Presidential candidate and quasi-frontrunner Ben Carson says a lot of weird, crazy stuff, so it’s easy to let something slip by. For example, when Carson talked about stabbing a classmate on Meet the Press this weekend, I was more amused by the image he painted of a teenage Ben Carson walking around town wielding “rocks and bricks and baseball bats and hammers” like some sort of ED-209 of Found Weaponry.
I had seen a thumbnail of the stabbing story on Carson’s Wikipedia page, which said he had “tried” to stab a friend over a dispute involving a radio station setting, and figured Carson had maybe pulled a knife on a guy and wanted to stab him, but someone intervened. Then, I caught a clip of Carson giving a more detailed account of the incident at a Faith and Family event recently (as well as describing that wonderful brick/bat/rock/hammer exo-suit):
When I was 14, another teenager angered me, and I took a large camping knife and I tried to stab him in the abdomen, and fortunately under his clothing he had on a large metal belt buckle and the knife blade struck with such force that it broke and he fled in terror.
Now, I understand that unbelievable elements are what make a story a story, because you wouldn’t go around telling people about that time everything went exactly as you would think it did, but you can’t combine several unbelievable elements with an impossible one. Unless that belt buckle was made of Vibranium, it wasn’t going to break a steak knife, let alone a “large camping knife,” and unless it covered his friend’s entire midsection, a knife thrust with that amount of force would have slid off of the belt buckle and into his friend, and Carson would likely have incurred deep wounds to his own hand.
Like his tales of armed robbery, Carson’s stabbing story has drawn skepticism, but unlike the armed robbery story, Carson has been telling this story for a long time, with remarkable consistency. Last year, he told it to my friend, Matt Lewis, and in a 2002 interview, he recited the story as if it were a Bible verse, almost verbatim:
Another youngster angered me, and I had a large camping knife and I tried to stab him in the abdomen, and fortunately he had on a large metal belt buckle under his clothing and the knife blade struck with such force that it broke and he fled in terror. But, I was more terrified as I recognized that I was trying to kill somebody over nothing.
Even way back in 1991, Carson told a lecture audience the tale, with the added flourish that he thought he would put his friend “out of his misery,” and also described three other attacks.
“I would go after people with baseball bats. I remember once a guy hit me with a pebble, and I took a big rock and threw it right at his face, broke his glasses, almost put his eye out. I remember another kid did something silly, shut my locker or something when I wasn’t ready, and I took the combination lock and put it in my hand and (pop) knocked a three-inch gash in his forehead. I was terrible, I tried to hit my mother in the head with a hammer.”
Pause for a moment to consider that Ben Carson has now copped to a minimum of six deadly assaults, since that Master Lock wasn’t on his original list of weapons, and yet he never managed to get arrested, or even catch a beating as far as I can tell. Either he had a rep like Keyser Soze, or there’s something else wrong. He also never managed to kill anyone, so I guess it’s a good thing he went into medicine, because he was a crap murderer. One consistent element in these stories is his first thought when he realized he had almost killed a guy, a thought that no one who ever almost killed a guy would ever have: he would never realize his dream of becoming a doctor if he murdered his friend over a radio.
I mention the 25 or so years of exacting fidelity to this story because right after I watched him tell it, I saw that The Daily Beast had published a piece helpfully excerpting every time Ben Carson had written about the stabbing story, and those accounts were most decidedly inconsistent. Over the course of six retellings, some fairly important details change, and change back. Here’s a choose-your-own-adventure amalgam of the stories:
“I was in the ninth grade when the unthinkable happened. I lost control and tried to knife a friend. Bob and I were listening to a transistor radio when he flipped the dial to another station OR
I was hanging out at the house of my friend Bob, listening to his radio, when he suddenly leaned over and dialed the tuner to another station. I’d been enjoying the song playing on the first station, so I reached over and flipped it back. Bob switched stations again OR
I had been minding my own business when a classmate came along and began to ridicule me OR
One day a boy pushed me too far. I told him to back off, but he wouldn’t quit pestering me.
I had a large camping knife in my hand OR I pulled out my knife OR
I pulled out the pocketknife I always carried OR
Grabbing the camping knife I carried in my back pocket, I snapped it open OR
Pulling out a camping knife, I lunged at my friend.
The knife hit the big, heavy ROTC buckle with such force that the blade snapped and dropped to the ground
my friend ran away terrified but otherwise unhurt OR
Carson ran home, locked himself in the bathroom, and read Proverbs for three hours.”
Those are some strange inconsistencies, especially given how consistently he has told the story to audiences since at least 1991. The Daily Beast’s Gideon Resnick reached out to Carson’s campaign for an explanation. Here’s how that went:
The Daily Beast has made repeated requests for Carson’s campaign, and specifically his business manager Armstrong Williams, to provide a retelling of the story and to clarify who Bob is and what role he played in Carson’s life.
The campaign has not responded to multiple requests for comment.
Luckily, MSNBC’s Tamron Hall interviewed Carson Press Secretary Deana Bass Wednesday afternoon, and asked about the inconsistencies. Bass responded by tellingly referring to the story as a “very consistent narrative”:
“When Dr. Carson talks about his temperament as a teenager, it’s a very consistent narrative and it actually happened. He did have a violent temper and from all of his writings, it’s very consistent. So, the notion that he would fabricate this story is actually ridiculous.”
What Bass is really saying is that Carson has his story straight, but he really doesn’t. Aside from the various inconsistencies that Resnick uncovered, someone needs to explain how Bob’s magical belt buckle stopped a large camping knife and destroyed it. Maybe if he’s not too shy, Bob can explain it.
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.