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Writer resigns from New Yorker magazine after Twitter flap over Marine vet's tattoo

The tattoo on Justin Gaertner's left elbow is a Titan 2, symbol of his platoon in Afghanistan. A twitter war erupted over whether it is a Nazi-associated Iron Cross.

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By HOWARD ALTMAN | Tampa Bay Times, St. Petersburg, Fla. (Tribune News Service) | Published: June 23, 2018

Talia Lavin, whose tweet about a veteran’s tattoo implied he was a Nazi, has apologized to him and resigned from her position as a fact-checker at the New Yorker magazine.

But in another tweet, Thursday evening, Lavin also lashed out at the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, saying it unfairly targeted her in its own tweet about combat-wounded veteran Justin Gaertner.

"This has been a wild and difficult week," Lavin said in the tweet. "I owe ICE agent Justin Gaertner a sincere apology for spreading an rumor about his tattoo. However, I do not think it is acceptable for a federal agency to target a private citizen for a good faith, hastily rectified error."

A Twitter storm erupted last weekend after Lavin’s tweet about a cross-shaped tattoo on Gaertner’s elbow drew a response from ICE saying she had "essentially labeled him a Nazi."

Later, Lavin tweeted, "I had become a weapon used to discredit my colleagues and the vital work they do holding power to account. As a result, I have resigned after three years at the New Yorker."

But she also insisted that ICE misled people about her role in the controversy.

"ICE also lied about me, saying I originated the scrutiny of Gaertner’s tattoo," she said in a tweet.

Lavin, 28, of Brooklyn, said she was unfairly targeted by ICE because her former publication has been critical of the agency, caught up debate over the Trump administration’s policy of separating children from families illegally entering the United States — a policy enforced by ICE.

"I wasn’t the genesis of this rumor; there are tweets still up with tens of thousands of likes explicitly calling the tattoo ‘Nazi,’" Lavin said in a message to the Tampa Bay Times. "My own tweet was responsive to extant scrutiny, and I deleted it and issued a correction within 15 minutes, long before ICE could have been aware of it. I was targeted because I was part of a news organization critical of ICE."

Lavin said she "was also a useful foil: a fat Jewish feminist with a Harvard education. ICE said I ‘baselessly slandered an American hero,’ artificially pitted me against a disabled veteran, and engineered a conservative news cycle in which I was a villain."

ICE officials declined comment Friday. The New Yorker did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the Tampa Bay Times. Earlier this week, the magazine apologized for the original Lavin tweet.

ICE officials deny Gaertner is associated with Nazis. In a tweet earlier this week, ICE described the tattoo as a Titan 2, symbol of his platoon, and not a Nazi-associated Iron Cross.

Gaertner is a medically discharged Marine who lost both legs to an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan in 2011. He has been featured in news stories about a public-private program to investigate pedophiles, called the Human Exploitation Rescue Operative Child-Rescue Corps or HERO.

The program, sponsored in part by ICE, trains wounded, ill and injured commandos in computer forensics and law enforcement skills to help in the fight against online child sexual exploitation. ICE originally included Gaertner’s image in a recruitment tweet.

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