The Corner

Politics & Policy

This Is What Stolen Valor Looks Like

Nathan Phillips prays near the main opposition camp against the Dakota Access oil pipeline near Cannon Ball, N.D., February 22, 2017. (Terray Sylvester/REUTERS)

From the beginning of the Covington Catholic controversy, Nathan Phillips’s military service has been a vital part of the story. It was the early assumption that he was a Vietnam veteran that gave the initial story so much power. Not only was he a member of a historically marginalized community, he’d risked his life for our nation. The words “Vietnam veteran” were shared from coast to coast.

Then, when it emerged that he never served in Vietnam (he served in the Marine Corps Reserve, did not deploy, and was discharged as a private “after disciplinary issues”), his apologists continued to insist that Phillips had never lied. He’d used words such as “Vietnam-times” to describe his service, a version of the phrase “Vietnam era” that veterans use to describe service during the war but not in the war. Other people had made a mistake, they said. Phillips had told the truth.

Well, it turns out he had lied. And here’s the video evidence:

Here’s the quote:

I’m a Vietnam vet . . . I got an honorable discharge, and one of the boxes in there shows whether it is peacetime or what my box says is that I was in theater. I don’t talk much about my Vietnam times.

In reality, Phillips has been all over the place in his description of his service. Sometimes he’s truthful. Sometimes he’s vague. And sometimes, like in the video above, he lies.

It is honorable to serve in the Marine Corps Reserve. It is honorable to serve stateside, and the military needs refrigerator technicians (the job he performed during most of his service). It is dishonorable to lie about your service — to steal your credibility from the valor of others — and it is dishonorable to exaggerate your role. He once reportedly called himself a “recon ranger” (whatever that is). To the extent that your assessment of the confrontation at the Lincoln Memorial relies in any way on the word of Nathan Phillips, it’s time to rethink your assessment. He is not a truthful man.

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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