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Epic Beard Man is the nickname for Oakland resident Thomas Bruso that was coined after a video in which he repeatedly punches a younger black man, identified only as Michael, was spread online in February of 2010.
On February 16th, 2010, Iyanna Washington, a college student from Oakland, CA (YouTube user “iyannaw08”) uploaded a video titled “AC TRANSIT BUS FIGHT I AM A MOTHERFUCKER.” It featured footage she recorded of a 50 year old black man and a 67 year old white man wearing a T-shirt that reads “I AM A MOTHERFUCKER” having a heated argument fueled by racial ignorance resulting in a violent physical confrontation.
The older white man in the video was identified as Thomas Bruso, a.k.a. Tom Slick,, a.k.a. Vietnam Tom; infamous in Oakland for his reputation of belligerence. Prior to the discovery of his identity, Anonymous had already dubbed him “Epic Beard Man.”
After the black man’s nose is broken, he says “bring an ambulance” which has been misheard as both “bring M&M’s” and “bring Amber Lamps” due to a combination of his dialect and facial injury. Amber Lamps has also come to be used as a pseudonym for the girl sitting next to the black man in the video.
When the video begins, it appears that some sort of verbal confrontation has already taken place.
Black man: …AC Transit
Bruso: Let’s get back to business. How much you charge me for a spit-shine?
Black man: what?
Bruso: How much you charge me for my Stacy Adams? I’m going to a funeral on Friday…You said you… [note: Stacy Adams are a brand of shoe.]
Black man: Did you get what I said just now?
Black man: Why a brother gotta spit-shine your shoes?
Bruso: You offered!
Black man: I didn’t offer you shit.
Bruso: What’d you just say when you walked by me?
Black man: I said why, why a fuckin’ brother gotta spit-shine your shoes?
Bruso: You don’t have to!
Black man: Why a white man can’t spit-shine –
Bruso: [interrupting] – It could be a Chinaman! It don’t matter!
Black man: Look dude…
Bruso: I ain’t prejudice! What? You think I’m prejudice!
Black man: [pointing toward front of bus] Take your ass back up there and get the fuck out my face right now.
Bruso: Why you being so hostile, man?
Black man: ‘Cause. I’m pissed off.
Bruso: Well its better to be pissed off than pissed on.
Black man: Take your ass up there right now
Bruso: [standing to go to the front] You ain’t scarin’ this white boy. I’m 67 years old. You ain’t scarin’ me. You ain’t scarin’ me.
Black man: [now, also standing] I’m 50.
Bruso: You ain’t scared of me. You ain’t scarin’ me.
Black man: I’ll put my foot up your ass.
Bruso: No you won’t! No you won’t!
Another passenger makes remarks. Bruso moves to the front of the bus as the two exchange threats to whoop each other’s asses. Although Bruso has physically distanced himself, he continues the verbal conflict.
Bruso: You won’t do nothin’ to me! [then something unintelligible]
Black man: Say it again! [then something unintelligible as woman who was filming talks over him]
Iyanna Washington: Say it again! Say it again, Pinky!
The black man begins walking to the front of the bus.
Note: “Say it again Pinky” has been interpreted by some as a racial slur against white people, while others have claimed that it was said as a reference to the movie Next Friday although it’s not entirely clear how the movie quote fits into the context of the conversation.
Someone off camera whom many allege is Iyanna Washington: Beat his white ass! Whoop his ass!
Another passenger: Leave him alone!
The two men seem to be speaking to one another at the front of the bus, but cannot be heard over the noise from the rest of the passengers.
Iyanna Washington: It ain’t worth it, blood, it ain’t worth it.
The black man begins walking back to his seat as other passengers continue to comment.
Black man: I’d put my foot up your ass.
Bruso: I see tough guys like you and I slap the shit out of them.
Black man: What?!
Another passenger: Stop it!
The black man walks to the front again to continue the confrontation.
At 1:40, the black man lunges at Bruso, being the first to elevate the conflict to physical violence when he attempts to strike him in the chest, but the blow is mostly deflected by Bruso’s arm.
Bruso stands up and punches the black man in the face repeatedly. At least 9 punches can be seen, then the camera moves too much to get a clear view.
At 1:51 the black man can be seen shielding his face.
Bruso: Don’t fuck with me! He hit me! He fuckin’ hit me!
As can be seen earlier in the video, the black man attempted to either hit or shove him, but failed to connect.
Epic Beard Man exits the bus.
Bruso: He fuckin’ hit me first! He hit me in the face! [unintelligible] – self defense!
Bruso was not hit in the face. It appears as though he may have been struck in the arm or chest.
At 2:07, blood spatter is visible on the seats of the bus.
At 2:22 Iyanna picks up a bag left by the old man.
Iyanna: Open that shit! laughs
Various passengers comment on what they’ve witnessed.
Iyanna: We can press charges, blood. I got in on videotape. He’s leakin’.
Black man: That motherfucker hit me. No no no no no.
Another passenger: Did he break your teeth?
Black man: No. Bring an ambulance.
Because of the man’s bleeding, injured face, his pronunciation of the word “Ambulance” has been misheard by many as either “bring M&M’s” or “bring amber lamps.”
The black man then claims he will “kill that nigga.”
Then there are some more remarks from various passengers, and the scene ends with a shot of a bench reading “Keep our city clean & safe. Do your part.”
The 2nd Video
AC TRANSIT FIGHT (the clip you didn’t see) was also uploaded by iyannow08, showing Epic Beard Man continuing to have a tantrum on the street.
The day after the video was uploaded, CBS 5 caught up with Iyanna Washington and interviewed her. The video is available by CBS 5 has been mirrored on Youtube (embedded below). In the interview, Iyanna alleges that both men may have been under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. She also reveals that eventually, Bruso voluntarily put his hands behind his back, surrendering to his arresting officers. Some have criticized CBS 5 for failing to mention how Iyanna encouraged the black man in the video to “beat his (Bruso’s) white ass.”
CBS 5: What do you think about that entire incident. In a word or a phrase?
Iyanna: Oakland. laughs
CBS 5: I mean, what word would you use to describe what happened?
Iyanna: Ridiculous. Just Ridiculous. Crazy.
Within the first 24 hours, the video amassed over 1 million views and spawned a series of threads on 4chan’s /b/ (random) board where hundreds of various image macros have been created.
A website at the domain iamamotherfucker.com previously displayed Iyanna Washington’s videos, underneath a header that reads “find his bag and return it.” It has since been taken down. Most of the comments on the site proclaim EBM (Epic Beard Man) to be a tragic hero, standing up for the rights for some supposed oppression of white people by black people. The website thomasbruso.com was also created (it has since been removed), featuring the original video and links to the Epic Beard Man macro creator on memegenerator.net, the Thomas Bruso wiki (since been removed), and the related article on Encyclopedia Dramatica.
The single serving site Epicbeardman.com contains the original video, and several derivatives. There is an Epic Beard Man Facebook Fan Page, and an Epic Beard Guy twitter account. Articles have been posted on Metafilter, Deadspin, Holy Taco, and Urlesque.
Other videos of conflicts and confrontations on public transportation have become viral hits in the past, such as Bus Uncle, and Soulja Girl. Because this one involves racism, it motivated a great amount of conversation in a short amount of time.
The common thread in most comments from people of various background is a similar enjoyment of watching a senior citizen deliver a such a powerful physical assault. His age makes him an unlikely candidate for such behavior or capability. Because he was not the first to elevate the conflict to a physical level, but retaliating, most comments express feelings of pride in the old man’s abilities.
There is also a certain level of humor to the fact that Epic Beard Man’s T-shirt advertises that he is “A MOTHERFUCKER.”
Additionally, the way the beaten and bleeding man pronounces “ambulance” (interpreted as either “Amber Lamps” or “M&M’s”) has resulted in a number of humorous derivative images, videos, and text, and spawned the search for the girl sitting on the bus dubbed “Amber Lamps”.
In a video uploaded on August 5th, 2009 Thomas Bruso is tased by police for being drunk and disorderly at an Oakland A’s baseball game.
Photographer Troy Holden mentioned previous encounters he has had with Tom Bruso.
“Back in 1996, I was working at the intersection of 2nd & Market. Each and every day the man pictured above would walk by my shop, wave a loaf of sourdough in my face, and scream obscenities about the San Francisco 49′ers.
Eventually, I moved on and just assumed this fellow found something better to do with his time. I guess not." 
Operation: I AM A MOTHERFUCKER
Late on the night of February 16th, Anonymous began Operation: I AM A MOTHERFUCKER, a somewhat typical cooperative effort to find and disseminate the address, telephone number, and social networks of Iyanna Washington for the purpose of harassing her, berating her for her racist comments, and demanding that she return Epic Beard Man’s bag (which she is seen taking after Bruso exited the bus.)
Note: Know Your Meme simply serves to document this phenomenon as passive observers and not active participants. As such, we will not post Iyanna’s “dox” although they are widely available to those who engage in such behavior.
Operation: I AM A MOTHERFUCKER was successful in reaching Iyanna Washington, motivating her to create a response video, seen below.
It is worth noting how she carefully chooses to use the overly formal terms “Caucasian” and “African American” rather than the more common and fully acceptable terms black and white. This is further contrasted by her choice to refer to Mr. Bruso as “pinky” in her original video, and her choice to refer to the black man whom she claims to have no familiarity with as “blood” denoting race-based solidarity.
It should also be noted that many have claimed Iyanna’s exclamation of “Say it again, Pinky” was meant not as a racial remark on the color of Thomas Bruso’s skin, but simply as a reference to the movie Next Friday, however it is not entirely clear how this reference would fit the context.
In addition to her sudden change to using formal language, Ms. Washington also laments the state of violence in the world. This has been viewed by many as hypocrisy due to her previous support of physical violence evidenced in her original video, recorded under 48 hours prior.
Some have created videos sharing their views of the video. The thing they all have in common is that most enjoy watching Epic Beard Man’s retaliation against the black man.
As has been previously mentioned, one of the ways the black man’s pronunciation of the word “ambulance” through his battered and bleeding face has been interpreted is “Amber Lamps.” Initially, this inspired many of the meme’s participants to create images involved amber-colored lights.
But by February 17th, a new trend emerged in which “Amber Lamps” was treated as the name given to the young woman wearing purple seated nearby. Her casual, unaffected facial expression during the ordeal has inspired a bit of modern mythology detailed throughout the image macros and contents of various forum posts. This activity has caused her to become something of a submeme of her own.
Excerpt from Dramatica:
She’s a pretty cool girl. She lives in the hood and doesn’t afraid of anything.
Epic Beard Man Speaks
San Francisco’s KRON-4 caught up with Epic Beard Man on February 19th to ask for his recount of what happened.
In the video, EBM claims that the man he fought was wanted for murder, would be going to prison for 10 years for armed robbery, assault and battery, and possession of a knife while on parole.
He also alleges that his money and ID were stolen out of his bag, although the bag itself was returned to him three hours following the incident.
As for EBM’s recount of how the incident started, filling in gaps prior to the video, he claims that he had been talking to his white friend Bob, asking to borrow money to get some shoes to wear to his mother’s funeral on Wednesday. In the original video, he states that the funeral is on Friday.
EBM then claims that he had been telling Bob that he would have “my boy” shine his shoes. He also says that he would have “my brother” shine his shoes. EMB claims that he was using these terms generally, not meaning to denote a person of any specific race.
I was gettin’ real scared when he showed me that knife."
Then he claims that he had been sucker-punched in the jaw-bone three times, which is entirely inaccurate. He also claims to have beat the man “so bad and so pretty” that he was “knocked out for 22 and half minutes.”
It is apparent that EBM’s recount is less than reliable, and is likely suffering from some sort of mental illness.
One thing rings true: “Senior citizens will surprise you!”
Michael Speaks Out
As it is clear by the fact that Michael is not in prison, it is apparent that Thomas Bruso’s allegations that Michael is a murder and has been put in prison are false.
Inspired by all the public attention and discourse surrounding the enigmatic character of Thomas Bruso, RadicalNow created a short documentary about him; at times endearing, at times reaffirming his tendency to embellish.
On May 8th, 2011, a video titled “I Am Homeless (Epic Beard Man Update)” was posted to YouTube with Thomas Bruso asking for help, and saying he has been homeless since January, 2011. He claims he was evicted for smoking cigarettes and marijuana, and that he is forced to shoplift food from grocery stores to feed himself. The video was picked up by BuzzFeed, The Daily What, and Reddit.
On December 19th, 2011, a trailer for the film Bad Ass was uploaded to YouTube, starring Danny Trejo as an Epic Beard Man inspired character. The trailer revealed a scene where Trejo beats a man unconscious in a bus fight while wearing a fanny pack and an “I AM A MOTHER FUCKER” t-shirt.
On December 24th, the trailer was posted to the tech blog Geekosystem and was subsequently posted to MSNBC Today 3 days later. On December 28th, Slate published an article that questioned the trailer’s authenticity and pointed out the changes that were made regarding the original viral video’s racial undertones.
In Bad Ass, on the other hand, the opening bus incident involves a Mexican-American man protecting an elderly black man from two white skinheads. As he leaves the bus, Bad Ass says, “I told you I didn’t want to fight,” as though he was forced into it, and only did what was necessary. While the essential underlying conflict has been utterly revised, however, the filmmakers have dressed Trejo almost exactly as Bruso was in the Epic Beard Man video (right down to his iconic fanny pack), in an obvious effort to capitalize on the attention the video received, and to appeal to that video’s many fans.
On the 17th, searches for Epic Beard Man quickly overtook searches for AC Transit. Searches for Amber Lamps came in 3rd, followed by Thomas Bruso in 4th.
What’s most interesting to note here, is how strong the increase in searches for AC Transit increased due to the incident.
Over the last six years, searches for AC Transit had been gradually decreasing. It seems that the Epic Beard Man incident has gained more attention than the BART train derailment of December 09 or the cop who went on trial for killing a man on the BART train in January of 09.