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Ben Carson

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For the fictional character Ben Carson, see Mirrors (film).
Ben Carson
Ben Carson by Gage Skidmore 6.jpg
Carson at a U.S. Republican Party event in November 2015.
Born Benjamin Solomon Carson
(1951-09-18) September 18, 1951 (age 64)
Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
Alma mater Yale University (B.A.)
University of Michigan Medical School (M.D.)
Known for Separation of conjoined twins
Conservative political commentary
2016 presidential candidacy
Political party Republican (1981–99; 2014–present)
Democratic (before 1981)
Independent (1999–2014)[1]
Religion Protestant (Seventh-day Adventist)
Spouse(s) Lacena "Candy" (Rustin) Carson (m. 1975)
Children 3 sons:
Benjamin, Jr.
Parent(s) Robert Solomon Carson
Sonya Copeland
Awards Presidential Medal of Freedom
Ford's Theatre Lincoln Medal

Benjamin Solomon "Ben" Carson, Sr. (born September 18, 1951) is a retired American neurosurgeon who is a candidate for the Republican nomination for President of the United States in the 2016 election. Born in Detroit, Michigan and a graduate of Yale University and the University of Michigan Medical School, Carson has authored numerous books on his medical career and political stances, and was the subject of a television drama film in 2009.

He was the Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Maryland from 1984 until his retirement in 2013. Among his achievements as a surgeon were separating conjoined twins and developing a hemispherectomy technique for controlling brain seizures. Both achievements were recognized in 2008 with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Carson's widely publicized speech at the 2013 National Prayer Breakfast catapulted him to conservative fame for his views on social and political issues.[2] On May 4, 2015, Carson announced he was running for the Republican nomination in the 2016 presidential election at a rally in his hometown of Detroit.[3]

Early life and education

Carson was born in Detroit, Michigan, the son of Sonya (née Copeland) and Robert Solomon Carson, a Baptist minister and later Cadillac factory worker. Both parents came from large families in rural Georgia and were living in rural Tennessee when they met and married. Carson's mother was only 13 when she married Carson's father. Carson's mother subsequently discovered her husband had another family, in with Carson's father eventually moved.[4][unreliable source?][5] Following his parents' divorce, when Carson was eight years old, both he and his older brother, Curtis, were raised by their mother, who worked two or three jobs at a time, usually as a domestic servant. They were poor, and his mother occasionally relied on food stamps and other government assistance.[6]

In his book Gifted Hands, Carson relates that, in his youth, he had a violent temper. He said he once tried to hit his mother over the head with a hammer over a clothing dispute and, while in the ninth grade, he attempted to stab a friend who had changed the station on the radio; the blade broke in his friend's belt buckle.[7][8][9] After this incident, Carson said that he began reading the Book of Proverbs and applying verses on anger. As a result, Carson states he "never had another problem with temper".[10][11][12] Some of his narratives, about his childhood violence and poverty, were challenged during Carson's campaign in 2015. For example, nine friends, classmates and neighbors who grew up with Carson, told CNN in 2015 they did not remember the anger or violence Carson has described; all expressed surprise about the incidents that Carson said had occurred.[13]

Carson attended Southwestern High School in Southwest Detroit, where he participated in the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC), a program sponsored by the United States Armed Forces, and reached the rank of cadet colonel.[14]

Carson does not say in his books whether he applied for and received a college student deferment during the Vietnam War. He does say that his older brother, who was a student at the University of Michigan, received a low number (26) in the first draft lottery in 1969 and enlisted in the Navy for four years instead of being drafted,[15] whereas he received a high number (333) in the second draft lottery in 1970.[16] Carson said he would have readily accepted his responsibility to fight had he been drafted,[16] but he "identified strongly with the antiwar protesters and the revolutionaries" and enthusiastically voted for antiwar Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern in 1972.[17] In his book, America the Beautiful (2012), Carson said: "The Vietnam War was, in retrospect, not a noble conflict. It brought shame to our nation because of both the outcome and the cause".[18]

In 1973, Carson graduated from Yale University, where he majored in psychology.[19] He received his M.D. from the University of Michigan Medical School in 1977.[20][21]



Ben Carson

After medical school, Carson completed his residency in neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland.[22] In 1983, at the suggestion of an Australian colleague, he accepted the position of senior registrar at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital (in Perth, Western Australia), spending one year there.[23] Upon returning to Johns Hopkins in 1984, Carson was appointed the university's Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery.[24] As a surgeon, he specialized in traumatic brain injuries, brain and spinal cord tumors, achondroplasia, neurological and congenital disorders, craniosynostosis, epilepsy, and trigeminal neuralgia.[25] He has said that his hand–eye coordination and three-dimensional reasoning made him a gifted surgeon.[26]

While at Johns Hopkins, Carson figured in the revival of the hemispherectomy, a drastic surgical procedure in which part or all of one hemisphere of the brain is removed to control severe pediatric epilepsy. Encouraged by John M. Freeman,[27] he refined the procedure in the 1980s and performed it many times.[28][29]

In 1987, Carson was the lead neurosurgeon of a 70-member surgical team that successfully separated conjoined twins, Patrick and Benjamin Binder, who had been joined at the back of the head (craniopagus twins); the separation surgery held promise in part because the twin boys had separate brains.[30] Both boys entered the hospital "giggling and kicking" in preparation for surgery without which, it was said at the time, the seven-month-old twins would never have been able to crawl, walk, or turn over.[30] The Johns Hopkins surgical team rehearsed the surgery for weeks, practicing on two dolls secured together by Velcro.[30] Although follow-up stories were few following the Binder twins' return to Germany seven months after the operation,[30] both twins were reportedly "far from normal" two years after the procedure, with one in a vegetative state.[31][32][33][30] "I will never get over this . . . Why did I have them separated?" said their mother, Theresia Binder, in a 1993 interview.[30] Neither twin was ever able to talk or care for himself, and both would eventually become institutionalized wards of the state.[30] Patrick Binder died sometime during the last decade, according to his uncle, who was located by the Washington Post in 2015.[30] The Binder surgery served as blueprint for similar twin separations, a procedure which was refined in subsequent decades.[30] Carson participated in four subsequent high-risk conjoined twin separations, including a 1997 operation on craniopagus Zambian twins, Joseph and Luka Banda, which resulted in a normal neurological outcome.[30] Two sets of twins died, including Iranian twins Ladan and Laleh Bijani; another separation resulted in the death of one twin and the survival of another, who is legally blind and struggles to walk.[34]

According to the Washington Post, the Binder surgery "launched the stardom" of Ben Carson, who "walked out of the operating room that day into a spotlight that has never dimmed", beginning with a press conference that was covered worldwide, which created name recognition ultimately leading to publishing deals and a motivational speaking career.[30] On the condition the film would have its premiere in Baltimore,[30] Carson agreed to a cameo appearance as "head surgeon" in the 2003 Farrelly brothers' comedy Stuck on You, starring Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear as conjoined twins who, unhappy after their surgical separation, continue life attached to each other by Velcro.[30][35]

In March, 2013, Carson announced he would retire as a surgeon, saying: "I'd much rather quit when I'm at the top of my game."[36] His retirement became official on July 1, 2013.[37]

Articles, books, media posts

Carson has written many articles in peer-reviewed journals[38] and six bestselling books[39] published by Zondervan, an international Christian media and publishing company. The first book was an autobiography published in 1992. Two others are about his personal philosophies of success, which include focused, high-quality work and what he sees as the stabilizing influence of religion.[citation needed]

In July 2013, Carson was hired by The Washington Times as a weekly opinion columnist.[40] In October 2013, Fox News hired Carson as a contributor, to provide analysis and commentary across Fox News Channel's daytime and primetime programming, a relationship which lasted to the end of 2014.[41]

Political affiliation and 2016 candidacy

Ben Carson speaking at a campaign event in August 2015.

Carson, who had been registered as a Republican, changed his registration to independent in the 1990s after watching Republicans impeach President Clinton for perjury and obstruction of justice regarding an extramarital affair with Monica Lewinsky. "I just saw so much hypocrisy in both parties", he said.[42] In February 2013, Carson said he was not a member of any political party.[43]

In his book America the Beautiful (2013), he wrote: "I believe it is a very good idea for physicians, scientists, engineers, and others trained to make decisions based on facts and empirical data to get involved in the political arena."[44][45] On November 4, 2014, the day the 2014 midterms, he rejoined the Republican Party, saying it was "truly a pragmatic move" because he was considering running for president in 2016.[42]

In January 2015, The Weekly Standard reported that the Draft Carson Committee had raised $13 million by the end of 2014, shortly after Carson performed well in a CNN/ORC poll of potential candidates in December 2014, coming second in two different versions. He polled 10% to Mitt Romney's 20%, but in the same poll with Romney removed from the list, Carson polled 11% to Jeb Bush's 14%.[46][47] The Wall Street Journal mentioned that the Draft Carson Committee had chairmen in all of Iowa's 99 counties, and that Carson had recently led two separate Public Policy polls for the state of Pennsylvania.[48][49]

In an interview with a Cincinnati TV station[which?] on May 3, 2015, Carson confirmed his candidacy for president. The next day, May 4, 2015, at a rally in his home town of Detroit,[3] he officially announced his run for the Republican nomination in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. In October, it was noted that Carson's "improbable" political career had surged in polls and fundraising, while he continued to participate in nationally-televised Republican debates.[50][51]

In November 2015, Carson's campaign aired a 60-second TV advertisement in which excerpts from Carson's stump speech were intercut with a rap by an artist named Aspiring Mogul.[52]

Carson Scholars Fund

In 1994, Carson and his wife started the Carson Scholars Fund, which awards scholarships to students in grades 4–11 for "academic excellence and humanitarian qualities".[53] They founded it after reading that U.S. students ranked second to last in terms of math and science testing among 22 countries. They also noticed that schools awarded athletes with trophies, whereas honor students only received "a pin or certificate".

Recipients of the Carson Scholars Fund receive a $1,000 scholarship towards their college education. It has awarded 6,700 scholarships.[53][54] In recognition for his work with the Carson Scholars Fund and other charitable giving throughout his lifetime, Carson was awarded the William E. Simon Prize for Philanthropic Leadership in 2005.[55]

Personal life

In 2006, the television mini-series African American Lives conducted a DNA test as part of its segment on Carson. The test indicated that his ancestry is 20% European and 80% African, including ancestors within the Makua people.[56]


Carson and his wife, Lacena "Candy" Rustin, met in 1971 as students at Yale University. They married in 1975 and lived in Howard County, Maryland,[57] before moving in 2001 to West Friendship, Maryland, where they had purchased a 48-acre property. Their house there included eight bedrooms and 12 bathrooms.[6] Together, the couple have three sons (Rhoeyce, Benjamin Jr., and Murray), as well as several grandchildren. Their youngest son, Murray, was born in Perth, Australia, while Carson was undertaking a residency there.[23]

In 2013, Carson, his wife, and Carson's mother moved to West Palm Beach, Florida.[58][59]


Carson and his wife are members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church (SDA).[60][61] Carson was baptized at Burns Seventh-day Adventist Church on Detroit's eastside. A few years later, he told the pastor at a church he was attending in Inkster, Michigan that he had not fully understood his first baptism and wanted to be baptized again, so he was.[62] He has served as a local elder and Sabbath School teacher in the Seventh-day Adventist Church.[63] His mother is a devout Seventh-day Adventist.[64] Although Carson is an SDA, the church has officially cautioned church employees to remain politically neutral.[65]


Consistent with Adventist teachings, Carson is a lacto-ovo vegetarian (he will eat dishes containing milk, eggs, or cheese, and occasionally, poultry[66])[66][67][68] He has said his main reason for becoming vegetarian was health concerns, including avoiding parasites and heart disease, and he emphasizes the environmental benefits of vegetarianism.[67] His transition was made easier because he had eaten little meat for aesthetic reasons as a child,[67] and he readily adopted his wife's vegetarianism because she does much of the cooking in their household.[67][68] Speaking in 1990, he said that with the increasing availability of meat substitutes, "It might take 20 years. But eventually there will no longer be a reason for most people to eat meat. And animals will breathe a sigh of relief."[67] To avoid causing others discomfort, he is willing to occasionally eat chicken or turkey, although he finds eating pork highly unpleasant.[68]


In financial disclosure forms, Carson and his wife reported income of between $8.9 million and $27 million from January 2014 to May 3, 2015, when he announced his presidential campaign.[69] Over that period, Carson received over $4 million from 141 paid speeches; between $1.1 million and $6 million in book royalties; between $200,000 to $2 million as a contributor to the Washington Times and Fox News; and between $2 million and $10 million as a member of the boards of Kellogg Co. and Costco Wholesale Corp.[69] He resigned from Costco's board in mid-2015, after serving on it for more than 16 years.[70]

Political positions

Abortion and human fetal tissue

Carson has described himself as pro-life, comparing women who have abortions to historical slave owners,[71] and supports overturning the 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade.[72] He opposes access to abortion in virtually all cases, including pregnancies resulting from incest or rape,[72] but would consider allowing its use if a woman's health is in danger.[72] In August 2015, Carson said, "The number-one cause of death for black people is abortion."[73]

After undercover videos recorded by an anti-abortion group showed Planned Parenthood officials discussing the donation of tissue from aborted fetuses for medical research,[74] Carson condemned the videos and argued that fetal tissue had no use in medical research, saying: "...there's nothing that can not be done without fetal tissue..."[75] Subsequently, Dr. Jen Gunter, an ob/gyn and blogger - identified research that Carson himself had performed and published using tissue from fetuses aborted in the 9th and 17th weeks of gestation.[76][77] Carson defended his past use of tissue from aborted fetuses for medical research in part, by stating, "to not use the tissue that is in a tissue bank, regardless of where it comes from, would be foolish. Why would anybody not do that?"[78] Carson also told the Washington Post: "If you're killing babies and taking the tissue, that's a very different thing than taking a dead specimen and keeping a record of it."[79]

Climate change

Carson rejects the scientific consensus that human activity causes climate change; in November 2014, he said: "there's always going to be either cooling or warming going on", and he found the debate on climate change "irrelevant" and a distraction from protecting the environment.[80]

In 2015, Carson expressed his disbelief about the scientific consensus on climate change, at a Commonwealth Club forum in San Francisco.[81] After this statement, Governor Jerry Brown of California sent Carson a flash drive containing the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Synthesis Report, which details the scientific evidence of human impact on climate change.[81][82] Carson's response to the San Francisco Chronicle was: "There is no overwhelming science that the things that are going on are man-caused and not naturally caused."[81][82]

Economic issues

Carson has not "fleshed out enough for a tax policy for experts to really run the numbers", according to CNN Money,[83] but has suggested that the U.S. abandon its current personal income tax system in favor of a flat tax.[83][84][85] Along with a flat tax, Carson has advocated for a national luxury tax on "very expensive items".[86][87] Carson also supports a balanced budget amendment to the United States Constitution, in order to combat the national debt.[83] and raising the minimum age to receive Social Security benefits, "because people are living longer, straining the solvency of the program".[88]

While most of Carson's economic policy beliefs reflect "current Republican orthodoxy", he diverges from other Republican presidential candidates in his support for reinstating Glass-Steagall, a Depression-era law that separated commercial and investment banks and was repealed in 1999.[86] Carson believes the repeal of Glass-Steagall helped foster growth in banks that made them too big to fail.[86]

During the 2015 presidential campaign, Carson initially said the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 should "possibly" or "probably" be higher.[89][90] He supported a two-tiered minimum wage system, with a lower "starter" minimum wage for young workers.[90][91] He also supported indexing the minimum wage to inflation, "so that we never have to have this conversation again in the history of America."[90] At the fourth Republican debate, Carson argued against increasing the minimum wage and said that just "19.8 percent of black teens have a job who are looking for one", but the Bureau of Labor Statistics says that 74.4 percent of them have jobs.[92] His campaign later clarified that he was referring to the summer jobless rate for black teens.[92][93]

As for the size of the federal workforce, Carson calls it "absurd" and would reduce it by cutting back on hiring people, as an alternative to layoffs.[85]

Regarding international trade, Carson has said that free trade "is a wonderful thing" but voiced objections to the Trans-Pacific Partnership. He wants to see the TPP renegotiated, "because right now we have a lot of special interest groups who benefit".[85]

When asked about the impact of regulations on the economy, Carson said: "[…] even for the average person, every single regulation costs money. And it’s shifted to the individual. So — and it hurts the poor and the middle class much more than it does the rich. They go into the store and they buy a bar of soap, it costs 10 cents more, they notice it. And the middle class, when they come to the cash register, have a whole cart full of things that cost 5, 10 or 15 cents more, they notice it. It is hurting the poor."[94]


In an October 2015 interview, Carson stated: "I actually have something I would use the Department of Education to do. It would be to monitor our institutions of higher education for extreme political bias and deny federal funding on that basis."[95][96] On the AP U.S. History curriculum, Carson said it overemphasizes wrongdoing by the United States: "I think most people, when they finish that course, they'd be ready to go sign up for ISIS."[97]

In February 2015, at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, Carson said: "I've found that homeschoolers do the best, private schoolers next best, charter schoolers next best, and public schoolers worst." On that basis, he advocated school choice.[98]

Firearms regulation

Carson stated in 2013 that semi-automatic firearms should be better regulated in large cities and high-crime areas.[99] This statement attracted criticism from conservative opponents of gun control. Carson has declined to backtrack from that view, but says he is strongly in favor of the Second Amendment, and while guns being used on innocent people " horrible...", it " not nearly as horrible as having a population that is defenseless against a group of tyrants who have arms...".[100][101][102] Also regarding gun control, Carson said in October 2015: "...There is no doubt that this senseless violence is breathtaking – but I never saw a body with bullet holes that was more devastating than taking the right to arm ourselves away..."[73]

Foreign policy

The New York Times reported in 2015, "Carson has acknowledged being something of a novice on foreign affairs". Regarding the Ukrainian crisis, Carson would send arms to Ukraine to aid it in its fight against pro-Russian rebels. He also believes the Baltic states should "get involved in NATO" (apparently unaware that they are NATO members).[103]

In a November 2015 Republican debate, Carson declared his intentions to make ISIS "look like losers" as he would "destroy their caliphate". Carson also advocated capturing a "big energy field" outside of Anbar, Iraq, which he said could be accomplished "fairly easily". Regarding the Middle East, he also claimed that "the Chinese are there"; while in contrast, The Guardian reported that "there are no known members of the Chinese armed forces currently engaged in any conflict in the Middle East".[104]

Carson said that he is not opposed to a Palestinian state, but questioned why it needs "to be within the confines of Israeli territory […] Is that necessary, or can you sort of slip that area down into Egypt?"[105]

Free speech and Nazi Germany comparisons

In March 2014, when asked about his previous claim that Americans were living "in a Gestapo age", Carson said that the United States is "very much like Nazi Germany ... [there] you had a government using its tools to intimidate a population ... We now live in a society where people are afraid to say what they actually believe", due to "PC police", politicians and the media which "stifle people's conversation".[106][107]

In October 2015, Carson said he would "beg to differ" with people who thought America would never become something akin to Nazi Germany; stating: "If you go back and look at the history of the world, tyranny and despotism and how it starts, it has a lot to do with control of thought and control of speech." When questioned about whether he was comparing President Obama to Hitler, Carson said: "No. I am saying in a situation where people do not express themselves, bad things can happen."[108]

Also in that month, The Washington Post labelled Carson as "the biggest fan of Nazi metaphors in politics" in America. It described Carson as someone who "doesn't shy away from holding up Nazi Germany as a dire warning of the slippery slope America is on". The Washington Post listed Carson's referring to Nazi Germany or Hitler on various topics, including American society and "how a general population kept their mouth shut", Obama supporters, socialists, gun rights, and Planned Parenthood.[109]


Carson has been critical of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. In 2013, Carson said: "You know Obamacare is really I think the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery ... And it is in a way, it is slavery in a way, because it is making all of us subservient to the government, and it was never about health care. It was about control."[110]

As an alternative to the Affordable Care Act, Carson says: "Here's my solution. When a person is born, give him a birth certificate, an electronic medical record and a health savings account."[111] In a December 2014 op-ed, Carson elaborated: "we need to remove health care from the political arena and recognize that any government proposals affecting the health of all citizens should be free market-based and should be so appealing that it would not be necessary to force citizens into the program."[112]

To fund health savings accounts, Carson supports moving dollars out of "traditional health care" programs like Medicaid.[113] Under a proposal outlined by Carson in 2014, the government would contribute $2,000 to each individual's account annually, individuals and employers would be permitted to contribute additional funds to the accounts, and unspent funds could be shared within a family.[113] Carson has said that his plan "makes every family their own insurance company."[113]

Separately from his individual-account proposal, in a 2014 op-ed he called for a system "similar to Medicare and Medicaid" for a group that Carson terms the "5 percent of patients with complex pre-existing or acquired maladies."[113][114] In October 2015, Carson said if someone preferred the current Medicare or Medicaid programs to the health-savings-account approach, "I'm not going to deny you the privilege of doing that."[115]


In the Washington Times, Carson wrote: "Once illegals have legal status, it will be difficult to deny them any of the multitudinous entitlements that are freely distributed throughout our society." Carson believes that illegal immigrants should be able to register as guest workers and have a pathway to apply for permanent resident status.[88]

In August 2015, Carson said he was "suggesting we do what we need to do to secure the border -- whatever that is". Carson proposed using drone strikes, although not on people - "I'm not talking about killing people. No people with drones." Instead, the drone strikes would be used on "the caves that are utilized to hide people" illegally entering the United States from Mexico as "those caves can be eliminated". Additionally, "drones can help with the surveillance".[116][117]

In September 2015, Carson said that due to the difficulty in deporting illegal immigrants, he would instead prioritize sealing the borders of the United States, which "in the Carson administration that would be done in the first year". He also said that "you have to also turn off the spigot that dispenses the goodies so that people don't have any incentive to come here".[118][119]

In November 2015, while speaking to reporters following a campaign stop in Mobile, Alabama, Carson likened the issue of terrorism as it might relate to the Syrian refugee issue, saying, "If there’s a rabid dog running around in your neighborhood, you’re probably not going to assume something good about that dog, and you’re probably gonna put your children out of the way”.[120][121][122]

Marijuana and drug policy

Carson has said: "I think medical use of marijuana in compassionate cases certainly has been proven to be useful", but he opposes legalization of recreational marijuana.[123] Carson believes marijuana is a gateway drug.[123] On the legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado, Carson said "I don't think this is something that we really want for our society. You know, we're gradually just removing all the barriers to hedonistic activity and you know, it's just, we're changing so rapidly to a different type of society and nobody is getting a chance to discuss it because, you know, it's taboo".[123][124][125]

In an appearance on Glenn Beck's show, Carson said he would "intensify" the War on Drugs.[126]

Marriage and LGBT issues

In March 2013, Carson described his views about same-sex marriage on Hannity, saying: "Marriage is between a man and a woman. No group, be they gays, be they NAMBLA, be they people who believe in bestiality, it doesn't matter what they are. They don't get to change the definition."[127] The comments caused controversy (see section below).[128] Carson later said "the examples were not the best choice of words", adding that the Bible "says we have an obligation to love our fellow man as ourselves, and I love everybody the same—all homosexuals."[129][130] According to Carson, "I was trying to say that as far as marriage was concerned, it has traditionally been between a man and a woman and no one should be able to change that."[131] Carson continued to clarify his comments in later years: "That point was if you change the definition of marriage for one group, you’ll have to change it for the next group and the next group", which was characterized as a slippery slope argument by The Washington Post.[132]

In a Facebook post, Carson wrote that he supports civil unions for gay couples and he has "for many years".[133] Carson, while on the boards for Costco and food manufacturer Kellogg's, supported initiatives for employment non-discrimination, health insurance for domestic partners, and diversity training.[134]

Later in 2015, reacting to an ordinance in Houston, Texas that would have permitted those who are transgender to enter a bathroom designated for the gender they identify with, Carson proposed the idea of transgender bathrooms, saying: "It is not fair for them to make everybody else uncomfortable. ... I think everybody has equal rights, but I'm not sure that anybody should have extra rights – extra rights when it comes to redefining everything for everybody else and imposing your view on everybody else."[135]

National Prayer Breakfast speech and its impact

Carson at the White House in 2008 for the Presidential Medal of Freedom

Carson was the keynote speaker at the National Prayer Breakfast on February 7, 2013.[136] The speech garnered Carson considerable attention because the event is normally apolitical in nature, and the speech was critical of the philosophy and policies of President Barack Obama, who was sitting 10 feet away.[137]

About the speech, Carson said: "I don't think it was particularly political...You know, I'm a physician".[138] Regarding the policies of President Obama, he said: "There are a number of policies that I don't believe lead to the growth of our nation and don't lead to the elevation of our nation. I don't want to sit here and say all of his policies are bad. What I would like to see more often in this nation is an open and intelligent conversation".[138]

Carson's sudden popularity among conservatives led to his being invited as a featured speaker at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). He tied for seventh place in the Washington Times/CPAC 2013 Straw Poll with 4% of the 3,000 ballots cast.[139][140] In the 2014 CPAC straw poll, he was in third place with 9% of the vote, behind senators Ted Cruz of Texas (with 11%) and Rand Paul of Kentucky (31%).[141] In the presidential straw poll at the 2013 Values Voter Summit he and Rick Santorum polled 13%, with winner Ted Cruz polling 42%, and in 2014 he polled 20% to Cruz’s winning 25%.[142][143]

National security

In 2015, Carson's "main national security adviser" has been Robert F. Dees, a retired army major general. Dees has argued a theme that Carson has adopted, linking national security to spiritual values. Dees argues in Resilient Nations (2014) that the greatest threat to America is not terrorism or China or Russia but rather the decline of its "spiritual infrastructure". Dees writes:

At the height of Roman decadence, good became evil and evil became good....One can rightly argue that the United States is frightfully close to a similar fate. Prayerfully, it is not too late.[144]

Religious freedom

In a 2014 op-ed article, Carson argued that the First Amendment's Establishment Clause has been "reinterpreted" by progressives away from its original intent.[145][146][147] He said in May 2015: "To try to impose one's religious beliefs on someone else is absolutely what we should not be doing. That goes in both directions."[148]

During a September 2015 Meet the Press interview Chuck Todd asked Carson, "Should a President's faith matter [to voters]?" Carson replied that if a faith is "inconsistent with the values and principles of America, then of course it should matter."[149] Todd continued with, "So do you believe that Islam is consistent with the constitution?" To which, Carson said, "No, I don't, I do not [believe so]. I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that."[149]

In a later interview, Carson said that "anybody, doesn't matter what their religious background, if they accept American values and principles and are willing to subjugate their religious beliefs to our Constitution. I have no problem with them."[150] However, he maintained that sharia (Islamic law) is "something that is against the rights of women, against the rights of gays, subjugates other religions, and a host of things that are not compatible with our Constitution."[150]

Some Adventists have argued that his political positions on gun rights and religious liberty conflict with historic Adventist teachings in favor of nonviolence, pacifism, and the separation of church and state.[65][151]


Inspired by biblical tithing, Carson has proposed a flat personal and corporate income and capital gains tax of 10 to 15 percent with elimination of all deductions and abolition of the estate tax.[152][153] Politifact has concluded that Carson's tax plan would create a $1 trillion annual deficit and rated Carson's assertion to the contrary at the October 28, 2015 GOP debate as "false."[154]

Association with W. Cleon Skousen

In several interviews, Carson has endorsed the views of the far-right conspiracy theorist W. Cleon Skousen, a best-selling author popular among Tea Party supporters, recommending Skousen's book The Naked Communist (1958).[155][156] In a July 2014 interview, Carson cited Skousen and suggested that nefarious Marxist forces were plotting to use the mainstream media to undermine the United States, saying: "There was a guy who was a former CIA agent by the name of Cleon Skousen who wrote a book in 1958 called The Naked Communist, and it laid out the whole agenda. You would think by reading it that it was written last year—showing what they're trying to do to American families, what they're trying to do to our Judeo-Christian faith, what they're doing to morality."[155][156] An endorsement from Carson appears on the front cover of the most recent edition of Skousen's book.[155][156] Peter Wehner, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center who served in the last three Republican administrations, said that Carson views Skousen's work as "an interpretive key to America today."[157]

Challenges to biographical narrative

CBS News described Carson's narrative of "overcoming impossible odds as a child growing up in an impoverished, single-parent household to reach international prominence as a pediatric neurosurgeon" as "a key part of his presidential campaign." [158] The Wall Street Journal said the narrative came under "the harsh scrutiny of presidential politics, where rivals and media hunt for embellishments and omissions that can hobble a campaign."[159] CNN characterized the core narrative as "acts of violence as an angry young man," followed by a spiritual epiphany that transformed Carson into the "composed figure" he now portrays.[13] Media challenges to a number of Carson’s statements have included allegations of discrepancies between documented facts and certain assertions in his autobiography Gifted Hands—allegations dismissed by Carson as a media "witch hunt".[160] In November 2015, the Detroit Free Press republished an article from 1988 "to try to bring some clarity to the claims currently being brought into question."[161]

Childhood violence and poverty

In his autobiography Gifted Hands, Carson wrote that, in his youth, he had a violent temper. "As a teenager, I would go after people with rocks, and bricks, and baseball bats, and hammers," Carson told NBC's Meet the Press in October 2015.[162] He said he once tried to hit his mother over the head with a hammer over a clothes dispute and, while in the ninth grade, he attempted to stab a friend who had changed the station on the radio, and the blade broke in his friend's belt buckle.[7][8][9] Carson has claimed that the intended victim, whose identity he wants to protect, was a classmate, a friend, or a close relative in different versions of the story.[163] Carson said that after this incident he began reading the Biblical Book of Proverbs and applying its verses on anger, and as a result, he "never had another problem with temper".[10][11][12][164] In his various books and at campaign events, Carson repeated these claims and said he once attacked a schoolmate with a combination lock. But nine friends, classmates, and neighbors who grew up with Carson told CNN in 2015 they did not remember the anger or violence Carson has described; all expressed surprise about the incidents Carson said had happened.[13] In response, Carson posted on Facebook what he said was a 1997 Parade Magazine issue, in which his mother verified the stabbing incident. Carson then questioned the extent of the effort CNN had exerted in the investigation.[163]

Carson also has claimed that he spent much of his childhood in a very impoverished neighborhood in Detroit. However, CNN found that he spent most of his childhood in a middle-class neighborhood.[13]

Protection of white classmates

Carson has also claimed that he protected white students in a biology lab after a race riot broke out at his high school, Southwestern High, in response to the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968. The Wall Street Journal confirmed the riot but could not find anyone who remembered Carson sheltering white students. Reportedly, Carson could also not remember the names of any of the students he claimed he had helped[165] but has said perhaps they will verify the incident, eventually.[166]

Claims of scholarships to West Point and the University of Michigan

Also in his autobiography, Carson claimed he had been offered a "scholarship" to West Point. On November 6, 2015, Politico reported a story challenging that narrative: West Point has no record of Carson's ever seeking admission. Furthermore, the academy does not award scholarships to anyone;[160] cadets receive a free education and room and board in exchange for a commitment to serve in the military for at least five years after graduation.[160] Carson's campaign then clarified that he did not receive a scholarship but instead, he had been "introduced to folks from West Point by his ROTC Supervisors....[who] told him they could help him get an appointment based on his grades and performance in ROTC. He considered it but in the end did not seek admission [to West Point]."[167]

Carson further explained that he was the top high school ROTC student in Detroit and he understood that he had been told he would be admitted if he had applied. However, in order to apply for admission, prospective cadets must first obtain a recommendation from their local congressmen (U.S. Representative or Senator), or the vice president of the United States, who may each select one candidate per year to nominate. Candidates cannot be offered admission without first receiving a nomination.[168][better source needed] Furthermore, prior to 1972, the Seventh-day Adventist Church's position on military service was that members could only serve in noncombat roles such as clergy or medical capacities.[169] West Point does not accept cadets who refuse to perform duties that conflict with religious practices.[170]

In the same autobiography, Carson claimed he had dinner with General William Westmoreland on Memorial Day in Detroit, in 1969. Pentagon records, however, show that Westmoreland was not in Detroit on that date or the preceding or following days. According to those records, Westmoreland was in Washington, D.C. on the evening in question, engaged in a "boat ride on the Potomac".[171]

In one book, Carson also said the University of Michigan had offered him a scholarship. However, his staff later said that the described scenario was similar to that of West Point, as he never actually applied for entry to the University of Michigan.[172]

Yale psychology class

In his autobiography, Gifted Hands, Carson recounted that exams for a Yale psychology course he took his junior year, "Perceptions 301", were inexplicably burned, forcing students to retake the exam. Carson claimed that other students walked out in protest when they discovered the retest was significantly harder than the original examination, but he alone finished the test. On doing so, Carson claimed he was congratulated by the course instructor who told him the retest was a hoax intended to find "the most honest student in the class". Carson said the professor awarded him $10, and further claimed that a photographer for the Yale Daily News was present to take his picture, which appeared in the student newspaper with a story about the experiment.

The Wall Street Journal attempted to verify Carson's account, reporting that Yale undergraduate courses were identified with only two digits in the early 1970s, and that Yale offered no course called "Perceptions 301" at that time. Carson's photo never appeared in the Yale Daily News, the Journal reported.[165] Carson, while acknowledging the class number was not correct, said: "You know, when you write a book with a co-writer and you say that there was a class, a lot of [the] time they’ll put a number or something just to give it more meat. You know, obviously, decades later, I’m not going to remember the course number."[173]

On Facebook, Carson posted a link to a syllabus titled "Perception" on Yale's website, used for the course "Psychology 323b" offered in Spring 2002, three decades after the incident described in Carson's book. Carson stated that he was waiting for an apology from the The Wall Street Journal and questioned how they, with all their investigative capacities, were unable to find the syllabus.[174][175] To further bolster the veracity of his Gifted Hands account, Carson also posted to Facebook a Yale Daily News article published January 14, 1970, during his freshman year. The article described a parody issue of the Yale Daily News which had been created and distributed the day before by The Yale Record, a campus humor magazine. The parody issue had included an announcement that exams for Psychology 10 had been destroyed, and students were required to take a make-up exam that evening in a classroom named in the article.[176] According to the Yale Daily News, a number of students were fooled by the humor magazine's prank and showed up to take the test, which was said to closely resemble the course's real exam.[176] Carson was not named in the 1970 Yale Daily News article, his photograph was not published, and no faculty member was reported to have cooperated with the prank.[176] In 2015, several Yale alumni who remembered the 1970 prank came forward, verifying that a student who worked for the Yale Daily Record had impersonated an exam proctor, and that small cash awards were indeed given to students who finished the hoax exam.[177]

Relationship with Mannatech

On August 7, 2002, Carson underwent surgery for prostate cancer.[178] Interviewed in the following November, he said the surgery had successfully removed all cancerous tissue and he was completely cured of the disease.[179] In 2004, in a speech at a Mannatech, Inc. event, he credited the company’s products with the disappearance of his cancer symptoms.[180][181]

According to CNN, Carson had an "extensive relationship" from 2004 to 2014 with Mannatech, a multi-level marketing company that produces dietary supplements made from substances such as aloe vera extract and larch-tree bark.[180][181][182] Carson gave four paid speeches at company events. He has denied being paid by Mannatech to do anything else, saying he has been a "prolific speaker" who has addressed many groups.[183]

Carson’s relationship with Mannatech continued after the company paid $7 million in 2009 to settle a deceptive-marketing lawsuit, in Texas, over claims that its products could cure autism and cancer.[180][184][185] His most recent paid speech for the company was in 2013, for which he was paid $42,000. His image appeared on the corporation's website in 2014,[180] and in the same year he praised their "glyconutrient" supplements in a PBS special that was subsequently featured on the site.[186]

Carson delivered the keynote address at a Mannatech distributor convention in 2011, during which he said the company had donated funds to help him obtain a coveted endowed chair post at Johns Hopkins Medicine: ". . . three years ago I had an endowed chair bestowed upon me and uh, it requires $2.5 million to do an endowed chair and I'm proud to say that part of that $2.5 million came from Mannatech." In October 2015, Carson's campaign team said "there was no contribution from Mannatech to Johns Hopkins", and his statement had been "a legitimate mistake on his part. Confusion. He had been doing some fundraising for the hospital and some other chairs about that time, and he simply got things mixed up."[187]

During the CNBC GOP debate on October 28, 2015, Carson was asked about his relationship with Mannatech. He replied, "That's easy to answer. I didn't have any involvement with Mannatech. Total propaganda. I did a couple speeches for them. I did speeches for other people—they were paid speeches. It is absolutely absurd to say I had any kind of relation with them. Do I take the product? Yes. I think it is a good product."[188] Politifact rated Carson’s denial of any involvement as "false", pointing to his paid speeches for Mannatech and his appearances in promotional videos in which he favorably reviewed its products, despite not being "an official spokesman or sales associate".[182] When the CNBC moderator commented that Carson was on Mannatech’s website, Carson replied that he had not given his permission. Earlier, he had said that he was unaware of the company's legal history.[189]

On November 3, 2015, Mannatech said on its website that for compliance with Federal campaign finance regulations the company had removed all references to Carson before he announced his bid for the presidency.[190]

Claims of being held at gunpoint

Carson told Karen Hunter of Sirius XM that he had been held at gunpoint at a Popeyes restaurant in Baltimore, Maryland, while he had been a resident at Johns Hopkins Hospital in the early 1980s. Armstrong Williams, Carson's campaign business manager, later told Wolf Blitzer of CNN that several people in the neighborhood chased the robber down the street. Neither the Baltimore police department nor Popeyes could corroborate Carson's story, since no police report had been found.[191]

Controversial viewpoints and statements

Pyramids of Giza

In a 1998 commencement speech at Andrews University, Carson publicly expressed the view that the Pyramids of Giza were not tombs, but grain silos built by Joseph, the Biblical son of Jacob, in preparation for the famine depicted in the Book of Genesis. He added that "various scientists" say ancient aliens could have designed the structures, but to Carson, "it doesn't require an alien being when God is with you".[192] Popular in medieval Europe, the belief that Joseph had the pyramids built as granaries was perpetuated by, among others, Gregory of Tours in the sixth century,[193] an Irish monk in the eighth century, a mosaic in St. Mark’s Basilica dating from the twelfth,[194] and a travelogue written by John Mandeville in the fourteenth.[195]

In 2015, Carson reiterated his views. Archaeologists disagree, saying the pyramids could not be used to store grain because they are not hollow; also ancient Egyptian granaries have been well studied, there is evidence of burials inside the pyramids, and the ancient Egyptians left funerary instructions inside them.[196][197][198] Additionally, the Bible states that Joseph's grain was kept in cities.[104]


Carson's views on evolution and creationism have been controversial.[199] In a 2006 debate, Carson stated: "I don't believe in evolution... I simply don't have enough faith to believe that something as complex as our ability to rationalize, think, and plan, and have a moral sense of what's right and wrong, just appeared."[200]

In a 2011 speech to Seventh-day Adventists, entitled "Celebration of Creation", Carson said Darwin's theory of evolution "was encouraged by the adversary and it has become what is scientifically, politically correct"; with 'the adversary' being interpreted as a reference to Satan.[201] Carson also labelled the theory of the Big Bang as "ridiculous", saying, "Here you have all these highfalutin scientists and they’re saying it was this gigantic explosion and everything came into perfect order ... I mean, you want to talk about fairy tales, that is amazing." Carson defended his comments in 2015, saying in regard to the scientific concepts, "I'm not going to denigrate you because of your faith and you shouldn't denigrate me for mine."[202][203]

In 2014, Carson rejected the validity of carbon dating, as it "really doesn't mean anything to a God who has the ability to create anything at any point in time". Carson further argued against evolution, stating his disbelief in the possibility of the "complexity of the human brain" arising "from a slime pit full of promiscuous biochemicals".[204]

In October 2015, Carson stated that he does accept the idea of natural selection, but there is only evidence for microevolution (changes in allele frequencies that occur over time within a species), which he believes was the result of "a wise creator who gave his creatures the ability to adapt to their environment so that he wouldn't have to start over every 50 years", whereas "there's never been one species that's turned into another species, that can be proved."[205]


In a March 2015 interview with Chris Cuomo, Carson stated he believes homosexuality is a choice, saying: "a lot of people go into prison straight, and when they come out, they're gay".[206] Later, in a Facebook post, Carson wrote that he "realized that my choice of language does not reflect fully my heart on gay issues. I do not pretend to know how every individual came to their sexual orientation. I regret that my words to express that concept were hurtful and divisive. For that I apologize unreservedly to all that were offended."[207][208]

For his remarks in 2013 (see section above), Carson was criticized by GLAAD for having "equated gays" with those from the North American Man/Boy Love Association and supporters of bestiality, while discussing on whether marriage should be redefined.[209] ABC News characterized students of Johns Hopkins School of Medicine being "enraged by Carson's comparison of homosexuality with bestiality and pedophilia" and thus protesting for his removal as their commencement speaker. As a result, Carson acquiesced to their demands and apologized for his remarks.[210]


In an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, Carson asserted that the "likelihood of Hitler being able to accomplish his goals would have been greatly diminished if the people had been armed." This response echoed the earlier assertion in his book, A Perfect Union, that Nazi gun control was one of the reasons for the Holocaust: "Through a combination of removing guns and disseminating deceitful propaganda, the Nazis were able to carry out their evil intentions with relatively little resistance."[211]

Critics and historians have contested Carson's views. In a piece for the Huffington Post, Jonathan Greenblatt, national director and CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, wrote: "It is mind-bending to suggest that personal firearms in the hands of the small number of Germany’s Jews (about 214,000 remaining in Germany in 1938) could have stopped the totalitarian onslaught of Nazi Germany when the armies of Poland, France, Belgium and numerous other countries were overwhelmed by the Third Reich."[212]

Awards and honors

Carson is a member of the American Academy of Achievement,[213] Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society,[214] and the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans.[215] Carson has been awarded 38 honorary doctorate degrees and dozens of national merit citations.[216] Detroit Public Schools opened the Dr. Benjamin Carson High School of Science and Medicine[217] for students interested in pursuing healthcare careers. The school is partnering with Detroit Receiving Hospital and Michigan State University.[218]

Books by Carson

  • Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story. Zondervan. 1992. ISBN 9780310546511.  (with Cecil Murphey)
  • Think Big: Unleashing Your Potential for Excellence. Zondervan. 1996. ISBN 0-310-21459-9. 
  • The Big Picture: Getting Perspective on What's Really Important in Life. Zondervan. 2000. ISBN 978-0310225836.  (with Gregg Lewis)
  • Take the Risk: Learning to Identify, Choose, and Live with Acceptable Risk. Zondervan. 2009. ISBN 0310259738. 
  • America the Beautiful: Rediscovering What Made This Nation Great. Thomas Nelson. 2013. ISBN 0310330912.  (with Candy Carson)
  • One Nation: What We Can All Do to Save America's Future. Sentinel. 2014. ISBN 1595231129.  (with Candy Carson), on the New York Times bestsellers list for 20 straight weeks, with 5 weeks as #1[46]
  • One Vote: Make Your Voice Heard. Tyndale House. 2014. ISBN 149640632X.  (with Candy Carson)
  • You Have a Brain: A Teen's Guide to T.H.I.N.K. B.I.G. 2015. ISBN 0310745993.  (with Gregg Lewis, Deborah Shaw Lewis)
  • My Life: Based on the Book Gifted Hands. Zondervan. 2015. ISBN 0310344514.  (with Cecil Murphey)
  • A More Perfect Union: What We the People Can Do to Reclaim Our Constitutional Liberties. 2015. ISBN 978-0698195004.  (with Candy Carson)

Biographical works about Carson

See also


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