Fact Check

Does This Photograph Show a Woman Abused by Keith Ellison?

Rep. Keith Ellison's former girlfriend has leveled charges of "narcissist abuse" against him, but a picture of a badly injured woman used in a meme shows someone else.

Published Sept. 22, 2018

 (Talk Radio News Service / FLICKR)
Image courtesy of Talk Radio News Service / FLICKR
A photograph depicts a former girlfriend badly beaten by Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota.

In August 2018, Austin Monahan, the son of a woman who was once the girlfriend of Representative Keith Ellison of Minnesota, published a Facebook post claiming that Ellison had abused his mother. Among other things, Monahan asserted that he had found a video on his mother's computer of Ellison "dragging my mama off the bed by her feet, screaming and calling her a 'fucking bitch' and telling her to get the fuck out of his house":

Ellison denied both the allegations of abuse and the existence of such a video, while Karen Monahan, the putative victim, maintained that Ellison had subjected her to “narcissist abuse”:

Representative Keith Ellison has denied allegations that he emotionally and physically abused a former girlfriend, including once trying to pull her off a bed while yelling obscenities at her.

The denial by Mr. Ellison, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for state attorney general, was forceful. “Karen and I were in a long-term relationship which ended in 2016, and I still care deeply for her well-being,” he said in a statement. “This video does not exist because I never behaved in this way, and any characterization otherwise is false.”

In an email to The New York Times, Ms. Monahan, an organizer at the Minnesota chapter of the Sierra Club, said that she survived what she described as “narcissist abuse” after a multiyear relationship with Mr. Ellison, the deputy chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

“It is the most difficult form of abuse to articulate,” Ms. Monahan, 44, wrote in the email. “It is a slow insidious form of abuse. You don’t realize it is happening until it’s too late.”

Karen Monahan later shared elements of her story on Twitter:

Karen Monahan also affirmed that the video did exist, sharing with CNN screenshots of messages between her and Ellison that referenced it:

Monahan provided one text of her mentioning the physical altercation to Ellison in December 2017.

"Keith, We never discussed -- the video I have of you trying to drag me off the bed, yelling get the f*** out now, calling me a bitch and saying I hate you bitch," the text message read. In follow up texts viewed by CNN, Ellison did not directly address the physical altercation.

However, CNN reported that when they asked Monahan for a copy of the video, "Monahan said she misplaced it when moving and provided no other evidence to corroborate her story at the time."

The month after this story first broke, a meme featuring a picture of a woman bearing deep, ugly purplish bruises around her right eye and jawline began to circulate on social media, along with the claim that it depicted Karen Monahan:

However, the notion that the photograph was truly a picture of Karen Monahan that documented her condition after an assault by Ellison was questionable, because neither she nor her son claimed that Ellison had beaten or struck her about the face and head.

Moreover, not only does the pictured woman not look like Karen Monahan, but Monahan herself stated on Twitter that "This picture is NOT me" and asked users to stop sharing it:

We don't yet know the real identity of the injured women seen here. This picture appears to have been online for several years, posted from countries such as Russia and South Africa, and offering no descriptive information other than generic terms such as "pregnant woman beaten by her boyfriend":


A similar social media post about Ellison included a picture of a different battered woman:

Again, this post was misleading: Karen Monahan was not Ellison's wife, the issue had nothing to do with "Sharia law," and the picture was not one of Monahan but rather an image associated with the mid-1980s case of Tracey Thurman (who sued a city police department for failing to protect her from her abusive husband) and the 1989 TV movie based on it.

This photograph also has nothing to do with claims made against Michael Avenatti, the attorney who represents Stormy Daniels in her legal actions involving Donald Trump.


Kaczynski, Andrew and Nathan McDermott   "Keith Ellison Denies Allegations He Abused Ex-Girlfriend."     CNN.   13 August 2018.

Cillizza, Chris   "The Allegations of Abuse Against Keith Ellison Aren't Going Away."     CNN.   21 September 2018.

Haag, Matthew   "Representative Keith Ellison Denies Domestic Abuse Allegations."     The New York Times.   13 August 2018.

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

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