Louisiana Fast One
Was Ben Carson Really Held at Gunpoint?
The candidate’s not-so-harrowing tale about his encounter with a gunman at a Baltimore Popeyes is tough to verify. Almost too tough.
Ben Carson shared a story on Wednesday about encountering a gunman in a Popeyes restaurant near Johns Hopkins University. The tale was long on drama but light on details, making his version of events impossible to confirm.
When The Daily Beast pressed Carson’s advisor for more information, he first pointed to a retelling of the stickup in one of Carson’s autobiographies that does not exist, and later attempted to revise when and how the robbery occurred.
According to Carson, while a resident at Johns Hopkins University over 30 years ago, he found himself in a Popeyes in Baltimore when a man with a gun entered.
“Guy comes in, puts the gun in my ribs. And I just said, ‘I believe that you want the guy behind the counter,’” Carson remembered during an interview on Sirius XM.
Carson, who is currently the second-highest polling GOP candidate, has spent a lot of time telling stories about his own life. But throughout his several published books and three autobiographies, Carson doesn’t appear to mention the story once. When The Daily Beast reached out to Carson’s “business manager” and central advisor, Armstrong Williams, he said that Carson had personally told him the story, and that it also appeared in Carson’s 2006 book, Take the Risk.
There is no story about a stickup at Popeyes in Take the Risk.
Gregg Lewis, a co-author of Take the Risk, told The Daily Beast that he and Carson never discussed the incident during his work on three autobiographies with the neurosurgeon.
“No, but that doesn’t surprise me,” said Lewis. “I haven’t heard that story. My experience with Ben Carson is that he’s incredibly truthful. If he said that happened, I would never even question it.”
Lewis suggested Carson’s humility might have caused him to omit the stick-up story.
“He didn’t try to glamorize things. It was probably something he’d rather not talk about—in keeping with his personality,” said Lewis. “I don’t know what to tell ya, other than I’d believe it if he said it.”
The stick-up story came days after the retired neurosurgeon came under intense criticism following a Monday interview with Fox & Friends, wherein he seemed to suggest the victims of the Oregon school shooting could have done more to stay alive.
“Not only would I probably not cooperate with, I would not just stand there and let him shoot me. I would say, ‘Hey guys, everybody attack him. He may shoot me, but he can’t get us all,’” Carson said.
“I’m fairly upset he said that. Nobody could truly understand what actions they would take like that in a situation unless they lived it,” 18-year-old Umpqua shooting survivor Mathew Downing told CNN on Wednesday.
The next day the Popeyes story emerged.
When asked why Carson is just telling the story now, Williams explained it’s simply not Carson’s nature to talk about himself like a hero. Carson probably just didn’t want to “seem braggadocios.”
“He doesn’t like talking about it,” said Williams. “Obviously, this Oregon situation has sort of made him remember that.”
When The Daily Beast informed Williams that Carson did not, in fact, write about the incident in Take the Risk, he replied, “My personal recollection of the jaw-dropping story is from the good doctor himself. Will update you soon if we secure info you are requesting.”
Williams has known Carson for about 20 years, since the 1990s. In his version of events, when Carson had the gun pulled on him, “it had to be 20 years ago.” (He later clarified that it must have occurred much longer than 20 years ago).
“He was in a Popeyes and—God, this is so long ago—and some guy walked in with a gun and pulled it out and people were panicking,” Williams said.
Carson stayed calm, Williams said, and managed to “diffuse” the situation. “He thought it was kind of unbelievable that the guy calmed down,” he said. “He was very confident in talking the guy through and the guy listened to him.”
Williams first told The Daily Beast that law enforcement intervened.
“I think police came later and chased him down the street,” he said, adding that he wasn’t sure if the gunman was arrested after the chase.
The Baltimore Police Department tweeted on Thursday that they didn’t have enough information to identify the reported incident.
Williams later clarified to The Daily Beast that it wasn’t the police who had chased the gunman, but “the patrons did, after he got the money.”
To complicate the story further, Carson is a vegetarian. Popeyes is not an establishment known for its vegetables or imitation meat products. In a 1990 interview with The Vegetarian Times, Carson said he thought meat caused disease and never liked eating it much. Williams said that despite this, Carson has a soft spot for the chicken joint. It’s his “recollection” that “the good doctor was not a complete veggi at the time. He once loved those biscuits, wings and coleslaw at Popeyes.”
Carson has been trying to reassure conservatives about his pro-gun bonafides since 2013, when he admitted to Glenn Beck that he was unsure if it was a good idea for people who live in heavily populated areas to own semi-automatic weapons. His every utterance on the topic since then has felt designed to placate the pro-gun crowd.
But Lewis, the biographer, said he trusted his friend’s story—and worried Carson would end up a victim of politics.
“He just cares about people. He’s as nice a man as I’ve ever met,” said Lewis. “People look for things to try to get mad about. When he said to me he was thinking about running, I told him I wouldn’t wish that on any friend.”
Additional reporting by Ben Collins and Goldie Taylor
Update: Oct. 9, 2015 at 11:30 a.m. Carson responded to The Daily Beast's story during an interview with Sirius XM on Friday morning. "To me it wasn’t that big of deal, to be honest with you," Carson said. "Really, what you’re saying is ‘are you lying about that? Is that something that you’re making up?’ And why would I be doing that? As a God-fearing Christian, it’s something that happened. It’s not something I made up.”