An American celebrated online and in the media has reportedly been outed as a hoaxer who aimed to get rich off his false image
A US military veteran who claimed battlefield victories as a volunteer fighter in Ukraine and gained fame through media interviews and dramatic Twitter posts was reportedly lying about his exploits all along to create a false image from which he could profit after the conflict.
James Vasquez, who accumulated more than 400,000 followers on Twitter and was regularly quoted by the likes of CNN and the New York Times, falsely claimed battlefield achievements as his own, Business Insider reported on Sunday. The outlet, which cited allegations by four other foreign volunteers in Ukraine, also confirmed through the Pentagon that Vasquez had lied about his military history when he claimed to have had combat deployments as a US Army sergeant in Iraq and Kuwait. As it turned out, he served as an electrical systems repairer in the Army Reserve and ended his stint there as a private first class.
Vasquez’s social media posts, purported to be about his exploits on the front lines, often went viral. “He bragged about capturing Russians and taking out tanks, was regularly interviewed by the news media and made catchy claims – including that he imagined the ‘punchable’ Tucker Carlson when preparing for battle,” Business Insider said. Even Adam Kinzinger, then a US congressman, insisted that Vasquez’s Twitter account needed to be verified because “he’s legit, and too many folks are trying to create fake accounts with him.”
However, Vasquez was making up his claims by going to areas where battles had recently taken place, shooting videos with destroyed equipment and claiming achievements as his own, other foreign fighters claimed. In one case, he claimed on Twitter that he was heading to Soledar, where intense fighting was reportedly raging, but Ukrainian forces had withdrawn from the area days before.
The accusations against Vasquez apparently began to surface earlier this year. Sarah Ashton-Cirillo, an American volunteer who works in the media department of Ukraine’s Territorial Defense Forces, said in a March Twitter post that Vasquez could not have legally gone on combat missions because he didn’t have a contract with the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU). “I met James Vasquez three times for a total of about four hours,” she told Business Insider. “During our last meeting, in the presence of another person, he gave himself up and confirmed what I had known since last summer, that he was never a member of the AFU.”
Other fighters told the outlet that Vasquez bragged about becoming a millionaire when the conflict ends. One volunteer claimed, “James said, and I quote, ‘I’m never gonna go back to work as a handyman. I’m probably never gonna have to work again after his war. I’m gonna be famous.’”
Vasquez sought donations, in some cases for a purported Ukraine charity called Ripley’s Heroes. He also allegedly leveraged the death of Ukrainian-born British fighter Viktor Yatsunyk by falsely claiming to have lost his “friend.” Canadian volunteer April Huggett said, “His stolen valor knows no end.”
Business Insider was unable to reach Vasquez for comment on the allegations. He admitted to the New York Times in March that he had misrepresented his military record and had been kicked out of the US Army. “I had to tell a million lies to get ahead,” he said.