Thursday 14 March 2024

Fleshed Out

The BBC insists on calling Ariel Henry “Haiti’s unelected Prime Minister”. Imagine having one of those.

Fin Carter writes:

Amid the chaos erupting in Haiti, one story has been gaining particular traction online: the activity of cannibal gangs.

The claim began with a report from the Daily Express in which an anonymous reporter in Haiti messaged a journalist from the paper that “cannibalism is not widespread, but definitely an indication of the worsening situation. It definitely happens on a few occasions.” The article offers no evidence behind this claim other than that the anonymous reporter has “seen images of gang leaders eating people they have killed”, which are not provided.

This story was then recirculated by smaller outlets such as the Daily Star before it reached the Wild West of news reporting — X (formerly Twitter).

X has now been flooded with claims of cannibal gangs taking over Haiti. One video in particular, which appears to show a man eating human flesh, has garnered over 20 million views at the time of writing (viewer discretion advised). It even gained the attention of El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele, who compared the strife in Haiti with his own country’s problems.

Except there’s just one problem: the video is not from Haiti’s current phase of violence. Although it is possible that this incident took place in Haiti, I reverse-image-searched the video and found it posted in a Telegram channel in August 2023, long before this phase of violence began at the end of February.

That’s not the only video doing the rounds either. One popular clip circulating this week features a post stating “Haitians enjoy human meat”, but this is in fact from a Nigerian film set in 2018. Meanwhile, another particularly gruesome video shows a human body turning on a rotisserie, with the following caption: “A ‘cannibal’ gang and its ‘Barbecue’ leader push Haiti into chaos. Fake or Real?” The video is unsurprisingly fake: it originates from a Chinese Halloween party in 2018.

Then there are the popular accounts sharing these videos. Ian Miles Cheong, a Malaysia-based commentator with nearly a million followers, has been regularly sharing clips and stories about Haitian cannibalism. Even though he is one of the most fact-checked accounts on X, he has been boosted by the company’s owner, Elon Musk, who replied to Cheong’s tweets that it was the “End of days. This is bleaker than Mad Max.” But when Cheong was pushed on his posts by NBC journalist David Ingram, the X user merely replied that “Haiti has a long, colourful history of cannibalism.”

So for all the videos and stories about alleged cannibalism by Haitian gangs, it ultimately comes down to an anonymous source and an old video. The lack of substantial evidence doesn’t warrant the constant claims currently circulating which are dominant in the narrative surrounding the violence in Haiti on X. We should be wary when we see claims on social media pointing to the contrary.

And Patrick Macfarlane writes:

In the first few years of the 2020s, the world witnessed a revolution in the dissemination of atrocity propaganda. Thanks to the proliferation of social media, smartphone ownership, and artificial intelligence, atrocity claims can now be manufactured, disseminated, and, thankfully, debunked in real time.

Although technology may be evolving, lies do not change much.

During World War I, the British claimed Germans boiled the corpses of their war dead to make fat and glycerin for munitions. More recently, we’ve seen accusations of industrial organ harvesting in Xinjiang, China and claims that Hamas “beheaded babies” in Israel. A key element of these atrocity stories, and many like them, is their over-the-top cartoonization of violence.

Amidst violent political upheaval in Haiti, a narrative has emerged that Haitian society is devolving into widespread cannibalism. A video even emerged purporting to show popular opposition figure, Jimmy “Barbeque” Cherizier, cutting the flesh off a burning corpse and eating it.

This propagandistic narrative comes at a crucial juncture where Western powers have for three years failed to drum up yet another foreign military intervention in this ill-fated nation.

After the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moise in 2021, Haiti was ruled by U.S.-installed President Ariel Henry. Many Haitians viewed Henry as an American puppet leader. Because Henry was unable to stabilize the country, the United States pushed the United Nations to deploy a peace keeping force to his nation.

Two weeks ago, Henry left Haiti for Kenya, attempting to secure Joe Biden’s long-desired UN security deployment. In his absence, Haiti’s organized opposition united under the leadership of Jimmy “Barbeque” Cherizier. The united opposition launched an armed revolution that dragged Haiti further into discord, albeit with the goal of creating a truly independent and prosperous country. Unable to safely return to Port-au-Prince, Henry resigned on Tuesday.

Last Saturday, reports began to circulate that Haiti was under siege by cannibal gangs. However, the claims were not reported by mainstream outlets. Instead, they were made on X (formerly Twitter) by popular culture war influencers. These influencers used these reports to sow fear that the unrest will spread to the United States through immigration. With 10.4 million views as of this writing, Malaysian national Ian Miles Cheong circulated the first and most viewed Haiti cannibalism report. The report was furthered, among others, by Dom Lucre, Jake Shields, Tim Pool, and Libs of Tiktok.

Given his position as the wealthiest man in the world and the owner of X, Elon Musk has an effect, intended or not, of legitimizing the information he interacts with on the platform. As is the case with Cheong’s cannibalism report, the information might not be reliable. Nevertheless, Musk drove a number of his 176.3 million followers to Cheong’s post by replying to it.

So, just what was the problem with Cheong’s report? He doesn’t have a source.

On Tuesday, Cheong posted a screenshot of an email he ostensibly received from NBC Reporter David Ingram asking where he got his information.

In the email, Ingram asks Cheong if his cannibalism claim originates from the “unnamed source” referred to by a Daily Express U.S. article. Cheong ridiculed the question, saying, “I just received a request for comment from NBC News asking me to prove cannibalism exists in Haiti. I wish I was making this up.”

Despite Cheong’s mockery, Ingram’s question was legitimate. Cheong made a specific claim in his post. He did not claim “cannibalism exists in Haiti.” He claimed “cannibal gangs are besieging the national palace in Port-au-Prince.”

While Ingram did not link to the article in his email, he was likely referring to this March 5 piece, which states:

…a journalist on the ground told Daily Express US that cannibalism has been witnessed on the streets as the violence reaches “unprecedented” levels…Speaking anonymously, they said: “Haiti is living in a total chaotic situation right now. It is total chaos everywhere, especially in the capital where I am right now”…Following the interview, the journalist said via message: “Cannibalism is not widespread, but definitely an indication of the worsening situation. It definitely happens on a few occasions.” 

If Cheong did indeed source his report from the Daily Express U.S. piece, the original claim is dubious. The source is hearsay; the anonymous reporter was told by alleged witnesses that they observed cannibalism. The reporter then told the Daily Express U.S. that cannibalism “definitely happens on a few occasions.” He did not say that he had personally witnessed cannibalism, neither did he allege a specific incident where cannibalism took place.

Furthermore, Cheong mischaracterized the Daily Express report. Cheong’s initial tweet claimed “Cannibal gangs are besieging the national palace in Port-au-Prince.” Cheong transformed the report from “cannibalism definitely happens on a few occasions,” to “cannibal gangs are besieging the national palace[.]”

Another popular culture war influencer, Dom Lucore, subsequently circulated a video of a Haitian gangster eating burnt flesh from a charred human corpse. Lucore claimed the man in the video was opposition leader Jimmy “Barbeque” Cherizier.

Despite being corrected by Dan Cohen, a journalist who personally filmed a documentary featuring Cherizier, Lucore doubled down on the claim.

Although the video probably does depict a Haitian gangster eating human flesh, it is clearly not Jimmy Cherizier. Further, the video is several years old and not connected in any way to what is occurring on the ground in Haiti right now. There is no evidence to suggest that Hatians are eating each other en masse or that criminal gangs are using cannibalism as a weapon of terror.

Does cannibalism exist in Haiti? Apparently, in isolated incidents, yes. But cannibalism has existed there for hundreds of years.

Americans are understandably concerned about illegal immigration. However, they fail to appreciate that this false story supports the case for U.S.-led intervention in Haiti, something the Biden administration has desired for years. A foreign invasion of Haiti would further traumatize the Haitian people and certainly increase the amount of refugees seeking asylum in the United States. As with our prior interventions in Haiti, American taxpayers would be forced to foot the bill.


  1. We don’t elect Prime Ministers, we elect MPs and any one of them can legitimately be PM if their party has enough elected MPs to command a majority in Parliament. Whereas Ariel Henry was only ever an acting Prime Minister and President who refused to call an election.

  2. Yet another warmongering lie, is there nowhere so low they won't go there?

    1. They are now down to cannibalism. But they will find something even lower. They always do.