Usually, checking facts is a good idea before you essentially accuse someone of being a Nazi. And if you’re a fact-checker for a magazine as well-known as the New Yorker, that seems like a no brainer.
But over the weekend, Harvard-educated New Yorker fact-checker Talia Lavin sent out a tweet accusing Justin Gaertner, ICE forensics analyst and Marine veteran, of having a Nazi tattoo on his elbow.
Her tweet came in response to ICE’s May 25 tweet and photo of Gaertner at work, with his tattoo partially in view. ICE’s tweet was intended to promote and provide information about the Human Exploitation Rescue Operative Child Rescue Corps.
Since 2013, Gaertner has been a part of the HERO program, which “gives veterans a second chance to be a hero.” According to the New York Post, the veteran lost his legs in an explosion while deployed in Afghanistan as “a fire team leader and a lead sweeper for IEDs.” He has since been trained to fight online child sexual exploitation and solve criminal cases as an ICE agent.
Gaertner is also a para-Olympic athlete, and according to ICE has also “volunteered his time to motivate other wounded warriors and Boston bombing victims.”
“Learn more about HERO Child-Rescue Corps, a program for wounded, injured & ill Special Ops Forces to receive training in high-tech computer forensics & law enforcement skills, to assist federal agents in the fight against online child sexual exploitation,” ICE’s tweet read.
However, Lavin took it upon herself to reply with her since-deleted tweet, drawing focus away from ICE’s important message and instead strongly implying that the cross on the agent’s elbow was the Nazi’s Iron Cross.
But much to the fact-checker’s dismay, Gaertner’s cross tattoo is actually called “Titan 2” and is the symbol for his platoon when he was serving in Afghanistan.
“Justin Gaertner is a combat wounded U.S. Marine who continues to serve his country as an ICE computer forensics analyst, helping solve criminal cases & rescue abused children,” ICE wrote in a later tweet. “The tattoo shown here is the symbol for his platoon while he fought in Afghanistan.”
According to the Tampa Bay Times, military veterans replied to Lavin’s post, undoubtedly appalled by her accusation, letting her know that the cross was not what she had assumed.
Lavin went on to delete her tweet and issued an explanation. She also later made her account private.
“Some vets said this ICE agents tattoo looked more like a Maltese cross than an Iron Cross (common among white supremacists), so i deleted my tweet so as not to spread misinformation,” she wrote.
With her explanation lacking any kind of true apology to Gaertner, the damage was done. ICE issued a statement on the matter, slamming Lavin for “baselessly slandering an American hero.”
“Over the weekend, social media perpetuated by a tweet by New Yorker reporter Talia Levin [sic] erroneously implied that a tattoo on one of [Gaertner’s] arms was an Iron Cross and essentially labeled him a Nazi,” ICE wrote. “Levin deleted her post after military veterans responded that the tattoo looked more like a Maltese cross, a symbol associated with fire fighters.”
— ICE (@ICEgov) June 18, 2018
“Anyone attempting to advance their personal political opinions by baselessly slandering an American hero should be issuing public apologies to Mr. Gaertner and retractions. This includes Levin [sic] and the New Yorker,” ICE continued.
Justin Gaertner is a combat wounded U.S. Marine who continues to serve his country as an ICE computer forensics analyst, helping solve criminal cases & rescue abused children. The tattoo shown here is the symbol for his platoon while he fought in Afghanistan. pic.twitter.com/BaOBxaAMHS
— ICE (@ICEgov) June 18, 2018
According to the National Review, the New Yorker issued a statement on Monday, June 18, “distancing themselves” from their employee.
“The New Yorker has just learned that a staff member erroneously made a derogatory assumption about ICE agent Justin Gaertner’s tattoo,” a spokesman said. “The personal social-media accounts of staff members do not represent the magazine, and we in no way share the viewpoint expressed in this tweet. The tweet has been deleted, and we deeply regret any harm that this may have caused Mr. Gaertner.”
ICE went on to explain that another one of Gaertner’s tattoos is the “Spartan Creed, which is about protecting families and children.”
Maybe the next time Lavin decides to call someone out for being a Nazi, she’ll do her job and check her facts before she implies that they are facts.
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.