Yet Another Fake Hate Crime on Campus

are phony “hate crimes” so common, particularly on campus? James Taranto took a
stab at answering this perennial question yesterday in his popular “Best of the
Web” column
. The occasion was the latest hoax: a women’s studies student at the
University of Wyoming sent an aggressive and vile sexual message to herself,
denounced it heartily on her blog as hateful and misogynistic, then had to
admit she had sent it to herself.

why do people do this? Taranto writes:
One obvious answer is that people do this
sort of thing to get attention. Multicultural identity politics, which is a
dominant force on campus and a significant one off it, creates a perverse
incentive structure by rewarding victims of purported hate and going easy on
hoaxers.” He goes on to say that “a
 shared experience of being oppressed
can be a powerful source of identity.”

agree. Since our campuses are currently obsessed with race and gender and the
threat of bigotry, some of that deep feeling of grievance tends to come out in
narratives that just aren’t true. To the hoaxer, literal truth is less
important than the need to create a fictional outrage adequate to express the
feelings of an angry student.

wrote here in 2007
(the occasion was the appearance of a rare conservative
hate crime hoax), “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.”

downgrading of truth in favor of feeling often shows up in post-hoax comments
by allies of the perp. 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. As the Nation magazine famously said after theTawawa Brawley
hoax, “It almost doesn’t matter” that the alleged crime never happened.

University of Wyoming statement on the hoax wasn’t that scurrilous, but the
faking seemed far less important than the alleged need to keep an intense focus
on  sexual violence: “This episode has sparked an important
discussion reaffirming that the UW community has no tolerance for sexual
violence or violence of any type. The fact that the Facebook post apparently
was a fabrication does not change the necessity for continued vigilance in
reassuring that we have a campus where everyone feels safe. It’s important that
this event does not undermine the progress that has been made in this

would have preferred a more straightforward message, something like this:
“Lying about hate crimes is a serious business and will not be tolerated
on this campus. It’s important that this incident not undermine our
university’s commitment to truth-telling. Cheating, plagiarism, dishonesty in
research and fake accusations demean any campus and we won’t have it here.” But
of course that’s not what the university wanted to say.


  • 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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