Does a 2008 photo from a celebration of law enforcement in Harlingen, TX show Gene Rosen of Sandy Hook, CT working in an official capacity for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA?
For those who may be unfamiliar with his story, Gene Rosen is a long-time resident of Newtown who, along with a passing off-duty bus driver, corralled and watched over a small group of children that had appeared in front of his home on Riverside Road after escaping from Victoria Soto’s classroom. The two adults were able to quickly reunite most of the children with their parents and handed those that remained off to police stationed at the firehouse located directly next door to Mr. Rosen’s residence. You can read a more detailed account here.
Due to his involvement as well as his heightened profile (by way of a great many news stories and interviews) in the wake of the shooting, Mr. Rosen has been subjected to a unrelenting campaign of disinformation, harassment, and even death threats. One such piece of disinformation posits that Mr. Rosen — considered to be one of the many heroes of the Sandy Hook tragedy — is or was at one time an employee of FEMA. The relevance of this particular revelation is a bit of a mystery to me, but as prominent Sandy Hook conspiracy theorists such as James Fetzer have proclaimed that the shooting was in reality a safety drill staged by FEMA, I imagine this is being offered as proof of the agency’s involvement.
The only evidence for the claim that Mr. Rosen was at some point employed by FEMA appears to be a single photo taken from Wikimedia Commons and a screenshot of a revision made to its original description back in February of 2013. Here’s how it all appeared on James Fetzer’s blog in March of 2019:
The photo shows an older man with a passing resemblance to Gene Rosen, at least in profile (insomuch that he has a white beard and is wearing glasses), and the description simply reads “gene rosen BigTim951”. This description is suspicious in at least two major ways:
- It is not only an incomplete thought, lacking proper capitalization, punctuation, and sentence structure, but it deviates entirely from the three other photos of this event available on Wikipedia Commons (located here, here, and here), all of which read “FEMA representatives participate in the 25th National Law Enforcement celebration in Harlinger [sic], Texas. FEMA is working with local and state agencies to bring services to residents affected by Hurricane Dolly. Photo by Patsy Lynch/FEMA”.
- It appears to be a signed by someone going by the name BigTim951. There also just so happens to be a BigTim951 on YouTube who subscribes to a large number of conspiracy theory-oriented channels.
We’ll circle back to the description (as well as BigTim951) shortly, but for now let’s turn our attention to the man featured in the photo. In this case, and given the available material, the quickest, easiest, and most definitive way to determine whether or not this is Gene Rosen is to compare their ears. If they are not an exact match, then they are not the same person. And these ears do not match:
That’s Gene Rosen’s left ear on the left (cropped from this photo), and that is clearly not the same left ear on the right. Most noticeably, there is a prominent v-shaped crease in the lobe on the right does not exist on the left. That’s just one of the numerous anatomical differences between the two: the width of the helix, the crus of helix, the antitragus, etc. They are plainly different ears, therefore they are different people. And there’s more: compare the photo of this FEMA representative, taken in 2008, to this photo of the real Gene Rosen, taken by the Newtown Bee in June of 2010:
How does Gene Rosen in 2010 look younger than “Gene Rosen” in 2008? And how do you explain the fact that while “Gene Rosen” in 2008 (left) has liver spots — otherwise known as age spots — on his left hand, the real Gene Rosen in 2012 (right) has none:
So if that’s not Gene Rosen, then how exactly did his name end up in the description field? As it turns out, this one’s actually quite simple: Wikimedia Commons, which again is the original source of the photo and its description as shown in the image that acts as the source of this claim, allows users to “collaboratively modify content and structure directly from the web browse”. What that means in plain English is that literally anyone can make anything on the site say whatever they’d like. And that’s precisely what happened here as the description was deliberately and maliciously altered by believers in the Sandy Hook conspiracy theory in an on-going effort to smear Mr. Rosen in support of their own narrative. This isn’t mere speculation; there are receipts.
By viewing the publicly-available revision history of the “FEMA representative” photo, we can see that it was first uploaded to Wikimedia Commons on October 14th, 2009 with the following description:
English: Harbinger, TX, August 19, 2008 — FEMA representatives participate in the 25Th National Law Enforcement celebration in Harlinger, Texas. FEMA is working with local and state agencies to bring services to residents affected by Hurricane Dolly. Photo by Patsy Lynch/FEMA
As you can see, there is no mention of Gene Rosen anywhere. That original description remained unchanged for over three years before Mr. Rosen’s name was added on January 30th, 2013 — over six weeks after the Sandy Hook shooting — by a unregistered user with no other contributions linked to their (Nevada-based) IP address:
As you can see in the screenshot above, this edit kicked off a heated back-and-forth that saw thirteen revisions being made over a three day period to this previously untouched entry as conspiracy theorists repeatedly made unfounded edits while other users attempted to restore order. Five of those edits were made by the aforementioned “BigTim951” (or someone purporting to be him):
Description: Harlinger, TX, August 19, 2008 — THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN USED TO THROW YOU OFF FROM THE TRUTH.. THIS IS NOT GENE ROSEN.. BigTim951
Description: Harlinger, TX, August 19, 2008 –bs.. BigTim951
Description: Harlinger, TX, August 19, 2008 –gene rosen BigTim951
Description: Harlinger, TX, August 19, 2008 — THIS IS NOT A PICTURE OF GENE ROSE BUT THIS WEB PAGE WAS CREATED TO THROW YOU OFF TRACK.
Description: Harlinger, TX, August 19, 2008 — THIS IS NOT A PICTURE OF GENE ROSEN BUT THIS WEB PAGE WAS CREATED TO THROW YOU OFF TRACK.
And just in case it wasn’t obvious enough that this isn’t exactly on the up-and-up, roughly one hour after Gene Rosen’s name was added to the photo’s description for the first time, someone just so happened to initiate a manual snapshot of that page via the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine; it’s first ever: