The Controversial True Story Behind ‘American Sniper’

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Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

The film American Sniper tells the story of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle's rise through the ranks to become the deadliest sniper in American history, with over 160 confirmed kills. But the movie, which is based on Kyle's 2012 bestselling memoir of the same name, doesn't tackle some of the dubious myths about Kyle that came to light after the book's release. There was the time he traveled to the heart of Hurricane Katrina to shoot armed looters, the time he slugged Jesse "The Body" Ventura for talking smack, and the time he shot two robbers during an attempted carjacking in North Texas and was then allowed to walk free by local police. Kyle himself told all these stories to friends and media before being tragically killed by a former Marine suffering from PTSD on a shooting range in Glen Rose, outside of Dallas, in February 2013. The truth behind these stories may never be known, although there is ample reason for skepticism (Ventura was the only person to bring a lawsuit against Kyle for defamation — and a jury decided the SEAL had been lying.) But they nonetheless deserve credit for helping transform the sniper from legend to myth.

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The web of potential lies begins in 2012. Three years after Kyle was honorably discharged, with two Silver Stars and five Bronze Stars, he taped an interview for SOFREP, a website covering special operations forces. According to a profile of the former SEAL in the June 2013 issue of The New Yorker, Kyle left the taping, met friends for a late-night drinking session, and then talked about how, in 2005, he and a sniper buddy took to the roof of the Superdome, in New Orleans, and picked off about 30 armed looters during the Hurricane Katrina melee. He said he was trying to establish law and order amid the chaos. When asked about the story, a spokesman for U.S. Special Operations Command (or SOCOM) said, "To the best of anyone's knowledge at SOCOM, there were no West Coast SEALs deployed to Katrina." Kyle’s recollection, he claimed, "defies the imagination."

Around the time he first told the Katrina tale, Kyle made an appearance on The Opie & Anthony Show to promote his book. During the show, he bragged about a night at a San Diego bar in 2006 when he punched former SEAL Jesse Ventura in the face for supposedly undercutting the Iraq War. Kyle later repeated his claim on The O’Reilly Factor. In response, Ventura sued for defamation – and refused to drop his suit even after Kyle's death. Last July, Ventura won $1.8 million in damages, but lost respect among his brethren for suing a widow.

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The attempted carjacking of Kyle was the subject of an April 2013 story in D Magazine. In January 2010, just months after retiring from the SEALs, Kyle reportedly pulled his Ford F350 truck into an unidentified gas station south of Dallas, off Hwy 67. Two men approached him with guns, asking for his money and keys. Kyle said he needed to reach into his truck for the latter, but instead deftly grabbed his Colt pistol from under his coat and shot the two men to death. When police officers arrived, Kyle gave them a special phone number to call. On the other end was a government official who informed the officers about Kyle's outstanding military service. The officers let Kyle go. In response to the story, some law enforcement in the area claimed they’d heard about the incident; others hadn't a clue. The account was mentioned in Service: A Navy SEAL at War, the 2012 book by Marcus Luttrell, whose story was turned into the movie Lone Survivor, yet it didn’t make Kyle’s memoir. And no surveillance tape was ever made public.

"But why would he lie?" the D Magazine profile questioned. "He was already one of the most decorated veterans of the Iraq war. Tales of his heroism on the battlefield were already lore in every branch of the armed forces." The undisputed truth? Kyle's mystery will endure. 

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