Mea Culpa

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Hi.

My name is Micah Wright.  I'm a former Army Ranger, and I've been lying to you.  I've kept the secret for years now, but all lies grow and eventually get out of control.  This is me coming clean about my Big Lie.  What did I lie about?  Oh, nothing much...

Except that I was never an Army Ranger.  I never served a day in a Ranger Regiment.  I never went to Ranger School.  The closest I ever got was Army ROTC.

This entire Army Ranger thing is a stupid lie which has its roots back in college.  When I was in the Army ROTC (and I really was, trust me), I met a lot of Rangers, and got to know some of these amazing men.  They always impressed me with their inspired competence and their commitment to one another. Though I enjoyed my time in Army ROTC, I decided that eight years of military service was not for me and I left the program. That ended my involvement with the military.   But once I was out of the Army ROTC program, there was a lingering impression among friends that I had been in the Regular Army.  

Skip forward years later to 2002.   It's post-9/11.  We'd bombed and invaded Afghanistan.  The War On Terror had officially begun. The Patriot Act had passed.  Thousands of Muslims had been swept up and held on secret charges.  America was becoming a scary place.  

That's when I started creating my propaganda posters.  I took familiar and iconic war propaganda images from World War II, replaced their text with new messages urging the viewer to reject the lies that they were being fed by the President, and by the news media to which America turns for the facts.   

Immediately upon putting the Remixed Propaganda posters on the internet, I received some of the most appalling and hateful email that I'd ever imagined possible.  It was an ugly time in our country and people were lashing out in anger and fear against perceived "domestic enemies."  I got countless death threats and letters accusing me of being a "traitor" for speaking out against George Bush.  I should have my eyes gouged out, knees broken, be shot in the face, killed like a rat with a shovel, on and on.  I received such a deluge of these letters that I began to seriously worry about my safety.  I even had my phone number de-listed after some threatening phone calls.

In that atmosphere the old Ranger lie came easily to mind.  I put up a "companion page" to the posters which claimed that I was a military veteran and who were these people to tell me what I could or could not say?  I was a Veteran, dammit, not just a Navy fry-cook or an Air Force typist, either, I was a former Army Ranger! I was interested to see how that one piece of information juxtaposed against the posters would change people's minds about what they were seeing.

After posting the webpage saying that I was a former Ranger, the number of death threats dropped drastically.  I still got hate mail, but it was now of a different sort, telling me that my opinion was idiotic or that I had been misled.  My fellow Americans seemed to believe that if you had served in the military, this gave you leeway to say what you felt... but if you were NOT a veteran, God forbid you should think opposite of what everyone else thought.  Did any of that justify my lie? No.  But it made it easier to tell.  Too easy.

Then I was contacted about doing a book of the posters.  The editor knew the work was good, but that wasn’t the best part.  Here, he said, was a man who had been to war but who was AGAINST war!  That would be the sales hook!  A simple confession at that moment would have ended the lie—and, I felt, my hopes for publication.  I chose to continue the lie and to claim that I -was- indeed a Ranger.  What would it hurt, I thought, it's not like I'm applying for a job as a policeman or something, I'm just writing a book, right?

And so the Big Ranger Lie grew and grew and grew... and eventually grew out of my control.

As the book progressed, I was enthusiastic... it was shaping up really well.  Then my Editor mentioned that he wanted me to detail all of my Ranger experiences in Panama for the foreword--my Big Ranger Lie had tripped me up again.  I immediately threw myself into my research, learning as much as I could about the Rangers, talking to Panama vets online, reading contemporary accounts of the invasion and several books and papers from Panamanian sources to get the other side of the story.

Everything in the foreword to "Back The Attack" is based on the truth… except none of it happened to me. It happened to other people, other Americans, other Panamanians.  What I learned while researching government and military control of the press in the Panama of 1989 seemed increasingly crucial in examining what was happening around us in the America of 2002... many of the same exact tools were being used and NO ONE in the media was questioning them.  It was infuriating to read the Pentagon's words about the War On Terror being directly parroted by the media without any analysis or fact checking.  And that anger became my justification for continuing the lie.

That was when my petty Big Ranger Lie became the Big Ranger Media Hoax. How much of my story would anybody bother to verify?  Would they ever bother to do even the most basic fact-checking?  I actually planted conflicting evidence online, claiming in some places to have served in the 3rd Ranger Battalion, claiming in others to have served in the 2nd Ranger Battalion. Would anyone notice?  I put up a photo of "my" Ranger Class on my website and identified myself as an African-American Ranger.  Would anyone in the media notice?  I gave out fake Platoon Sergeant and Company Commander names... would anyone in the media bother to check to see if they were real?  To get quotes from them about what kind of "Ranger" I had been?

The answer was NO.  A resounding NO.  A roaring stupefying deafening NO.  I watched in amazement and simultaneous horror as the story of my "service" spread from small press book reviews to mainstream news outlets.  The story appeared in the Boston Globe, the Christian Science Monitor, the New York Times, the Fox News Channel, and countless smaller places.

The peak of the Ranger Media Hoax, though, was a 2-page story in The Washington Post.  A reporter called me... I decided to push it.  The reporter listened to the story about Panama.  He asked if I'd been involved in other military combat.  I told him about various imagined secret and classified missions in Peru, Honduras, Costa Rica... I had myself fighting in countries that the United States had never bothered to fight in, I put myself alongside The Nicaraguan Contras... back when I would have been in 8th grade.  Would he notice?  Or would he eagerly demand more, more, more?  He couldn't get enough.  Had I been involved in many battles?  Had I ever been wounded?  Had I ever killed anyone?  I hesitated... most of the vets I'd spoken to about this subject were very reluctant to discuss these things.  How should I approach it?