A Conservative Hate Crime Hoax

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.


  • John Leo

    John Leo is the editor of Minding the Campus, dedicated to chronicling imbalances within higher education and restoring intellectual pluralism to our American universities. His popular column, "On Society," ran in U.S.News & World Report for 17 years.

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10 thoughts on “A Conservative Hate Crime Hoax

  1. Dr. Rodriguez,
    You said: “You caution against jumping to conclusions, but your title and opening sentences belie your intentions.”
    What are you talking about? Nava has admitted that his attack was a hoax and he did so before the date of this post. How is John jumping to conclusions?

  2. These fakes, by whoever, need to be prosecuted vigorously. Our criminal justice system is being fatally undermined by our failure to deal effectively with false police reports, false reports by police, DAs like Nifong, and rampant witness intimidation.
    Mr. Nava alleged assault by two men. His sentence should be the maximum penalty for a real assault, times 2.

  3. Great writing as always.
    Now, it seems, most everyone is looking for their own personal “Reichstag fire.”
    What a shame.

  4. I believe there are 2 reasons for these faked “hate” events.
    1. Multiculturalism: This “ism” emphasizes race, culture, and gender, and thus promotes discrimination and groups people into “us” and “them”. It divides people, rather than unites, and it depersonalizes, rather than building up persons. Once we are “we” and “they” and depersonalized, it’s easy to “hate” (and to think you’re hated). I’ve blogged and La Shawn Barber has blogged on this recently–interesting reading.
    2. “Truth” as a value is fading. It used to be said of the Soviets that they said, “The end justifies the means.” We have the Bible account of Jesus’ claim before Pilate to be The Truth, and Pilate’s response, “What is truth?”, or in other words, “Truth is such a vague concept.” We are back there, what with a generation or more having been taught that there are no absolutes, no overarching values; there is only “me” and “my rights”. Therefore, if getting that job requires a phony resume, or graduating from the “right” university requires cheating, or having the press conference requires having phony questions from staff pretending to be reporters, whatever it takes, do it.
    So if to prove my philosophical or political assertion I have to make up phony situations, what’s the problem? (And of course, if my assertion is wrong, I’ll need phony evidence. Oh, wait. That’s how my professor got his/her last paper published.)
    So, other than that our society is collapsing around us, no problem! We conservatives would like to think this is a problem of the Left, but let’s face it, it’s a problem of our times.

  5. There’s a certain similarity to the justified debate about whether the networks should collectively withold the names of these crazed maniacal shooters, whom, like Cho Seung-Hui at V-Tech and Robert Hawkins in Omaha, have specifically and clearly told us that they do what they do because “they will get on TV and be (in)famous, etc.” (We’ll just get names off the Net anyway, but still, it’s a valid question.)
    These hoaxers do what they do entirely because of the reaction that it will provoke. Frankly, those who genuinely hate and are not “hoaxing” about it…. do it for exactly the same reason. One wonders if a solution lies in simple contemptive dismissal of the acts AND their perps, rather then never-ending “teachable moments” and other such blather.
    But that would not sustain the ‘narrative’, now, would it.

  6. These acts are dishonest. Is truth in such low esteem by these individuals, that they worry not that their personal integrity is destroyed? Or, do they think that they get a pass just because they speak to what they believe to be the greater truth, even if that is not their reality? In the process, are they perpetuating polarization that keeps honest dialog at bay?

  7. This is the first case I can recall of a hoax of this type coming from the right of center side of the political spectrum. They have always been fake racism or homosexual charges before.
    If someone can come up with another example please do.

  8. In general you have an academic culture that consciously turns victimization into a commodity and a form of legitimacy. Students are bludgeoned over the head with the supposed overarching importance of bigotry and of being a victim of bigotry, to the point where student groups engage in a surreal derby to lay claim to ultimate victimhood, which is the ultimate form of heroism in the value system created. In such an environment being the target of hatred and hate crimes become a form of currency. Of course, once you turn being an object of hate or intolerance into currency, people will start mining for it and even make false claims regarding it. Think of it as the campus equivalent to the tulip as money craze a few centuries back.

  9. Err… I read Ryan Anderson’s article. Nowhere does he say what you so boldly state on your first sentence. The truth is, at this point, unknown.
    You caution against jumping to conclusions, but your title and opening sentences belie your intentions.

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