The Corner

Politics & Policy

Always Be Skeptical of Big Claims Involving Hate Crimes

The newest one, that counties that hosted Trump rallies in 2016 saw a “226 percent increase in hate crimes” in “subsequent months,” appears in the Washington Post via a write-up from three academics. They provide a link on the words “our research,” but clicking it leads one to the website of the academic conference next month at which they will present their findings, not to an actual study, so the details provided in the Post are all we have to go on.

There are some . . . reasons for caution.

One is that the hate-crime data come from the Anti-Defamation League; David Bernstein wrote a compelling piece for Tablet late last year explaining why the ADL’s numbers should not be seen as definitive. (Bernstein focused on the group’s tally of anti-Semitic incidents in particular, while this study includes all the hate incidents the group records.) Most important, the organization relies on reports of hate crimes from the media and other public sources, so any patterns in the data — including a gigantic nationwide increase since Trump’s election, and, yes, any local increase observed following Trump rallies — might stem from changes in crime reporting and/or media interest rather than from actual changes in hate-crime rates.

Second, I would not cavalierly dismiss, as the authors do, the idea that fake hate crimes might play some role — especially in the wake of Jussie Smollett’s little prank, not to mention the fact that the ADL’s data include 163 bomb threats to Jewish community centers made by an Israeli teenager, himself Jewish. “ADL included them in the total count because, regardless of the motivation of any specific perpetrator, Jewish communities were repeatedly traumatized by these threats,” the group explained in its response to Bernstein.

Third, the ADL counted 1,317 hate incidents in 2016 and 2,481 in 2017; meanwhile, there are more than 3,000 counties in the U.S. When there aren’t enough hate crimes recorded for each county to have one a year and the study analyzes periods of “months,” a “226 percent” increase in hate crimes may be a rather tiny number for the typical county that hosted a Trump rally, depending on its size. We can’t really say because the authors don’t provide the actual number of hate crimes the rallies allegedly caused.

I’m hardly a tireless defender of Trump’s rhetoric, but color me dubious of this attempt to show that it has had devastating and criminal consequences.

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