrong colored hat. He pretty much did stuff like this every day.
Via Sean Linnane
"I, uh, eat an extra serving of dessert for each of my fallen comrades."
For instance, two years prior, Clark called up the Russian embassy to warn them that his unit was planning to assassinate Vladimir Putin. Because he's totally a Green Beret, you guys, and that's how they operate.
But it's all harmless fun, right? Just a random crazy guy who found a uniform ...
Via Sean Linnane
"The government issued me a license to bulge."
Who the Hell Bought This?
On May 26, 2002, the captain of a tugboat lost control of the vessel and collided with the Interstate 40 bridge on the Arkansas River in Oklahoma. What followed was a scene of total chaos -- 14 people died in the disaster. Folks nearby and even the tugboat crew immediately began to render aid to those in the water. You know, like people are wont to do in an emergency. And then fake Green Beret Billy James Clark appeared on the scene.
What a disaster like this needs is a complete imbecile to show up and take charge.
Clark announced to approximately 20 local, state, and federal responding agencies on the scene that he was in charge. And they believed him. This included staff attached to organizations like the FBI, National Transportation Safety Board, and Army Corps of Engineers. For almost three days, Clark supervised rescue and recovery efforts, which for him meant things like going through the victims' personal effects, commandeering the use of a pickup truck from the local dealership (he told the owner that the National Guard had sent all their vehicles out of the country), and securing seven or eight rooms at a nearby hotel that only he'd use.
Oh, and it turned out that an actual Army officer died in the accident, so "Captain" Clark secured the soldier's briefcase, inside which he found a phone number for the man's widow. Naturally, he took it upon himself to give her the terrible news. You know, as a fellow officer.
Via Sean Linnane
Yeah, we're guessing the sort of mental problems he has are incurable.
Eventually he was called out by the mayor of a nearby small town, and of course Clark turned himself in and apologized for the ruckus caused by assuming command of a situation he was not remotely qualified to handle.
Oh, wait, no. He instead packed up his "borrowed" pickup and headed north to make a run for the border, which he successfully crossed, only to be caught days later and eventually sent to federal prison.
If you spent time in a public school, there's a good chance you had at least one teacher who didn't have any goddamn idea what they were talking about (no matter how hard they work, it's rough when budget cuts force the gym teacher to muddle through a semester of botany). But if you're taking a class that deals with matters of life and death, you usually assume that you're listening to an expert. Which brings us to William "Bill" Hillar.
Hillar claimed to be a retired army colonel and (again) Green Beret, an expert with a Ph.D. who taught classes in counter-terrorism, human trafficking, and drug smuggling. He wasn't any of those things. You'd think he wouldn't get five minutes into his first lecture before somebody called him on his bullshit. You'd be wrong.
Ironically, he actually looks like a math teacher.
Who the Hell Bought This?
Hillar, who in his classes claimed that the Liam Neeson movie Taken was based on his life (he said his daughter died in the real incident), spent a decade spreading his "expertise" on the subject. From the late '90s, schools and employers lined up to throw money at Hillar to come give classes and workshops on the art of punching terrorists in the throat. And please keep in mind, he wasn't fooling a bunch of college freshmen with this stuff -- his students were mostly active-duty military or police types engaged in continuing education on topics like human trafficking, drug smuggling, and "tactical counter-terror." His students got a syllabus including such otherwise unobtainable information as articles in The Atlantic, Charlie Wilson's War, and Executive Order 12333.
Via Elon University
That's him on the left, being honored as a hometown hero.
The incredible thing is that it only took over 10 years of his "teaching" to finally get the attention of actual members of the special forces community. Then, in 2010, it was revealed that Hillar was never in the Army, had not graduated from college, and had never told a terrorist over the phone that he would find him and kill him.
This is the first entry in which we find out that wearing a military uniform is apparently universally accepted as a form of ID.
It was 1915, and a guy in a funny uniform claiming to be from the Romanian navy showed up where the flagship of the Atlantic fleet, USS Wyoming, was berthed. His name was Lieutenant Commander Ethan Allen Weinberg. That was not his real name, and he was not really a member of any navy. He was just a man who figured out that a fancy uniform gets you through the door anywhere.
"Pardon the intrusion, but I'm afraid I'm going to have to commandeer this strip club. For America."
Who the Hell Bought This?
Being an apparent foreign officer from a friendly country, Weinberg was invited aboard for an inspection, which he gladly accepted. It went swimmingly, and afterward "Commander Weinberg" invited the officers to a dinner at the Astor Hotel the following day, which the captain proceeded to accept. The dinner was a grand affair, the Astor being one of the best hotels in New York, and everyone had a great time. Well, until a couple of cops showed up and arrested "Commander Weinberg," who was heard to remark that they should have waited until dessert.
Yeah, it turns out that this wasn't the first time he'd faked his way into free food. The guy was actually named Stanley Clifford Weyman, and he had played the VIP as early as 1910, when he was busted pretending to be the American consul to Morocco, dining at upscale New York restaurants and having the bill sent to the government.
"Sir, I'm afraid we'll need a little bit more information than just 'the government.'"
But then, in 1921, he bluffed his way into meeting the goddamned president of the USA. In the White House.
To pull this off, Weyman put on a Navy uniform again and approached a princess from Afghanistan named Fatima. He told her he was from the State Department, and that he could get her a meeting with the president if she would pay him $10,000. She did, and since that's like $130,000 today, most men would have considered the con over and skipped town with the cash. But Stanley Clifford Weyman was not most men.
Instead, our impostor turned around and bluffed his way into actually getting her a meeting with President Warren G. Harding. How did he do that? Simple: by pretending to the Navy that he was in the State Department, and then pretending to the State Department that he was in the Navy. The guy was just so freaking convincing that nobody ever felt the need to verify what he was saying. Weyman used the $10,000 to rent a private boxcar to get the princess from New York to Washington, D.C., and arrange expensive accommodations once there. In other words, he spent the money she gave him to help him better play the role of the big shot.
General Photographic Agency / Getty
This is them, presumably moving the princess to another castle.
The meeting with Harding happened, under much press coverage, and only then did someone notice that this was the guy who was constantly getting arrested for pretending to be naval officers. So, he was arrested as a fake, again. And again. At least a dozen times he would get caught for various fraud schemes involving false identity, and who knows how many more he got away with. He really did just like screwing with people.