#3. Wilhelm Voigt Gets a Thrift Store Uniform, Overthrows a City
In the early 1900s, German ex-con Wilhelm Voigt was just out of jail after serving long sentences for theft and forgery. Homeless and without options, Voigt decided to do what any respectable German would do in his position: imitate a member of the military and take over the goddamn town.
Voigt bought items of clothing from the time period's equivalent of military surplus stores and assembled himself an officer's uniform. Luckily, he was already in possession of the most important part of this uniform: a giant manly looking mustache.
All right. Time to knock over the city.
Who the Hell Bought This?
Voigt soon ran into a random group of soldiers and commanded them to follow him to the nearby town of Kopernick. There, with the soldiers as backup, Voigt took over the town hall, personally arrested the mayor, and commanded that the soldiers escort the mayor to a guardhouse in Berlin. Deciding that all of this looked completely legit, the soldiers obeyed.
Via Wikimedia Commons
"Now, you may be asked to punch a few random civilians along the way. Depends on who I recognize."
They also helped Voigt collect the entirety of the town's cash, which he carried away in sacks. It was only after they showed up in Berlin with the mayor and everyone started asking, "Hey, where did that guy with the mustache go?" that the soldiers began to question the motives of the total stranger who had just disappeared with a bunch of money. We told you: a fancy-looking military uniform trumps any degree, job title, or letter of recommendation you could possibly get.
Fellow Germans held up the incident as an example of the blind obedience to military authority that existed in the country at the time. However, considering that it happened in 1906, we guess the lesson took a while to sink in.
#2. David Deng Raises a Private Army
So we've had a couple of guys on here pretending to be special forces -- if you're going to fake being in the military, why not go all the way? But there is always another bullshitter willing to take things to the next level.
And so, David Deng bought himself a fancy uniform and pretended to be the commander of a special forces group and went about gathering recruits.
Associated Press via Armytimes.com
Uh ... spoiler alert. Sorry about that.
Who the Hell Bought This?
Taking advantage of Chinese immigrants who'd recently arrived in Los Angeles, Deng "enlisted" over 100 people into the "U.S Army/Military Special Forces Reserve" by promising them that serving in his group would both help their chances of becoming U.S. citizens and also get them some totally sweet ass. Of course, for such services, Deng charged them hundreds of dollars, because obviously the power that comes from having a (albeit low-budget) version of Blackwater wasn't going to buy him a hot tub anytime soon.
"It's OK, buddy, we've all been th- wait, no. No, we haven't all been there. You're a douche."
To keep up the pretense, Deng converted an abandoned store and decorated it to resemble a training school. Here, each recruit took part in regular drills that Deng had gleamed details of from training manuals, and they were given both uniforms and ID cards, apparently bought from the world's most clueless army surplus store.
In the end, however, Deng's scheme failed because ... it was too good. The "soldiers" were so convinced that they were members of the U.S. military that, when the time came to renew their memberships, they turned up to actual military bases and tried to pay there. Presumably once the real soldiers had regained their composure after laughing their asses off, they contacted the FBI, and Deng was arrested for a crime that he totally committed.
"But we had both a YMCA and a U.S. flag! How could this have gone wrong?"
#1. Douglas R. Stringfellow Fakes Paralysis, Gets Elected to Congress
Being a war hero has to be by far the biggest advantage a person can have when entering politics. No other group is as universally respected. So maybe it's no surprise that political candidates have been known to fudge the truth on the subject from time to time. They just tend to not take it as ridiculously far as Utah Representative Douglas Stringfellow.
It was 1952, the Cold War was heating up (cooling down?), and the nation was looking for strong leaders who had proven themselves in battle. In walked World War II hero Douglas R. Stringfellow, Silver Star winner.
And apparently every newspaper photographer from every 1950s movie.
According to him, as a member of the OSS (the forerunners of the CIA), Stringfellow was tasked with undertaking dangerous missions behind enemy lines, equipped with only his wits, a pretty lady on his arm, a gun in his holster, and probably some sort of tiny laser on his watch. He claimed that, during a "routine" mission to rescue renowned nuclear scientist Otto Hahn from the clutches of the Nazis, he was captured and imprisoned in Belsen. There, he was tortured endlessly, an experience that sadly left him a paraplegic.
Holy crap, who can dare challenge that story? This guy is so badass, he can probably kick your ass from his wheelchair!
Now, the thing is, the story wasn't complete bullshit. Stringfellow had in fact served -- he was a private in the Air Force and not only saw action, but was in fact wounded by a mine. But the whole bit about the OSS, winning the Silver Star, and, incredibly, the part about being paralyzed from the waist down was a lie. The man could walk and was hoping that nobody would ever figure it out.
Via Uintah County Library Regional History Center
Like this guy sitting beside him who actually is paralyzed.
Who the Hell Bought This?
Utah, apparently, because they voted him in. Stringfellow lasted for two years in power before his rivals discovered the truth and annihilated him. The Church of Latter-Day Saints, of which he was a member, ordered him to make a public confession. Stringfellow was replaced on his ticket just 16 days prior to the next election.
"Apparently I am not a paraplegic, and none of that awesome stuff happened to me."
The sad thing is that just running on the truth probably would have been enough -- Stringfellow served honorably and was wounded in service to his country. Actually, the sadder thing was that the guy apparently had built his plan on simply never being seen walking again. Ever. For the rest of his life. Was he going to fake a miraculous recovery at some point?
We'll never know.
For more tales of extreme gullibility, check out 6 Retarded Publicity Stunts (That Fooled Everyone) and The Truth Behind 5 'Real Monsters' That Fooled the Internet.