Semper lie: Self-defense business owner claimed wild military deeds

A Cobb County man who spent years pretending to be a Navy SEAL finally came face-to-face with the truth. And the FOX 5 I-Team.

Bob McDaniel runs a business teaching self-defense classes in metro Atlanta. However, his real skill appears to be thriller fiction writing, the kind that might put Jack Ryan to shame.

At various times, McDaniel claimed he flew Marine Corps combat missions in Vietnam, fought with and taught the Army's elite Delta Force and served for more than 20 years as a Navy SEAL, the unit considered the tip of the spear for any sensitive military mission.

But according to the military, none of that is true. And as you'll see, those lies are not harmless.

For HS freshman Reagan Hughes, meeting a real Navy admiral and SEAL was one of the best days of his 14-year-old life.

“It’s like I just met an admiral and like was super-pumped about it," remembered Reagan Hughes, a North Forsyth High School freshman who was introduced to McDaniel in a Woodstock restaurant last month during a celebration of the Navy's birthday. McDaniel was wearing the uniform of a Navy rear admiral, with a chest full of medals. Reagan said McDaniel offered to help him get into the Naval Academy.

McDaniel is 71. The military told us “there’s no record of him being in the Navy," just six years in the Marine Corps Reserve starting in 1967 and ending as an E-5 Sergeant Radio Telegraph Operator. According to what the military sent us, McDaniel spent no time in Vietnam.

But that’s not what people are told who pay for his self-defense classes.

“He did two tours in Vietnam, in the Marines," his partner Arlene Johnson explained to the class while McDaniel sat next to her smiling. "He flew jets for them. He does special ops.”

"I’m not that interesting to begin with," he said. "Not sure where she got all that stuff."

"Yeah," his partner replied. "I don’t know either.”

Their company is called Security Against Forced Encounters, or SAFE. They charge up to $30 a head for self-defense classes held around metro Atlanta. After class, they sell mini-flashlights and bamboo weapons.

McDaniel charges for self-defense classes across metro Atlanta. He misleads students into thinking he is a Navy SEAL and Delta Force instructor.

McDaniel may warn women how to avoid being attacked, but the real challenge here is keeping track of all of McDaniel's dramatic adventures.

“I’ve been to Syria with Delta (Force)," he told our undercover producer who attended one of his classes. "There for an operation. We had to extract two people and we had to go after two other targets. I’m still a SEAL. I’ve been through 20-odd years.”

And he even said he helped with the recent killing of ISIS leader al-Baghdadi.

Undercover producer: "You said you were with Delta Force?"

McDaniel: "Yeah, they’re the ones who handled the Baghdadi... Delta Force and they had the 75th Division of the Army Rangers out there."

Undercover producer: "Did you train any of those guys?"

McDaniel: "I did... I was involved in part of the operational stuff for that. That’s where I was. It was pretty interesting. I got to meet the President and got to shake his hand and say hello and we were in another situational room. He was in what they call their Sit—War Room, Situational Room."

Bob McDaniel told us he flew jets in Vietnam and was a Navy SEAL. He later admitted that was a lie.

The FOX 5 I-Team waited until November 10 -- the birthday of the Marine Corps -- to see whether McDaniel would show again at that same Woodstock restaurant, the Semper Fi Bar and Grill.

He did, this time wearing a Marine Corps t-shirt rather than a Navy admiral's uniform.

I walked up to get his thoughts on such an important day.

FOX 5 I-Team: "Excuse me. I understand you’ve got a pretty storied military record. What do you think of the Marine Corps birthday today?"

McDaniel: "Well, I think it’s wonderful. You know? 244 years of the Marine Corps. Semper Fi."

FOX 5 I-Team: "And you flew jets in the Vietnam War?"

McDaniel: "I did. I did. I flew the EA-6B. I flew the Prowler."

FOX 5 I-Team: "And you became a Navy SEAL?"

McDaniel: "I did. I did."

FOX 5 I-Team: "Why are you lying about your military record Bob?"

McDaniel: "I would never lie about my military record."

We tried to show him his real military record. Instead, McDaniel sounded full retreat and headed for his car.

I realize how foolish and stupid and how ridiculous lying about something like that is.

— Bob McDaniel, Cobb County self-defense instructor who claimed to be a Navy admiral, SEAL, Marine Corps aviator and member of Delta Force

Semper Fi Bar and Grille co-owner Ralph Roeger said over the years customers impressed with his stories had offered to pick up McDaniel’s check. He said last month was the first time McDaniel wore a uniform.

“I was like, really? A rear admiral?" Roeger said. "But I wasn’t going to question him in front of God and everybody."

"So now that you know the truth, what do you think of him?" I asked.

"Well, I’m thinking his girlfriend is sitting in there wondering where he is,” Roeger answered.

Arlene Johnson refused to look at McDaniel's military record when we tried to show her after he drove away. She walked out of the restaurant while talking to McDaniel on her cellphone.

A few days later, McDaniel returned a call from the FOX 5 I-Team and admitted his military claims were a lie.

"I'm embarrassed," he said. He offered no explanation for many of the lies, but said he wore the Navy admiral's uniform to honor his late father on the Navy's birthday. McDaniel's father was also not an admiral.

"It was a mistake," he admitted about all the other fake claims. "And I realize how foolish and stupid and how ridiculous lying about something like that is."

Reagan Hughes said McDaniel promised he'd help get him into the Naval Academy.

Reagan Hughes, that 14-year-old Navy hopeful, struggled to understand how one of the best days of his life turned out to be one big lie.

“That’s completely insane for someone to do," he said. "Because most of his freedoms, all of his freedoms wouldn’t be a thing without the people he was impostering. And that makes me mad.”

Our investigation started with a tip from a Maryland man named Don Shipley. He’s a retired Navy SEAL who started a second career outing thousands of people who fake their military credentials. Coming up tomorrow night – Shipley said he finds more fakes in Georgia than any other state in the country.

And we’re there when Shipley introduced himself to Bob McDaniel.

Retired Navy SEAL Don Shipley originally tipped us off about McDaniel. He's made a second career out of exposing fake military heroes.