You can see in this 2011 video, when Cotton was a Congressional candidate, he plainly states at 2:26, “the desire to serve never left so I did join the Army, and became an infantry officer and an Army Ranger.”
Um, no he didn’t.
Salon’s Roger Sollenberger, who found several other instances of Cotton making the false claim, has the scoop:
Cotton attended the Ranger School, a two-month-long, small-unit tactical infantry course that literally anyone in the military is eligible attend. Soldiers who complete the course earn the right to wear the Ranger tab — a small arch that reads "Ranger" — but in the eyes of the military, that does not make them an actual Army Ranger.
When caught, Cotton’s spokeswoman went full Kayleigh McEnany:
Reached for comment, Cotton spokesperson Caroline Tabler told Salon in an email, "Senator Cotton graduated from Ranger school and is more of a Ranger than a Salon reporter like you will ever be." (It is not immediately clear whether Tabler herself is a Ranger, or whether she graduated from Ranger school. Further, Tabler, a spokesperson for Cotton's Senate office, copied the office's chief of staff, Doug Coutts, on the email, but to a Cotton campaign address; senate offices may not coordinate with campaigns. Tabler asked to arrange an off-the-record call in that email; Salon declined, citing the unfavorable terms.)
Sollenberger noted that the distinction between graduating from Ranger school and becoming an Army Ranger is not insignificant:
The Ranger Regiment is considered the Army's top action unit, and over the course of the so-called War on Terror, Rangers have killed or captured more high-value targets than any other unit. The regiment comprises four battalions, and members wear distinctive tan berets as well as a red, white and black Ranger "Scroll," a cloth badge distinct from the black-and-gold tab that Cotton earned at Ranger School. Attending the school, in fact, is not a prerequisite to serve in the Ranger Regiment.
You know who’s a real former Army Ranger? Democratic Rep. Jason Crow. He has a message for Cotton:
— Rep. Jason Crow (@RepJasonCrow) January 23, 2021