The temperature hovered around 20 degrees Fahrenheit on the afternoon of Feb. 5, when Jackson Town Councilor Jim Stanford stood on Town Square to protest the U.S. Senate’s vote to acquit President Trump.
Wrapped in his father’s Vietnam-era U.S. Army jacket, he wasn’t dressed adequately for more than two hours in the cold. Near the end he began to shiver.
“I knew a down puffy was a much more practical item to wear,” he said. “But when I tried it on I knew it was the right choice.”
Some prominent veterans vehemently disagree. In a letter to the News&Guide, American Legion Post 43 members T. R. Pierce and Ed Liebzeit said they were “shocked, offended, appalled and saddened” by Stanford’s “complete disregard for the U.S. military.”
“We served in the U.S. military knowing that we were protecting and guaranteeing the right of free speech for all U.S. citizens,” they wrote. “He certainly has a right to protest but his method of disrespect is disgusting and demonstrates behavior that demands that we and others speak out.”
They went so far as to suggest Stanford’s actions were “quite probably illegal,” citing two sections of the U.S. Code: One states that “no person except a member of the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marine Corps, as the case may be, may wear the uniform, or a distinctive part of the uniform, of the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marine Corps.”
The other, which deals with the issue of stolen valor, states that whoever “with intent to obtain money, property, or other tangible benefit, fraudulently holds oneself out to be a recipient of a decoration or medal described in subsection (c)(2) or (d) shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than one year, or both.”
Someone reported Stanford to Jackson Hole Police. According to the next day’s blotter, “Sgt. [Tony] Matthews checked on the man and determined he was exercising his freedom of speech under the 1st Amendment. No crime there, so Sgt. Matthews moved on to other issues.”
Stanford insists he meant no disrespect and sought only to convey a message of protest. In wearing his father’s Army jacket he felt he was honoring his dad and the values for which he and millions of others have fought.
“He served so that someday I could have all these rights and freedoms,” he said, “including the right to exercise free speech.”
Besides wearing the Army jacket, Stanford displayed an American flag upside down, a sign of “dire distress” often used in political protest. Nearly every person he spoke to asked him about the unusual orientation, to which he responded, “The republic is in distress.”
In a vote almost entirely along party lines, the Senate decided Feb. 5 not to impeach President Trump, prompting critics to castigate Republicans — with the exception of Sen. Mitt Romney, of Utah, the first senator ever to vote to impeach a president of his or her own party — for what they deemed an abdication of the duty to judge the president impartially.
In particular, Stanford leveled his disapproval at Wyoming’s senators, John Barrasso and Mike Enzi, both of whom voted to acquit.
At the time Stanford acknowledged his response was a “potent symbol,” adding that “I don’t take this lightly.” But nevertheless, he has been surprised at the intense scrutiny over what he called a “personal choice” of attire.
“You should be able to wear something that’s part of your family heritage,” Stanford said. “That’s your decision.”
Pierce and Liebzeit, who said their complaints had “nothing to do with politics,” also argued that he “misled many people,” who may have judged by the name on the jacket that he was protesting as a veteran. Stanford told anyone he spoke to that it was not his own, but those who drove or walked by without stopping to ask may have presumed otherwise.
To that point, he said, “I don’t want to be dismissive of their concerns.” He said he would consider them in the future.
It was far from the first time he wore the jacket, even in protest. It may not be the last time. But, he said, “maybe I’ll give it some more thought before I do it again.”