Monday, December 17, 2007

"Fake" Hate Crimes

Orin Kerr from Volokh has an interesting thread regarding the seemingly unusual prevalence of "hate crimes" on college campuses that turn out to be hoaxes or something less than criminal. The impetus for this thread is the hoax at Princeton this weekend in which an anti-gay marriage student faked an attack on himself, along with sending several fake threats to various anti-gay student groups. He then blamed the fake attack and threats on gay rights group.

Anyways, Kerr makes an interesting observation about the unusual prevalence of incidents like this on college campuses. Such incidents are more often than not centered around left-wing groups, but the Princeton case shows that the Right is hardly immune from the false sense of victimization that often leads to these cases.

The thread at Volokh is interesting in the number of commenters who can recall at least one faked or grossly exagerrated hate crime on their campus. I am no exception to this, either:

When I was in college, on a snowy night a group of lesbians wrote the word "queer" (or some other word often deemed a homophobic slur) in snow on the lawn of a fraternity. Worth mentioning, this was not your stereotypical fraternity of homophobic jocks, but was instead a fraternity that was generally considered to be kind of, well, dorky and actually had at least one openly gay member. Anyhow, several of the fraternity members saw this happening and ran outside, naturally angered that someone was writing what was normally regarded as a slur on their lawn. The brothers shouted "Why are you writing "queer" on our lawn?" The girls ran off, with one or two of the fraternity members pursuing them as far as the edge of the property.

Within 48 hours, the campus was in full-on crisis mode. Apparently the actions of the fraternity amounted to an anti-lesbian hate crime against the girls who had been writing the slurs on the lawn of the fraternity. Supposedly, the girls were writing the word on the fraternity lawn simply because they were proud of their sexuality and (presumably after a number of drinks downtown) wanted to express this in writing somewhere on campus. The girls believed that by writing the words on the fraternity's lawn, they were making clear to everyone that it was they, the girls, who were gay. Thus, any anger directed towards them by the fraternity was, apparently, a symbol of homophobia. That the fraternity members gave chase to the girls, even for an extremely short distance, was allegedly an attempt at intimidation of the girls for being gay. Indeed, the girls claimed (wrongly) they were chased across campus and also that they were afraid for their lives.

The college paper, along with various student groups, accepted the girls' victimhood without question, conveniently forgoing questions like whether the fraternity might have a right to be offended by someone writing "queer" on their lawn, and might interpret that act as the girls calling the fraternity a bunch of queers; the outraged groups also conveniently failed to ask how, exactly, the fraternity members could have or should have known that the two girls were gay given that most straight people at the time viewed the word entirely as a homophobic slur, not as a word of gay pride. Despite these failures, the outrage grew into a full-on maelstrom within just a few days, including as I recall a formal investigation into the charges with the fraternity (IIRC) receiving immediate sanctions pending the investigation. Editorials and commentary pieces were published, including one that said the incident proved that not only this particular fraternity, but all fraternities, should be burned to the ground.

Eventually the story faded away as the details became clearer. But the students who started the whole thing were encouraged to maintain their victimhood even though the whole incident was a bizarre delusion on their part. Meanwhile, as I recall, the fraternity was still forced to accept a punishment of some sort, although far more mild than was initially sought.

So that's my "fake" hate crime story.