For decades, he’s told stories about beating the odds to become one of the world’s top pediatric neurosurgeons, but one expert says that newly discovered anecdotes are casting doubt on presidential candidate Ben Carson’s claims that he grew up poor and black — and that he was ever a certified doctor.
Phineas Q. Gage — an investigative reporter so adept at spotting falsehoods that he once worked as a fact checker for the website Politico — has penned a book that demolishes the more outlandish of Carson’s claims, from the candidate’s supposedly inauspicious upbringing by a working-class single mother in Detroit, to his fanciful achievements in the operating room.
In “Ben Carson: Liar,” published by Mendacity Press, Gage builds a powerful case against Carson using solid speculation, compelling dislike for the man, and a partial summary of a transcript of a decades-old interview with someone who may have known Carson as a boy.
The Johns Hopkins Hospital hoax
Central to Carson’s inspirational life story is that for nearly 30 years, he was head of pediatric neurosurgery at Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins Hospital, where he pioneered groundbreaking procedures and received widespread acclaim for leading the first team to separate twins joined at the head. A big fat lie, Gage says.
“It’s true that Ben Carson worked at Johns Hopkins Hospital in the 1980s,” Gage said in an interview with the Dandy Goat. “But only as a part-time member of the night cleaning crew, and he only got that job after being a patient in the hospital’s drug rehabilitation clinic.”
Carson eventually quit the cleaning crew, saying that mopping floors was “mentally taxing,” but he soon got hired as a test subject in a Johns Hopkins pharmaceutical research unit. Although Carson enjoyed the undemanding life of a professional medicine taker, which gave him ample time to enjoy his favorite gameshow “The Price Is Right” and his beloved soap opera “Days of Our Lives,” he sensed that others found him unexceptional. That’s when he began telling everyone to refer to him as “Dr.” Ben Carson.
“After having spent so much time in a clinical environment, he must have witnessed how highly regarded doctors are, so having others call him ‘doctor’ made him feel special,” Gage said. “But to make his fantasy plausible, he needed to create a web of interconnected lies — about going to medical school, about the complexities of the brain, about taking part in difficult 22-hour surgeries — so vivid that he started believing them. Ben Carson went bonkers, to put it mildly.”
Carson was consequently institutionalized and spent next 15 years isolated in a psychiatric ward for the hopelessly insane. It was in his padded chamber where, using a dull crayon and hundreds of pilfered rolls of toilet paper, he penned a draft of his first “autobiography,” originally entitled “If These Walls Could Talk … Oh Wait, They Do, Because I’m Crazy.”
A 20th-century Horatio Alger?
Ben Carson remained dead set on earning everyone’s respect. And despite being heavily medicated, he was cognizant enough to sense that the orderlies, nurses and his imaginary friends were not impressed by his tales about separating conjoined twins, removing inoperable brain tumors, and curing childhood epilepsy with his mere touch.
“Ben Carson felt that in order to really win admiration, he needed to create an engrossing backstory about growing up poor and black, full of colorful details about teenage delinquency, petty crime, violence and hopelessness,” Gage said. “This was followed by a heroic, almost mythical turnaround, after which he went to Yale and became a top ROTC student, and so on.”
“Lies, lies and lies. And more lies.”
Benjamin Rutherford Carson IV, son of privilege
According to someone Gage met in an internet politics forum, in 1951, a very white Carson was born Benjamin Rutherford Carson IV to Detroit’s wealthiest family, known for their 990-acre estate, private amusement park, and his parents’ very public vow to give their three children every last advantage in life. Despite all this, by the age of 16 Carson had failed out of Michigan’s best prep schools. He was quickly becoming the black sheep of the Carson dynasty.
Desperate that his son not tarnish the family name and squander all his privilege before even graduating from high school, Carson’s father sent him to an expensive military school in Virginia where he lasted for only three days. He was expelled for lying to fellow students, saying that his grandfather had invented bread rolls and that his aunt owned a stable of flying ponies. This short stint is the only — albeit tenuous — link Carson ever had to the armed forces.
“He probably heard someone, an older, more respectable fellow, mention West Point, which explains why Ben Carson later lied about having been offered a scholarship there,” Gage says.
It was around this time that Carson — who more closely resembled a dandy or an effete bohemian type than a roughneck or misfit, as he would later claim — started doing drugs. By the early 70s, Carson, or “Benny the LSD Freak,” as he was known to the hippies and junkies with whom he associated, was living off his trust fund, going to psychedelic rock concerts and experimenting with consuming hallucinogenic bathroom mold, blissfully oblivious to the doors closing behind him.
By the end of the decade, Carson was a total burnout, so his family cut him off. Carson’s maternal grandfather — the billionaire refrigerator magnate Charles Lewis Cane — removed Carson from his will, calling the lad “an incurable liar and rascal.” Carson hitchhiked to California and spent the following decade “keeping a stool warm” at the Golden Goose, a dive bar in Oakland where he earned dimes and quarters by telling crude jokes to intoxicated sailors and longshoremen.
“Here was a guy who, as a child, was handed everything on a silver platter, including silver platters — which his mother collected, incidentally,” Gage said. “Ben Carson had all the privileges in the book: male privilege, white privilege, wealth privilege. And he blew it.”
In 1981, Carson was run out of Oakland after telling the same joke about a midget prostitute too many times. He moved across the county to Baltimore, where it was rumored that booze and drugs were plentiful, and where women could be easily wooed with a simple naughty limerick.
He barely scraped by and in 1990 — the same year the pop music duo Milli Vanilli was busted for lip-syncing — he was arrested for manufacturing hallucinogenic bathroom mold. Facing 30 years in prison, Carson’s father granted him one last favor: he hired a team of lawyers to keep his son out of jail. The elder Carson also paid for him to spend six months in the $3000-a-day drug rehabilitation center at Johns Hopkins Hospital. The younger Carson would end up spending the next two decades in Baltimore, mostly confined to an institution.
Destination: White House
Carson is now 64. Looking back on his life, it’s not hard to imagine that he’s racked by guilt and shame, Gage says. A phenomenal failure and disgraced scion of a Detroit empire, he is searching for redemption in perhaps the only way possible: by running for U.S. president.
“It’s really quite sad that Ben Carson can’t just face the truth: that he’s a white man from a rich white family who wasted his rich white life,” Gage said. “If he would just fess up, people might forgive him, and he could spend the rest of his days writing fiction or something equally simpleminded.”
Gage says that it’s important to note that as Carson wasted his life away, his elder sister Hortencia went on to develop vaccines for hundreds of diseases while in her spare time she trained to be an astronaut. Carson’s older brother Johnny — who was born with a quarter of a brain — overcame this disadvantage and eventually made millions in television entertainment, later donating his assets to charity and moving to Romania to join an order of Franciscan monks who care for injured squirrels and bears.