The progressive insistence that America remains a deeply racist nation occasionally takes on an air of desperation, transmuting itself in its more difficult moments into the perverse, almost infantile, asseveration that if America is not sinful, it should be. On rare occasions this instinct spills over into straight-up mendacity, which is exactly what happened this year at Oberlin College, whose long nightmare of “campus racism” — swastikas, profane attacks on Black History Month, and even a sighting of the KKK — culminated in the predictable revelation that the whole affair had been a nasty hoax perpetrated by an overzealous Organizing for Action volunteer.
Worse, the website Legal Insurrection, which smelled a rat from the beginning, confirmed that “school officials and local police knew the identity of the culprits, who were responsible for most if not all of such incidents on campus, yet remained silent as the campus reacted as if the incidents were real.”
Fake hate crimes, which occur primarily on college campuses, are a peculiar feature of American life. Hoaxers operate on a bizarre premise: If evidence to support their political claims isn’t available when they need it to be, well then, they’ll just have to “find” some. Deep down, the hoaxer knows that his fellow citizens are racist and terrible; he knows that the downtrodden are suffering at the hands of people unlike him; and he knows that there is “so much more work to do.” And so, if his campus isn’t beset by the disgraceful bigotry of which he knows everyone is secretly guilty, then he’ll have to invent some against which heroically to fight.
The beauty of this trick is that there are an awful lot of people out there at a higher level of influence who feel precisely the same way — people who will jump like starved heroin addicts to devour the rare fix with which they’ve been provided. Chris Matthews has run so short of actual evidence that the people of the United States are as monstrous as he hopes they are that he was recently reduced to explaining with a straight face that conservatives are disrespecting the president by using his last name. The prospect of some real campus racism is an oasis against the desert, offering as it does the chance to play Rosa Parks on television and, crucially, to assuage a small part of the crushing disappointment and misplaced guilt that the MSNBC set apparently feels for not having been born during the civil-rights movement.
The method by which the architects of fake hate crimes elect to raise awareness is functionally indistinguishable from that of the show trial. As dictators of all stripes justify their behavior on the grounds that the message is more important than are the facts of the case — or, for that matter, than is the sacred innocence of the falsely accused — so the perpetrators of “hate crime” hoaxes have their own elevated ideologies, into whose service real lives must be pressed. Objective truth is just a casualty of the plan — an inconvenience that must be ruthlessly subjugated to the narrative. It would presumably come as an unpleasant surprise to these miscreants that their behavior carries the very whiff of totalitarian mania that they believe themselves to be denouncing. But it does.
It carries hints of mental illness, too. One of the guilty students at Oberlin, Dylan Bleier, appears genuinely to have regarded himself as a freedom fighter. Bleier was a member of the Ithaca White Allies Against Structural Racism, which he characterized as existing to “eradicate structural racism in Tompkins County [N.Y.], via forums discussing racism.” “Structural racism” is essentially a way of saying “invisible racism” without sounding like a ghost hunter. That is to say that, in the absence of actual racism, those whose worldview requires bigotry to be ubiquitous in America have moved to more sophisticated pastures, alternating between arguing that pretty much everything is racist and “discovering” that foundational and colorblind concepts such as free speech, trial by jury, the right to bear arms, and the rule of law are in fact tools of racial oppression.
An Obama volunteer and self-professed “atheist, pacifist, environmentalist, libertarian socialist, consequentialist,” Bleier, expressing joy when president Obama discussed the Zimmerman trial, tweeted that “Zimmerman is just the tip of the iceberg, a single highly visible symptom of the racist system that is ‘succeeding’ in the US.” Those wondering to what he was referring must understand that George Zimmerman’s “racism,” of which there is no objective evidence whatsoever, is “visible” only to people who can see such things. These are the same savants who were thrilled when Maureen Dowd proved herself capable of hearing a phantom racial word, “boy,” at the end of Joe Wilson’s “you lie” interruption in 2010. And if you can see what nobody else can — if you are able to provide that key piece of spectral evidence that will convict the dastardly witch or save that eternal soul — then you had sure as hell better show the jury.
This phenomenon, people maintaining their views regardless of the evidence to the contrary, is inextricable from the peculiar way in which Americans who readily admit that they “never thought” they’d see a black president in their lifetime refuse to alter their assessments of their country’s racial virtue now that they find themselves in a black president’s second term. It is related, too, to the red-faced insistence of many that the trial of George Zimmerman demonstrated that there are legions of Americans out there just itching to take advantage of a loophole in self-defense law and gun down a person of another race. And the ugly truth is that they want this to be true. Not for nothing did the New York Times invent the term “white Hispanic” or Touré risibly demand that Zimmerman be referred to as a “Peruvian American.” The facts didn’t suit the case — so the facts had to change.
Ultimately, Touré, Dowd, Bleier, and a sad and flighty cast of other hustlers, are in the business of being heroes. And, while the deck is stacked in favor of those who cry “Witch,” there is little incentive for them to stop. Meg Lanker-Simons, an activist and student at the University of Wyoming who sent fake rape threats to herself, not only enjoyed being the much-comforted victim of the “disgusting, misogynistic” attack that she had contrived but also got to lead the speeches condemning it. At Oberlin, Bleier and his partner in crime, Matt Alden, watched as their deception went national. Actress Lena Dunham made an issue out of the fracas on Twitter; MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry devoted substantial airtime to the scandal, inviting Ta-Nehisi Coates on to discuss racism at large; CNN and the New YorkTimes covered the protests.
Closer to home, the Asian/Pacific American Alumni Association wrote to “express our solidarity” with the students who spoke out, and students at Williams College wrote to Oberlin during the sham and assured their contemporaries a few states over that they were “not alone in [their] struggle.” In that letter from Williams, signatories observed that, “as a family, we are stronger than the demons that we face.” Little did they know that, once again, the demon being faced in Ohio was not racism, it was not anti-Semitism, and it was not bigotry. It was mendacity.
— Charles C. W. Cooke is a staff writer at National Review.