An appeals court threw out the $1.8 million awarded to former Governor Jesse Ventura in 2014 in a defamation suit against the estate of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, the author of American Sniper. In the book, Kyle, who was murdered by an ex-Marine in 2013, describes punching out a guy he calls Scruff Face for allegedly making anti-SEAL comments in a SEAL-crowded bar in Coronado, California, in 2006. Then Kyle went on the Opie & Anthony Show and said that Scruff Face was actually Ventura. Ventura filed suit, and pressed it even after Kyle’s death.
Members of the SEAL community closed ranks and banded around Kyle’s widow, Taya, and her two young children. Seven of them testified on Kyle’s behalf, saying they themselves had heard such comments; Ventura brought three witnesses. But none of this was of consequence in the current ruling, which was based largely on the issue of whether the publisher’s employees had knowledge of an insurance policy that would have covered Kyle should a defamation suit arise (and thus would have been biased in Kyle’s favor). Another major factor was that $1.3 million of the total award was based on “unjust enrichment” — the idea that the Kyle estate had profited from the defamation of Ventura. The appeals court found no basis for the idea of unjust enrichment under Minnesota law.
When Men’s Journal spoke with Ventura in 2014, he called the trial “the most traumatic thing I've been involved in since my parents died.... Being with the SEALs is the one place where I always felt safe.”
In the feature, writer Erik Hedegaard encountered a Ventura who had been knocked down a peg from his larger-than-life persona, badly affected by the Kyle ordeal, both personally and professionally. “I was the most hated man in America,” Ventura said. He also tried to make clear that he was not suing the widow of an American hero, but his estate, which held the profits of the book. It was too late. The narrative had gotten away from him and the court of public opinion judged him swiftly and harshly.
Now, it appears, he’s lost again.