‘While its veracity isn’t confirmed, its sentiment needs no fact-check…’
(Ben Sellers, Liberty Headlines) The case of Jussie Smollett—whose accusations of a racially-motivated assault by MAGA-hat-wearing, white assailants came crumbling apart this weekend—has left many scratching their heads.
Ignoring some of the more questionable details of the case, left-leaning political figures and media outlets promptly sought, in the immediate aftermath, to spin it into a broader narrative about the state of race and politics in 2019.
In the Chicago Tribune, Dahleen Glanton wrote, “The incident raises an interesting question: Why are we so obsessed with who committed the crime rather than dealing with the fact that such crimes routinely happen across America?”
In GQ, Joshua Rivera wrote, “While its veracity isn’t confirmed, its sentiment needs no fact-check. America’s choice to embrace the blind rage of late-stage whiteness in decline is an explicit longing for this kind of crime…”
But as the facts emerge, it turns out that, indeed, the Jussie Smollett hoax does signal something about the state of America in 2019—it is indicative of a growing trend of fake accusations targeting white, male or conservative Americans.
Rather than accept the blame for spreading such falsehoods, leftists now argue that their political foes and cultural foils are the beneficiaries of systemic power and privilege, and are therefore guilty—worthy of shame and punishment on some abstract level, even if not for the crime of which they stand accused.
As the Boston Herald reports, “Advocates say most hate-crime reports—which have been on the rise in recent years, according to the federal government—are not found to be fake, but there have been a string of high-profile hoaxes over the past several years.”
Hoaxes are nothing new, of course. On its blog, the San Diego-based Museum of Hoaxes has catalogued some of the more noteworthy ones dating back to the Middle Ages.
In addition, several articles, books and websites dedicated specifically to examining racially-motivated hoaxes of the past few decades point to some in which whites falsely accused minorities of high-profile crimes, including murderers Susan Smith and Charles Stuart, both of whom incorporated made-up black assailants into their alibis.
But a key distinction remains: While those accusers are branded—and rightfully so—as loathsome, pathological liars, whose universally condemned offenses against humanity are compounded by their egregious bigotry, the softer sort of anti-Right hoaxers, after falsely being cast as victims, face little accountability and are often rewarded for their efforts.
Listed below are some of the more notorious hoaxes of the modern era that the Left has used to advance phony narratives—with few consequences for the liars themselves but very real implications for others.
The mother of modern race hoaxes is Tawana Brawley, who claimed to have been a victim of a racially motivated gang rape in 1987.
The 15-year-old African–American girl was found outside a New York condominium wrapped in trash bags and covered in feces, with racial slurs written on her body. Parts of her hair were cut off, and her pants were slightly burned. She told police that she had been held for four days by a group of white men, one of whom had a police badge.
The case first elevated Al Sharpton into the national spotlight, amid accusations of a cover-up. But as witness accounts and forensic evidence began to contradict them, the increasingly outlandish fabulations faced tougher scrutiny.
A grand-jury ultimately concluded that they were fraudulent, and Steven Pagones, a prosecutor who had been falsely implicated, successfully sued for libel. The Brawley family maintains that the claims were true.
While the case would seem to be one for the history books, liberal revisionism may not yet be done with it. A 2015 fiction novel by far-left author Joyce Carol Oates, The Sacrifice, was premised on the question, “What if Tawana Brawley hadn’t been a hoax?”
Unlike others on the list, Matthew Shepard was, tragically, the victim of a real crime. It was his subsequent exploitation in service of a political agenda, rather than his own actions, that left the gay, 21-year-old Wyoming student as an unfortunate footnote in the history of hoaxes.
In October 1998, Shepard was found comatose and tied to a fence, his face covered in blood, with evidence that he had been tortured and set afire. He died six days later, having never regained consciousness.
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His two assailants, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, were each given two consecutive life sentences. Much of the contemporary reporting painted them as bigoted rednecks who had killed Shepard due to his sexuality after offering to give him a ride home from a bar.
The story drew calls for a new initiative: hate crime legislation that would result in harsher federal penalties for those who targeted marginalized groups. Although the movement raised serious questions about due process and the arbitrary nature of determining who qualified as a “hate crime” victim, it eventually was signed into law in 2009 by President Barack Obama.
As early as 2004, the two murderers, interviewed by “20/20,” said money and drugs were the main factor, not hate. In 2013, investigative journalist Stephen Jimenez, who is gay, published a book that revealed an even shadier picture. It said Shepard was addicted to and was dealing crystal meth, and that his risky lifestyle also had included heroin and prostitution (he was revealed to be HIV positive at the time of his death). Moreover, he had allegedly been pimped alongside McKinney and had engaged in prior sexual encounters with his meth-head murderer.
The revelations drew a minor wave of public outrage, but largely, with the hate-crime law having been passed and cultural attitudes having shifted in the Obama era, it was seen as a fait accompli, with Shepard having served his symbolic purpose.
In 2006, Duke University lacrosse players Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty and David Evan were accused of raping Crystal Gail Mangum, an African-American stripper who also was a student at North Carolina Central University.
As the case proceeded, with Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong pursuing hate-crime charges and also acting as lead investigator, the lacrosse coach was forced to resign and the team’s entire 2006 season canceled.
Ultimately, the investigation—though not painting the players in the best of light—disproved Mangum’s accusation. Nifong was forced to resign and was disbarred for ethical violations after withholding exculpatory evidence in his aggressive crusade against the students.
Mangum was never charged for the false accusations and later published a book telling her version of events, but in 2013, she was convicted of second-degree murder in the stabbing death of her boyfriend.
U.Va Frat Rape
A 2014 story in Rolling Stone magazine supposedly exposed a horrific gang-rape by the University of Virginia’s Phi Kappa Psi fraternity just as the Obama administration’s Office of Civil Rights, overseen by Attorney General Eric Holder, was using Title IX equal-opportunity requirements as a pretext to assert unprecedented oversight of campus disciplinary policies.
Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s article, detailing the account of a girl named “Jackie,” was proven to be a complete forgery, designed to garner the sympathies and attention of a male student that the girl was stalking. Erdely, who was revealed to be working in tandem with the Holder OCR, had cut corners on the reporting and neglected to seek out interviews with any of those accused.
One U.Va. administrator implicated in the case was able to pursue a $3 million libel judgment against the magazine, with Erdely personally responsible for $2 million of it. Rolling Stone later settled the case.
Although it was relegated to the annals of bad journalism, it also marked one of the first times in which the Left attempted to advance the argument that the spirit of story mattered more than the actual facts.
From the uncorroborated or disproven allegations of several women against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh to the false account of American Indian activist Nathan Phillips against a group of Kentucky students attending January’s March for Life rally, fraudulent allegations reported on as fact in the media are now too commonplace to address individually.
College campuses have become one of the worst offenders, likely because the student accusers are shielded from accountability. Among them was Yasmin Seweid, a Muslim student at Baruch College who claimed in December 2016 that three white men attacked in a New York subway station while yelling “Donald Trump” and anti-Islamic slurs.
The College Fix, a student-based, conservative media outlet, has tracked such hoaxes since 2012 and seen the number rise exponentially. In an article published Monday, following the Smollett feeding-frenzy, it noted that the circumstances seemed all too familiar, documenting 50 other similar episodes.
Some of the hoaxes may amount to innocent misunderstandings exacerbated by a hypersensitive culture, such as a “noose” in a tree that proved to be shoelaces or a supposed KKK hood that was actually lab equipment.
Others, however, seem designed for more nefarious purposes. Often, no other motive is evident than perpetrating a hoax simply for the sake of advancing a political agenda or getting sympathetic media attention.
There is no doubt, however, that the cumulative effect of these politically motivated “cry wolf” episodes is to create a greater public skepticism, widening the cultural/political divide and, dangerously, eliciting suspicion in cases where the victims most need and deserve to be trusted.