But unfortunately, there is no shortage of wannabe heroes — who in most cases have never suffered discrimination — actively undermining the cause by committing fake hate crimes, often with the idea of drawing attention to an issue.
The Daily Caller had a piece this week on a recent and especially pernicious hoax at Oberlin College, perpetrated by an overzealous, outspokenly liberal Obama campaigner and his friend. The two young men terrorized their campus with racist graffiti, flyers, and emails sent from a fake address using the name of the university’s president, at one point placing a flag with a swastika in a campus building. The incidents received national news coverage.
Incredibly, once the hoaxers had been discovered, suspended, and removed from campus, university administrators concealed their knowledge that it had been a hoax, leaving other students (and Americans in general) to fear that their campus was a far more dangerous and hostile place than it actually was.
Fake hate crimes are sometimes politically motivated, designed to get a reaction from people and convince them that hate is a really big problem — this is usually done by liberals, but in at least one prominent case (see below) it was done by a conservative. In other cases, the perps have other motives, such as financial fraud or a need for evidence to bolster a discrimination lawsuit.
Fake hate crimes seem especially common on college campuses, where a reaction is almost guaranteed and where the perps are naive enough about the ways of the world to think they can get away with it.
Here’s a brief and partial recent history of hate-crime hoaxes, culled from various online sources including trendsinhate.com (which contains accounts of several real hate crimes as well) and fakehatecrimes.org:
2013: A New Jersey prep school student, running for student council president, received several deeply offensive racist text messages urging him to drop out of the race. But he eventually had to when police figured out he’d sent all of the messages to himself in a bid to gain sympathy.
2013: Award-winning liberal blogger and 28-year-old University of Wyoming student Meg Lanker Simons goes on trial in October for allegedly anonymously threatening herself with rape on Facebook, then lying to police about it.
2012: Aimee Whitchurch and Kristel Conklin threatened themselves by painting their home with anti-gay graffiti and hanging a noose on their door, then reported the incident and insinuated that their neighbors were responsible. They pleaded guilty and got off the hook with 12 months’ probation and community service.
2012: Olivia McRae and Tanasia Linton, two students at Montclair State University in New Jersey, reported that racist graffiti had been scrawled on their door. Days later, they were charged with making a false report, accused of writing the message themselves.
2012: Alexandra Pennell, a student at Central Connecticut State University, claimed to have received threatening anti-gay messages. When it was discovered she’d sent them to herself, she was expelled and barred from all state universities for five years.
2011-12: Khalilah Ford was expelled from the University of Wisconsin-Parkside for an especially frightening hoax that reportedly prompted some students to drop out of school from fear. She circulated an anonymously penned list of black students with a threat that they’d be dead soon, including herself on the hit-list. A second student, Janet Uppman, was also expelled for writing a racial epithet on a white board as part of the hoax. Both hoaxers got off easy — they were issued tickets for $400.
2011: UNC-Chapel Hill freshman Quinn Matney claimed to have been branded with a hot object by someone who called him an anti-gay slur. In fact, the wound was self-inflicted. When friends noticed it, he made up the story out of embarrassment to explain the injury. A friend, believing he’d actually been attacked, urged him to report it to police, and he did.
2008: Elmhurst College student Safia Jilani claimed to have been attacked in a bathroom by a masked gunman and to have had her locker marked with a swastika, both because of her Islamic faith. At the time, her report caused a campus lockdown. She was later indicted for making a false report.
2007: Colorado University student Alta Rae Merkling claimed to have been attacked by a group of men who cut an “X” into her face, shouting, “X marks the faggot!” She was later charged with filing a false report.
2007: Case Western Reserve statistics Prof Ramani Sri Pilla mailed hate letters to herself and then falsely accused her co-workers to the FBI — apparently an attempt to bolster a racial discrimination lawsuit she was bringing against her university. She got six months in prison and must pay the costs of the investigation — $66,000.
2005: Alicia Hardin terrorized fellow black students at Trinity International University with threatening anonymous notes — possibly in an attempt to convince her parents to let her transfer to another school. She was convicted and sentenced to probation.
2004: Claremont Professor Kerri Dunn slashed her own tires, and broke her own windows, and vandalized her own car with anti-semitic messages. An activist who constantly inveighed against hate, she had been seen vandalizing her own car by two random people in the parking lot. She ended up being sentenced to a year in prison for insurance fraud and was forced to repay $19,000.