Ben Carson's Popeyes Robbery Claim Questioned

Published Oct. 9, 2015

NEWS:   Republican presidential hopeful Dr. Ben Carson claimed he was once involved in a robbery at a Popeyes location.

On 7 October 2015, Republican candidate Dr. Ben Carson spoke relayed an anecdote about his purported presence during a robbery at a Popeyes (fast food fried chicken restaurant) to SiriusXM "Urban View" host Karen Hunter. In remarks later widely reproduced and transcribed, Carson said:

I have had a gun held on me when I was in a Popeyes organization. Guy comes in, put the gun in my ribs. And I just said, 'I believe that you want the guy behind the counter.

Carson's claim elicited a number of reactions, many of them critical or skeptical — partially due to the fact that Carson provided few details about when or where the purported incident occurred, and partially because Carson essentially claimed that an armed robber once stuck a gun in his ribs, and his reaction was to redirect the gunman into targeting a restaurant employee.

Among the media outlets questioning the veracity of the anecdote was the Daily Beast: in an article titled "Was Ben Carson Really Held at Gunpoint?" the site questioned Carson's account:

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.

That outlet maintained Williams "later attempted to revise when and how the robbery occurred," later reporting that key details and timeframes provided were suspiciously fluid:

In [Williams'] 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) ... 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 ... 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 ... 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.”

The article insinuated the timing of Carson's story was questionable on the heels of a separate controversy about remarks the candidate made to the hosts of Fox & Friends on 5 October 2015 (two days prior to his recollection of the Popeyes story), interpreted by critics as blaming massacre victims:

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.'

In response to what they described as several media queries, the Baltimore Police Department weighed in via Twitter on 8 October 2015:

On 9 October 2015, Carson defended his account to SiriusXM "POTUS" host Jared Rizzi when the latter asked if Carson could corroborate his story:

I don’t know. To me it wasn’t that big of deal, to be honest with you ... 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.

Carson's campaign eventually provided a few details about the incident just before stating that they would entertain no further discussion of the subject:

Carson told [CNN's] Wolf Blitzer that growing up in inner-city Detroit gave him "the sophistication" to know that the gunman wasn't going to murder him but was just looking to rob the place.

Before saying that they would not discuss the incident any longer, the Carson campaign released a few additional details about the stick up.

Armstrong Williams, the campaign's business manager, said it occurred at the Popeyes on the corner of Broadway and Orleans Street in Baltimore between 1980 and 1983 when Carson was a resident at nearby Johns Hopkins hospital.

Williams said Dr. Carson had gone to the restaurant to get French fries.

Williams told CNN that Carson recalled people in the neighborhood chasing the robber down the street.

The Ben Carson campaign said it will refuse to answer any more questions about [the] incident and called any suggestions he's not telling the truth about what happened "outrageous."

"The incident at Popeyes occurred over 30 years ago. Suggestions that Dr. Carson is lying are outrageous. We will not entertain any further discussion on this issue," Carson's Deputy Communications Director Ying Ma [said].

Veracity wasn't the sole issue to hand regarding Carson's cumulative gun-related remarks that week. With respect to the candidate's initial comments about rushing an active shooter, the Associated Press said that Carson's advice "[drew] criticism from public safety experts" and noted that:

Rushing the shooter should only be used as a last resort, advise public safety experts, including the FBI.

Carson's guidance to attack the shooter is consistent with what the federal government has recommended for responding to a situation with a gunman on the loose — but only if other avenues fail, said John Cohen, a Rutgers University professor who led the Department of Homeland Security's programs on how to respond to these situations.

The program advises people to "run, hide, fight," Cohen said. "As a last resort, fight for survival."

In an active-shooter situation, he said that people should run to escape a gunman if it's possible to do so safely. If not, they should find a place to hide and barricade themselves.

Only as a last resort, he said, are people advised to fight.

Just before Carson's story about the purported Popeyes stickup caused controversy, the candidate spoke at length about gun control during a 7 October 2015 appearance on CBS This Morning.

Kim LaCapria is a former writer for Snopes.