Ventura worries SEAL book's readers will think he's a traitor
By DAVID HANNERS | The (St. Paul, Minn.) Pioneer Press | Published: August 7, 2013
ST. PAUL, Minn. — Former Gov. Jesse Ventura couldn't enumerate just how a Navy SEAL sniper's book defamed him, but he said he'd had a hard time finding work since the book came out.
He also said his main complaint about the book — that the late Chris Kyle's tale that he decked Ventura for badmouthing SEALs was untrue — left him worrying if people think he's a traitor.
"Every day of my life I walk around looking over my shoulder now, wondering who believes that and who doesn't," Ventura said in response to a question from Kyle's lawyer, John Borger.
"Yeah, it's constant. It is constant," the one-time governor continued. "Can I name anything? No. It — but it's a constant. It goes on all the time ... where I think to myself, 'Does this person — did this person read this book, did this person hear this fictional tale, does this person believe I'm a traitor to the United States of America and to the military because of what was written in this book?"
Ventura sat for the eight-hour deposition last November after he sued Kyle for defamation. The former sniper's best-selling memoir, "American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History," contains a brief description of the alleged 2006 punch.
Ventura, himself once a member of the Navy's special forces, says the punch never happened.
The former governor remarks in the deposition that it is only the second time he has given a deposition. It also appears to be the first time he has given sworn answers to questions about his military service. Some highlights:
- The man notorious for saying, "Until you've hunted man, you haven't hunted yet," said he was in the "war zone" in Vietnam — and thus earned a Vietnam Service Medal — but admitted he doesn't have the Combat Action Ribbon the Navy awarded to those who engaged in combat.
- He admitted his co-authors wrote his books and that he minimally read over what they had written, a practice that led to factual errors making it into print.
- He said he hadn't read the Kyle memoir at the center of his lawsuit because, "I don't like to read fiction".
- The man whose higher education consisted of a year of community college said he "loved" the academic year he spent as a visiting lecturer at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. "I had the largest classes in Harvard history," he boasted, adding, "I was kind of like Rodney in 'Back to School,'" a reference to the late comedian Rodney Dangerfield's 1986 movie about an insufferable tycoon who enrolls in college.
- The man who spent 11 years as a professional wrestler said he had a "standing offer" from WWE chairman Vince McMahon to re-enter the world of pro wrestling — maybe even as a wrestler.
"You don't know what you're going to get with Vince," said Ventura, who turned 62 last month. "I mean, there's guys wrestling for him that are older than me."
The former governor was adamant that there was no altercation at McP's Irish Pub, the Coronado, Calif., bar where Kyle said he punched a boorish Ventura.
"Specifically, there's some dispute what happened or may have happened at an establishment called McP's, correct?" Borger asked him.
"No, there's no dispute. Nothing happened," Ventura shot back.
"You have one account and the defendant has another account," the lawyer said.
"That may be true, but nothing happened," Ventura said.
When asked about how the book had damaged him, he said job offers used to come to him, but since the book was published, they've stopped.
"I never had to really go out seeking anything until very recently," he said. "Usually, it came to me. But within the last year they ain't been coming."
At various points in the 332-page deposition, Ventura got testy when asked certain questions. After one exchange, when Borger asked Ventura if he was having "fun" with the questions, the former governor said he found the experience "quite disturbing."
"It's not fun at all. It's the worst thing that's ever happened to me," he said of having to give the deposition.
At times, he speaks with feeling about the toll he says Kyle's book has caused him.
"It's affected me emotionally, it's affected me how — how I feel now how I'll be perceived by the rest of the military, how I could be perceived by them, that I'm some sort of traitor to the Teams," he said in reference to the Navy special forces.
"There's nothing worse you could do to one of us than what he did to me. Nothing," he said.
Kyle, a former rodeo cowboy, joined the Navy and became a sniper in the SEALs special warfare unit. Over the course of four tours in the second Iraq war, he became the most prolific sniper in U.S. military history, claiming 160 confirmed kills; insurgents nicknamed him the "Devil of Ramadi" and put a bounty on his head.
He retired from the military in 2009 and opened a private-security firm in Texas. His memoir, published last year, shot to the top of the New York Times bestseller list.
The book detailed Kyle's decade-long service as a SEAL. It included a brief description of the alleged 2006 incident at McP's Irish Pub. He wrote that he punched a "celebrity" former special-forces member who had been loudly denigrating the SEALs, President Bush and U.S. policy in the Middle East.
The book identified the target of the punch as "Scruff Face." Kyle acknowledged in interviews it was Ventura.
Ventura sued in federal court, contending the book's description of "Scruff Face" gave enough details that readers could know Kyle was writing about him.
In February, Kyle and another man were shot and killed by a former Marine suffering from post-traumatic stress. Last month, a judge granted Ventura's request to continue the suit and substitute Kyle's widow as the defendant since she is executrix of her late husband's estate.
On Monday, she asked that the suit be moved from Minnesota to North Texas where, on Feb. 11, a crowd estimated as large as 7,000 attended her husband's funeral service at Cowboys Stadium.
Ventura's deposition had been under seal. Last month, a judge ruled there was no reason for it to remain secret. The judge allowed Ventura and his lawyers to designate portions they wanted kept confidential; after doing so, Kyle's attorneys filed a redacted version in the public docket Monday.
Ventura and his lawyers designated 94 redactions. Some are a single line, while others take up an entire page. One 23-1/2-page stretch is entirely blank.
In a declaration that accompanied the filing, Borger said that while some redactions contained financial and medical information and were reasonably considered confidential, there were nine redactions "for which I cannot ascertain any plausible basis for asserting confidentiality."
Ventura, born James Janos in Minneapolis, took the name Jesse Ventura when he entered professional wrestling in 1975. He joined the Navy after high school and became a member of the Underwater Demolition Teams, or UDTs, a special warfare group later merged into the SEALs, short for Sea, Air and Land.
He details the UDT training in the deposition, but gave few details of his service in Vietnam. While he holds the Vietnam Service Medal given to all who were on duty in Vietnam for more than 30 consecutive days, he acknowledged he doesn't have the Combat Action Ribbon given to those who saw combat.
Borger asked him if he recalled saying in a 2002 interview in the Pioneer Press that, "To the best of my knowledge, I was never fired upon," and Ventura said he recalled neither the interview nor the comment.
But he said someone could see combat and not receive a Combat Action Ribbon.
"If the mission was so — was so secretive that they didn't want the public to know about it in any way, shape or form, because it could cause an international incident, then there would be no record of doing that mission pretty much at all," he told Borger.
"Were you engaged in such a mission?"
"Once," Ventura replied. The next three lines of the transcript are blank, covered with a large "REDACTED" stamp.
The former governor said Kyle's book damaged him and his reputation, and left him "embarrassed and humiliated."
"To be — to be — to have it said that I wished death upon the United States military from which I come from, from which my mother and father and everyone in my family is a veteran — not many people can say their mom and dad are both World War II veterans. I can. Everyone in my immediate family has served their country in the military.
"And for him to say that I wished death upon any facet of our military is unconscionable and it's the worst thing that's been done to me in my 35-year professional career, which includes being a villain in professional wrestling where it was my job to make people angry with me," he said.