When a paper has to begin a follow-up story with a correction saying it was duped by someone claiming to be a former Navy SEAL, the first question to come to your mind is probably, how did it get fooled? That's a valid question. But it soon becomes a secondary one once you realize the person doing the lying is a pastor, and he not only lied to the paper, but he's also been duping his congregation for years.
On Friday, The Patriot-News decided to feature stories of local Pennsylvania serviceman who served as Navy SEALS. One name reporter Dan Miller kept hearing was Rev. Jim Moats. Moats, pastor of Christian Bible Fellowship Church in Newville, PA, gave Miller an interview, and soon the piece was centered on Moats. That was the beginning of the end.
Here's part of what Miller wrote for Saturday's paper. It's detailed, and convincing:
When he learned of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, the Rev. Jim Moats almost got out his old Navy SEAL flag to run up the pole in front of his home in Newville. Moats was a Navy SEAL four decades ago during the war in Vietnam.
Now 59, Moats was a brash athletic 19-year-old from a military family in northern Virginia, who enlisted in 1970.
An expert swimmer and high school lifeguard, Moats was put on the road to becoming a SEAL by a commander who asked him to sign up for one of the underwater demolition teams.
Navy SEALs - the acronym refers to elite teams trained to fight anywhere on sea, air and land - emerged from President John F. Kennedy's speech about putting a man on the moon, in which JFK also pledged to expand the nation's special operations capability.
Moats underwent SEAL training at Little Creek Amphibious Base in Virginia Beach in summer 1971.
Instructors hit SEALs and goaded them to quit. He was subjected to waterboarding, because the Navy knew that's what the Vietnamese did to SEALs and air crew members who were captured.
SEALs were kept going for days with little sleep. The instructors would lie, promising sleep or a break, but when the time came it wouldn't happen.
Moats grew accustomed to the physical part because he was in good shape. The mental barrages were more grueling. "I had almost no discipline.
I was as wild as they came. That was my nemesis," Moats said. "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 confi-dence and didn't have a braggadocio attitude." In August 1971, Moats got into a fight in a club. He went from Navy elite to dishwashing as part of a mandated "attitude adjustment." Moats soon after rededicated his life to God.
Soon after, however, readers started noticing something fishy. According to a retraction published by the paper's editors, numerous people wrote in to say that Moats's story was false. One such reader was Don Shipley, a former SEAL who apparently keeps records of former SEALs for the Navy:
Moats was never a SEAL and never had set foot in Vietnam, Shipley said. The information can be verified through a Freedom of Information Act request from the Naval Special Warfare Command in San Diego, he said.
Shipley called Moats on Saturday night to confront him about the issue.
“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,” Shipley said.
Shipley said Moats’ story about being re-assigned to kitchen duty and about being waterboarded were lifted from the Steven Seagal movie “Under Siege,” while his reference to being hit by SEAL instructors was vintage “GI Jane.”
Moats had a plaque on his office wall that honors SEALs and other Navy special-operations units. Moats said his two sons, who were in the Army and served in Iraq together, made the plaque for him.
The paper then followed-up. Sure enough, Moats confessed. He also explained the Genesis of the lie:
Moats’ name doesn’t appear on the plaque, but when church members got the impression from it that Moats had been a SEAL, Moats didn’t deny it. From there, the word spread, and Moats did nothing to correct the record.
“I have allowed people to assume that, and I have not corrected it. Probably at this church for the last five years do people assume that,” Moats said.
Moats said his wife and his two sons, Jamie and Jonathan, knew that he was never a SEAL. Moats said one of his sons called him after seeing the published story to ask why he would tell the world he was a SEAL when he wasn’t.
“I bring a shame and a reproach upon the name of Christ, I bring a shame and a reproach upon my church, and I bring a shame and a reproach upon my family,” Moats told the paper.
Shipley, however, has his own thoughts: “He has mental problems, plain and simple. His wife and friends and flock believe it, and he starts believing it himself. That is not an excuse. The pastor is very aware of what he did."
Read more details about the ruse from Pennlive.com.