Politics & Policy

Eleven Hate-Crime Hoaxes

Meghan Lanker-Simons posted fake rape threats on Facebook.
Bogus baiting, retracted rape, and homophobic hokum.

While returning to a dorm room last month, a black student at Grand Valley State University in Michigan was greeted by racist graffiti on a dry erase board on the door complete with a hanged stick figure labeled “black.” But on Friday, the Grand Valley Police Department reported that the owner of the board was the very person responsible for the racist remarks.

This incident at Grand Valley State is just the latest of many instances over the past few years in which people claim to be the victims of hate crimes they inflicted on themselves or completely fabricated.

Perhaps attempting some misguided publicity stunt or perhaps trying to make others see hate where there is none, these people have gone to great lengths to claim they’ve been targeted. Here’s a look back at some of the most recent and egregious hate-crime hoaxes:

1. At Hofstra University in 2009, a freshman girl claimed she was gang-raped by five men in a dormitory, only to recant her claims when a video of the sexual encounter surfaced showing she was not forced at all. Four men were arrested before she finally admitted she was lying.

2. Meghan Lanker-Simons of the University of Wyoming anonymously posted fake rape threats to herself on Facebook in 2013 in a case that got national media attention.When police investigated the incident, they found “substantial evidence” that Lanker-Simons posted the fake rape threat from her own personal computer while it was in her possession.

3. A little over a year ago at Oberlin College, two students conducted a massive series of racist stunts such as putting up a Nazi flag, passing out anti-Islamic fliers, and putting a “whites only” sign above a water fountain. After getting classes cancelled for a “Day of Solidarity,” one of the students said that the entire thing was a “joke” in order to get an “overreaction.”

4. In one of the most famous hate-crime hoaxes of late, Crystal Mangum falsely accused three Duke lacrosse players of raping her in 2006. Following the allegations, the Duke lacrosse team was suspended for two games; the coach, Mike Pressler, was forced to resign; and the three accused were arrested and vilified by the national media. The charges were eventually dropped and Mike Nifong, the corrupt Durham County district attorney, was removed, disbarred, and sued into bankruptcy. In November 2013 Mangum was convicted of murdering her boyfriend.

5. Last year, a lesbian waitress in Connecticut, Dayna Morales, claimed that a couple wrote on a receipt, “I’m sorry but I cannot tip because I don’t agree with your lifestyle & how you live your life.” After Morales gained national media attention and received thousands of dollars in donations that she promised she would give to Wounded Warriors, the accused couple revealed that they wrote no such note and actually left a rather generous 20-percent tip. Morales was exposed as having a history of lying, and Wounded Warriors said that they had never received a donation from Morales.

6. Oprah Winfrey whirled up a media frenzy last year after accusing a Swiss sales assistant of racism. Winfrey said the saleswoman told her that “you don’t want to see this bag” because Winfrey is black. ”It is too expensive. You cannot afford it.” The sales assistant felt powerless caught in the media “cyclone,” as she put it, and flatly denied having ever told Winfrey she could not afford the item. “I don’t know why she is making these accusations,” the saleslady said. “She is so powerful and I am just a shop girl.” 

7. Last fall Vassar College was struck by a string of hateful remarks spray-painted on student residences, including “Fuck N*ggers” and “Hey Tranny, Know Your Place.” A few days after the university’s Bias Incident Response Team reported that multiple offenses had occurred on campus, the university announced that the perpetrators were actually two members of the Bias Incident Response Team.

8. Two gay parents were throwing a birthday party for their child earlier this year when they received a note from a homophobic parent saying her child would not attend the party because she would “not subject my innocent son to your ‘lifestyle.’” The media were outraged until it was revealed that there were no gay parents, no allegedly homophobic parent, and no birthday party. In fact, the entire spectacle was a joke created by a New York radio show in order to “spur a healthy discourse on a highly passionate topic,” as they explained.

9. In 2011, two lesbians told authorities that someone had spray-painted “Kill the Gay” on their garage and left a noose at their door. They said it was probably the Homeowner’s Association retaliating against over a dispute about their dog. However, the FBI investigated and found out that the women had spray-painted their garage themselves and likewise had placed the noose on their own doorstep. They were charged with criminal mischief and false reporting.

10. Joseph Baken claimed that three men had beaten him after he came out as a homosexual at a bar. A picture of his bruised faced was widely circulated online, and Baken was held up as a victim of homophobia. Soon after his short rise to fame, a video surfaced showing Baken attempting a backflip on a paved street. He struck his face on the curb exactly where the injuries were in his viral picture. Soon after, he pled guilty to filing a false police report.

11. Alexandra Pennell, a student at Central Connecticut State University, reported that she had received an anti-gay message under her door. As an apparent target of hate, she spoke at an anti-hate rally for hundreds of students. But when the police tried, through a surveillance camera outside her room, tried to find out who it was, they found that the camera had been disabled. After setting up a hidden camera, they discovered Pennell was the one writing her own hate letters. She did not admit it until the police showed her the video.

— Alec Torres is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.

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