It is slowly dawning on the public that fake hate crimes, like the one just perpetrated by Princeton student Francisco Nava, are quite common on college campuses. Perhaps some aspiring academic, casting about for a PhD. thesis, will try to explain why these hoaxes – mostly imaginary rapes or fake attacks on black students – have come to seem so routine.
I have been following the phenomenon and writing occasional columns on the subject for ten or twelve years. When my eldest daughter was at Oberlin, the campus was propelled into uproar by anti-Asian graffiti in the campus quad. Someone had written “Death to Chinks” and other racial slurs on the monument to members of the Oberlin community who had died in the Boxer rebellion in China. Anger, various demands and a few scuffles went on for weeks until an Asian-American student announced that she had written the graffiti to make manifest the racism she thought was inherent in the monument. This turns out to be a popular rationale for faking hate crimes – the need to create a fictional outrage adequate to express the feelings of an angry student. The more campus voices are raised against “institutional racism” and the alleged sexual dangerousness of all males, the more fake race crimes and fake rapes there will be. Look into the hoax reports and you will see an endless parade of students painting racist graffiti on their own cars, tearing their clothes and writing hate phrases on their own bodies or sending themselves politically useful death threats.
Many campus hoaxes turn out to be teaching instruments of a sort, conscious lies intended to reveal broad truths about constant victimization of women and minorities. At a “Take Back the Night” rally in Princeton in the 90s, a female student told a graphic story of her rape on campus. When the alleged rapist threatened to sue, she recanted the story and a spokeswoman for the Women’s Center said, “Listen we can’t hope to find truth in all these stories,” meaning that the story line was important, not the truth of any one rape.
After the Tawana Brawley case, an article in The Nation said about the faked kidnapping and rape: “in cultural perspective, if not in fact, it doesn’t matter whether the crime occurred or not.” If it helps the cause, who cares if the story is true?
The Francisco Nava case is a rarity – a hate crime created and reported by a campus conservative. Nava, a junior from Texas, said two men assaulted him about two miles from the campus, punched him and repeatedly bashed his head against a brick wall. Nava is a leader in Princeton’s Anscombe Society, a group that speaks out against homosexuals and premarital sex. Earlier three other members of the society, as well as Nava and conservative professor Robert George received death threats.
Several nationally known conservatives immediately denounced the university or the left in general for not reacting quickly to the threats. There’s a grain of truth in this. Princeton’s security did not investigate the alleged death threats. Still, conservatives who jumped the gun and assumed that Nava’s story was true acted foolishly. Robert George had a calmer reaction, quizzing Nava closely and reminding him that if his story was a fabrication, he would be subject to criminal penalties. The best article came from Ryan Anderson of the conservative religious journal First Things. On the magazine’s site, he wrote about about the temptation for both left and right to take sides too early and use the incident for political advantage.
Writing on the Volokh Conspiracy site, UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh had the best one-paragraph warning to any conservatives tempted to fake a hate crime:
You spread unjustified fear and anger. You slander the Left. You make your friends on the Right (and elsewhere) who came to your defense look like dupes. And you further undermine others on the Right, some of whom might face real threats or attacks in the future but who will have a harder time being believed because of you. Lovely.