If you follow the news with any diligence beyond reading the loudest early headlines and social-media clickbait, you are wearyingly familiar with the pattern of heavily-hyped “hate crimes” (ranging from violent crimes to nasty notes on restaurant receipts) that turn out to be “false flag” hoaxes, frequently perpetrated by the very sorts of left-leaning folks who make the stories go viral in the first place. Kevin Williamson wrote about the pattern, with a sampling of the extensive examples, only a few weeks ago. A website collecting media reports of false hate crimes reports (which includes both hoaxes and accidents first reported as hate crimes) currently lists dozens of publicly reported examples just since Election Day 2016. (This is distinct from the related and extensive phenomenon of immediate media reports blaming mass shootings and attacks erroneously on right-wingers).
One of the more sensational recent examples was left-wing journalist Juan Thompson, arrested and charged with making hoax bomb threats to at least eight Jewish Community Centers. Now, news comes today of an arrest in Israel pointing to a much more extensive pattern of hoaxes, with the same target:
The police on Thursday arrested an Israeli teenager who holds American citizenship in connection with waves of threats to Jewish institutions, including community centers in the United States, law enforcement officials said. A spokesman for the police here….said the suspect, from the Ashkelon area of southern Israel, had also made threats to institutions in Australia and New Zealand, as well as to at least one commercial airline flight, forcing an emergency landing…The authorities did not immediately identify the teenager, who they said was Jewish and in his late teens. His motives were not immediately clear…The arrest appeared to be a turning point after months of investigation and waves of turmoil and panic as Jewish community centers across the United States reported more than 100 bomb threats since the beginning of the year….The wide-ranging, multinational inquiry was hampered by what the authorities described as the suspect’s use of “advanced camouflage technologies” to try to mask the communications, which he made through the internet. The technology shielded the caller’s identity and also disguised the voice that threatened carnage.
Incidents of actual anti-Semitic threats and violence are a real problem. They are also not new, as the available data suggests, but when Obama was president, they were not seen as newsworthy:
There were 1,211 antisemitic incidents in Obama’s first year in office. This was after four straight years of declining antisemitism. For instance, in 2008, there were 1,352 incidents. Attacks had peaked in 2004 with 1,821.
Over the years, the number of incidents continued to decline. After an initial uptick to 1,239 in 2010, they declined to 751 in 2013. They began to rise again to 914 in 2015, the last year for which we have data. When we tally the total number of incidents between 2009 and 2015, the overall number of attacks reaches more than 7,000. However, the number of assaults increased, almost doubling during the Obama administration.
Overall, there was an average of 84 incidents a month under the Obama administration. Let’s step back for a moment and compare that to the 95 incidents between January and February 2017 [based on a tally of media reports]. That’s a 10% increase. It could be more once all the data comes in. But the media haven’t been telling us there is a slight increase; the narrative has been that there is an antisemitic wave sweeping the US.
President Trump has, in fact, been more than a little reluctant to denounce this stuff in the past, which is why it was a big deal that he opened his State of the Union Address by doing so. It’s a positive sign that law enforcement is serious about capturing the perpetrators, both fake and real. Hate crimes hoaxes, such as bomb threats directed at innocent third parties, can do just as much damage as the real thing, and should be prosecuted as such.
But as Kevin noted, the main motivation behind the drumbeat of media coverage and social-media sharing is not to target hate crimes themselves, or even to advance policies designed to stop them, but rather to use them to discredit conservatives by tenuous association. As David Bernstein has observed, the organized anti-anti-Semitism groups in the U.S. have very specific incentives to blame anti-Semitic incidents on the Right:
When Greenblatt took over the ADL from the long-serving Abraham Foxman, he announced that the younger generation among ADL’s primary constituency, liberal, secular Jews, was no longer terribly interested in the issue of anti-Semitism, and instead wanted the ADL to focus on oppression more generally. The enthusiasm and fund-raising dollars were in supporting Black Lives Matter and transgender rights, not worrying about anti-Semitism on college campuses. One strongly suspects that this is because the threat of anti-Semitism was seen primarily as coming from the anti-Israel left. Trump created a wonderful entrepreneurial opportunity for the ADL to focus on what is naturally its core issue, anti-Semitism…by focusing on the threat from the right. The ADL’s reticent donors are no longer reticent in the age of Trump, with the media reporting that donations have been pouring in since Trump’s victory….
Another group that has had a strong incentive to exaggerate the present threat of right-wing anti-Semitism is Jewish progressive activists. For the past decade or so, leftist Jews have increasingly found themselves excluded from progressive coalitions that not only take very harsh anti-Israel lines, but also have refused to take seriously anti-Semitism in their midst, suggesting that allegations of such anti-Semitism are mere covers for the “privilege” of “white Zionists.” So long as the problem of American anti-Semitism was largely associated with anti-Zionism and far-left politics more generally, Jews were not permitted to be part of a coalition of the marginalized.
Those motivations themselves often creates the temptation to generate hoaxes. One hopes, in vain, that the latest arrest leads to even a little humility and reflection on the part of those who use media reports of hate crimes for that purpose.