Politics

Did a White Supremacist Taze Himself to Death Last Week?

How Snopes Got It Wrong

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In case you’ve been in a coma, or maybe you’re just overwhelmed with news of how the apocalypse is going, last week thousands of alt-right white supremacist Donald Trump supporters stormed the United States Capitol, armed with guns, fire extinguishers (used to beat a cop to death), and TASERs.

Social media is tricky in big, scary events where people desperately crave information. It happens with destructive earthquakes, hurricanes, terrorist attacks, and it happened Wednesday: people hit social media, see some information, and share it, often without stopping to consider whether or not the information is true. Because sometimes people post information they think is correct (but it’s not), and at other times people post knowingly false information to get attention, to get laughs, or sometimes specifically to screw people over. And that can be dangerous, like in the case of natural disasters when people are sharing important information about where people can find refuge and supplies.

That’s why in ongoing crises, I personally try not to retweet or otherwise share information that hasn’t been verified, like “Nazis are breaking into the US Capitol as they have been promising to do for weeks and as you can clearly see via these videos from news outlets.” And I encourage you to do the same, as hard as it can be! It’s difficult to sit at home and see all these updates from people who claim to be on the ground and not help spread the word, especially when they’re saying particularly important or interesting things. Things like, “a man just died from a heart attack after he repeatedly accidentally tazed himself in the testicles.”

And yeah, that’s what we’re gonna talk about today: Kevin Greeson was a Trump fanatic who loved guns and posted on social media about how he wanted Nancy Pelosi to get COVID and die; he also encouraged other alt-right extremists to “take this fucking Country BACK! Load your guns and take to the streets,” and regularly begged Donald Trump on Twitter to send in the military to stop Black Lives Matter protesters, even replying to a story about a woman who was shot while protesting “Do(n’t) be out after curfew.. the simple things in life, some folks really struggle with.”

So it was deeply ironic that Greeson showed up in DC last week, joined in with the mob attempting to violently break into the Capitol in order to arrest and possibly murder representatives, but experienced a massive heart attack that killed him instantly.

Before I go any further let me say that Greeson did not deserve to die. I personally don’t think anyone deserves to die — I’m a humanist and I think that all humans deserve life and health and education and rehabilitation.

But I’m also a realist who feels that we should all appreciate the humor in life and death, and I find intense satisfaction in irony. The fact that a man brandished assault rifles and told his fellow white supremacists that he would be coming to DC with “guns and ammo” only to be immediately killed by his own faulty heart…if you were to write this morality play it would be criticized for being a little too on the nose.

Anyway, there’s no dispute that Greeson died of a massive heart attack. What is in dispute is what led to that heart attack — specifically, whether or not Greeson accidentally fired his own TASER into his testicles.

When I first heard that version of his death, I was skeptical. And, spoiler alert, I’m still skeptical. If a heart attack is on the nose, ball-tazing is somewhere up inside the sinus cavity. But obviously that is a very funny story, so it spread on social media quite quickly, prompting the legendary (ha) debunking site Snopes to publish an article quickly stating that the ball-tazing claim is “false.”

While I respect Snopes and the good work they’ve done in the past, I’m here to tell you that their rating on this is wrong and bad and poor investigative journalism. Does that mean I’m saying Kevin Greeson did die via ball-tazing? No. Let’s go through this step-by-step. I promise, there’s something to learn here.

While it’s not in dispute that Greeson suffered a heart attack, here is what is in dispute: did he taze himself prior to the heart attack, and did he taze himself in the testicles?

When examining a subject like this, it’s worth noting where the burden of proof lies. Generally, the burden of proof lies with the person making the claim. If you say “the earth is flat,” I don’t have to prove that it’s round. First, you have to show me your proof that it’s flat and I can then counter it.

In the same way, a person stating that Kevin Greeson died by repeatedly tazing himself in the balls needs to prove that that happened. No one else needs to prove that it didn’t happen. Snopes, therefore, doesn’t need to prove that it didn’t happen. However, once they take on that burden of proof and come to the conclusion that the claim is “false,” they have made an assertion that should be backed up with evidence. I submit that they have utterly failed to do that.

So what’s the evidence on each side? I first saw the “tasing led to a man’s heart attack” from journalist Talia Jane, who was on the ground in DC reporting on the insurrection. At 11pm that evening Jane tweeted, “Someone else died today at the Capitol. He tased himself on accident and had a heart attack.” She cited two other users for confirmation.

The next day, mainstream news started reporting on the people who had died other than Ashli Babbitt, the woman who was shot trying to force her way into the House Chamber. They included two men who died: one of a stroke and the other, Greeson, of a heart attack. No mention of tasing in any mainstream reports, but one of the accounts Talia Jane originally tagged as being at the insurrection, Black House News, confirmed that Greeson had in fact tased himself, though they added “can’t confirm if it was in the balls or not.”

And that’s it for evidence in favor of the tazing. Apparently, user @ggooooddddoogg posted the day after the insurrection, “I don’t think it’s funny at all that a maga guy accidentally tased himself in his own balls until he died while trying to steal a painting of thomas p. “Tip” o neill from a hallway,” and that seems to be where the balls and painting theft enter the national discourse. He told KnowYourMeme that it was, in fact, a joke. But the joke isn’t that he tased himself to death — it’s that he tased himself in the balls while stealing a painting.

That leaves us with several people who were at the insurrection who reported, before the mainstream news was reporting anything about Greeson, that a man died from accidentally tasing himself.

Is that 100% proof that Kevin Greeson’s heart attack was caused by an accidental tasing? No! Neither Talia Jane or Black House News say that they personally witnessed the tasing, so they may have heard it secondhand, or they may have seen Greeson die and assumed it was from his TASER. But it is some evidence, and it goes along with the other evidence we have that Greeson stated he would be bringing weapons to the event, and we have photo proof that Greeson had no idea how to properly handle a weapon considering that his most recent photo shows him with his finger on the trigger of an assault rifle and with two handguns pointed, well, directly at his balls.. At this point, it would be fair to call the tasing rumor “unverified.” So let’s see how Snopes went about debunking this.

First, they link to people spreading the news later that it was a ball-tasing, without linking to anyone who was actually there, like Talia Jane or Black House News. They then quote Greeson’s wife, who says “he certainly didn’t “taser his balls.”” That’s nice, but Greeson’s wife wasn’t there. She was speaking to him on the phone when he suddenly went quiet. Nothing about that account rules out a TASER. 

Greeson’s family is also on record stating that Greeson, “was not (at the insurrection) to participate in violence or rioting, nor did he condone such actions,” which is rich considering that Greeson himself posted on Parler that he’d bring guns and ammo to the event.

The only other evidence Snopes presents is to link to a New York Times article that reads, “Mr. Greeson had been talking to his wife on his phone when he fell to the sidewalk. A New York Times reporter watched as emergency personnel rushed to help, furiously performing chest compressions, but were unable to revive him.”

Like Greeson’s wife’s account, this account also does not rule out the possibility that Greeson was fiddling with his TASER when it went off.

So in essence, we have two sides: journalists who were at the scene reporting on a death before it hit the mainstream media, and a woman who wasn’t even in the same city at the time and who is already on record lying about her husband’s intentions. They chose to believe the latter.

Personally, I wouldn’t believe any of them. I think Talia Jane is a great reporter, but in this case it’s likely she was simply relaying second-hand something she had heard at the insurrection, not actually witnessed. It makes sense that a man would drop dead and the baffled people around him would look for an external cause. There were lots of TASERs around, so with no evidence of a gunshot it would be an easy explanation.

The wife is obviously not trustworthy — she and her family are scrambling to deal with the death of a loved one who literally died while committing an armed insurrection against the United States of America. That’s bad enough, so who needs the extra embarrassment of a testicle-tazing? I would lie, too. Actually, I wouldn’t lie at all because honestly if Kevin Greeson had been my husband I’d be in the news saying what a fucking mistake I’d made marrying him and thanking Christ I was now free to date people who weren’t Nazis, but different strokes.

The point being that Snopes did not, in fact, find that this rumor was false. The only way to do that is to talk to the medical examiner who dealt with Greeson’s body, who could state definitively whether or not his junk was fried prior to death. I hate bothering people over stupid things but also I love learning and being thorough, so I did email the Washington, DC ME and ask. I mean, ya gotta try, right? They responded within a few days with this: “The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner will release the cause and manner of death when this information is available.” Okay, there we go! Hopefully once they conclude their investigation, we’ll finally know the truth.

In the meanwhile, please be safe. There’s still a pandemic out there, so stay home and do not plan any armed insurrections, at least until you’re vaccinated. And even then, please practice good trigger discipline.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor.

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One Comment

  1. Another possibility. With thousands of reckless morons toting pseudo-military gear into the Capitol, it would be surprising if we DIDN’T have some self-inflicted injury. I’m shocked that none of them managed to shoot themselves, or their co-conspirators. I’m sure any accidental tazing would be well remembered…and easily conflated with a separate instance of heart failure. There may well be several singed scrota out there, who’s owners are waiting for the FBI to knock on the door.

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