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Duncan told the vets that he and Weed shared a house and a truck on the southeast side of Colorado Springs, but were building a new home. "At the time, he said he was building a house in Woodland Park, and he used to say that it was cold and damp in his basement and that when his head hurt he would go down there to help the swelling," Briggs recalls. But when the couple suddenly broke up, Duncan had no money and no place to stay — a strange problem for a seriously injured vet who should have been collecting significant monthly medical benefits and would have had access to a number of military resources. "I have a shoulder that clicks and insomnia and I get paid $389 a month," says Briggs. "How would an officer of his caliber with a metal plate and two fake knees have been that poor?"

After the IVAW protested at the Democratic National Convention in Denver in August 2008, Duncan agreed to pay $150 a month in rent if he could stay on a couch in Flaherty's living room. He bought groceries and kept to himself, keeping his few bags of belongings in his car and eating pancakes alone. Flaherty remembers watching television with Duncan one day while both of them were lying on couches in the living room. "He started going through these little fits, making these scared noises and twitching," he says, mimicking Duncan's grunts. "I'd be like, 'Rick, are you all right?' and he'd act like he was snapping out of it. It seemed like too much of a production to believe it was real, but then I started feeling bad about those thoughts." A few weeks later, Duncan was gone — without forking over his share of the rent.

But Duncan was usually easy to find. If there was a camera around, says Flaherty, Duncan was usually in front of it, and he tended to take on a spokesman role for the group. For both public and private gatherings, Duncan donned camouflage pants and a tan cap decorated with the Marine Corps' eagle, anchor and globe. But he also worked hard, raising funds and organizing a wide range of projects. With the Warrior Writers campaign, for example, Duncan and other members of the IVAW volunteered stories about their wartime experiences. "He was all about the Marine Corps," Briggs says. "It consumed almost all of his life."

Rick Strandlof, aka Rick Duncan, was charged with violating the Stolen Valor Act.
Rick Strandlof, aka Rick Duncan, was charged with violating the Stolen Valor Act.
Rick Strandlof joined up with Occupy Denver last fall.
Ambrose Cruz
Rick Strandlof joined up with Occupy Denver last fall.

Duncan even launched his own military nonprofit, the Colorado Veterans Alliance. As its representative, he spoke at events organized by big-name local politicians, including Jared Polis and Mark Udall, and became a poster boy for such anti-war organizations as VoteVets.org. At one point, he claimed his organization had more than 30,000 members. After a CVA rally, Duncan invited supporters to a barbecue by his office in southeast Colorado Springs; inside, he organized financial and non-perishable food donations for soldiers' care packages. In retrospect, those who helped wonder if those packages ever went out.

But it was another action that made them really begin to question Duncan. In symbolic protest, the Springs branch of the IVAW would frequently set up a model Army guard tower in Acacia Park, where they would sit, dressed in their uniforms, passing out fliers and talking about their opposition to the war in which they had served. While preparing for one of these protests in early 2009, Duncan accidentally backed his red Toyota Tacoma into a gas main — but rather than wait for the police to arrive, he fled the scene as gas seeped into the air. From 8 a.m. until 3 p.m., neither the vets nor the cops could find Duncan, and the police, in particular, were growing insistent that he be located.

Looking back, Flaherty knows why Duncan wanted to avoid the police: "What was he going to do when they took his ID in front of all of us and called him Mr. Strandlof?" Then again, he also remembers Duncan pretending he had lost his ID. "And what about his criminal record?"

The tipping point came when staffers in Udall's office learned that Duncan was claiming to be working for the senator, which they told the board of the CVA wasn't true. Boardmembers were already concerned that the organization wasn't yet a legal nonprofit. And the person who had submitted the paperwork was one Rick Strandlof, not Duncan. Now, looking into the founder's background, they learned that a Rick Duncan hadn't attended the Naval Academy in decades. He hadn't served in Iraq. He hadn't won those medals.

The CVA board contacted the FBI, and investigators tracked Rick Duncan back to Rick Strandlof and his matching criminal records in Montana and Nevada. The Springs branch of the IVAW started getting calls from Veterans of Foreign Wars USA, the American Legion and various branches of Veterans Affairs. News of Strandlof's lies reached the Denver Post, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times and scores of other media outlets; Strandlof went on Anderson Cooper 360 to explain himself. But critics attacked him online, calling for punishment on the CVA's Facebook page and its official website, both of which were rapidly removed from the Internet. (The group is now disbanded, but still listed on a number of military advocacy sites.)

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7 comments
PalmalaHanderson
PalmalaHanderson

Having 3 sons;

1- sociopathic narcissistic sex offender felon

2- bi-polar passive-agressive never employed slacker

3- honor roll athlete of high morals

 

Is it nature or nurture?

 

Is it us (parents, still married)?

 

How come the kid we gave the least parenting to (the first two pretty much burnt us out) turned out so good?

 

Reading this story makes me realise that is a question for the ages that I will take to my grave.

 

 

Juan_Leg
Juan_Leg

So THIS, is what Joe Murphy does w/ his spare time....???

heckle3030
heckle3030

"He's like the Mr. Magoo of espionage."

 

I damn near broke a rib laughing. Good call, Hank!

DonkeyHotay
DonkeyHotay topcommenter

So when this guy finally pops a gasket, will there be copious handwringing about the ignored -- yet obvious -- signs of mental illness?

 

 

Elwood
Elwood

Very good read.  For the sake of clarity/accuracy, Iliff is not part of DU. 

klansman
klansman

Wow - i had no clue this guy was a homo.  That sure changes my impression of him now.

 
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