Hate crime hoaxes and America’s domestic conflict

Earlier this month, the FBI published their annual Hate Crime Report, which shows that hate crimes reported by law enforcement agencies are on the rise.

Crime based on race/ethnicity and religion, among other protected categories, is part of our culture war and has the potential to be a central part of our domestic conflict. (If history is any example, there could be a point where race or ethnicity is the central part of a domestic conflict.) This is a significant data point, and I’ll get to that in a moment.

But hate crime hoaxes are a part of our culture war, too.

Most recently, a man named Masud Ali used Twitter to stream what looked like a case of discrimination at a Chipotle restaurant in St. Paul, Minnesota. After being denied service, he posted a video and asked “Can a group of young well established African American get a bite to eat after a long workout session. ??” [source]

It turns out that Masud Ali has a history of ordering his food at the store and leaving before paying. But that didn’t stop Chipotle from firing the employee, who has since been rehired in light of Ali’s checkered history at the restaurant.

Meanwhile, Ali continued to retweet responses encouraging a boycott of Chipotle restaurants, and posted the location’s address and phone number for protestors to contact.

As of Monday morning, that video has been viewed 13.7 million times, and unfortunately the real victim — her face all over national media — had been the subject of online harassment until Ali’s history became more widely reported.

When cases of real crimes associated with hate are evident, what motivates someone to perpetrate a hate crime hoax?

There are at least two drivers:

1. Political influence on the Left often grows out of oppression, real or perceived. A central part of the social justice platform is to give political power to oppressed classes, so one way to gain legitimacy is through being oppressed. A hate crime hoax ‘victim’ will often enjoy elevated status among his/her peers, a platform, and an outpouring of support that reinforces the victim identity, without having to endure an actual crime. Until a law enforcement investigation begins, there are great incentives to perpetrate a hate crime hoax.

2. The logical conclusion from the first driver is that the more oppression exists, the greater the political power can grow through agitation, movement building, and community organizing. When the social justice system requires more oppression to grow its political power, it demands more oppression, even in places where none exists. In America, the desire to use hate crimes to agitate has a greater demand than available supply. According to FBI statistics, there was an average of just over seven assaults per day motivated by hate in a country of 325 million people. The chances of being a hate crime victim are infinitesimally low. In any given year, the average American stands roughly a 0.00002596 percent chance of being a victim of any hate crime. The average American stood roughly a 0.0000099692307692 percent chance of being a victim of assault motivated by hate last year.

What’s more is that several of the more prominently reported alleged hate crimes have been hoaxes.

For second time in two years, racist slur at Kansas State was a hoax

Ohio University LGBT student arrested over making false ‘death threat’ claims

Air Force Academy student writes fake racist messages against himself

Navy sailor stages racist vandalism against himself

African American man vandalizes five black churches

(There’s an entire website dedicated to these, by the way.) [source]

This is not to say that crimes motivated by hate aren’t a problem. (It’s entirely feasible that as the United States continues to fracture politically, ethnically, and economically, we could see a significant increase in hate crimes.) This is to say that hate crime hoaxes needlessly compound racial, religious, and cultural issues in America. Like racially-motivated crimes, they contribute to feelings of distrust and tribalization.

While violent crimes motivated by hate are a kinetic part of our domestic conflict — for instance, the Tree of Life synagogue shooting is a part of our ongoing low intensity conflict — hate crime hoaxes should be characterized as information operations in the culture war.

What we see with these hoaxes is autonomous action. Hate crime hoaxes aren’t centrally planned; they require no leadership, unit coordination, or central directives. All they require is the willingness for individual action to create a local event with national implications.

Hate crime hoaxes exist because they’re politically and culturally advantageous. It’s easier to mobilize voters and organize communities when the perception of oppression is big, loud, and persistent. Hate crime hoaxers understand this; that’s why they perpetrate the hoaxes, and that’s why the social justice movement is married to exploiting that perception.

But there’s one other reason for concern over hate crime hoaxes: well-publicized crimes create resentment and anger, which could lead to further violence.

By the time an investigation is completed, many of these hate crime hoaxes have done their damage. The stories have been seen or read by millions of Americans, while updates and corrections are seen by hundreds, maybe thousands.

Regardless of how hate crimes are classified, described, or reported (or not reported), they do pose a significant threat to the country’s stability. The desire to reciprocate is a fundamental human trait, and the country runs the risk of further attacks and reprisals against innocent people on the basis of their race or other characteristics. The immediate reaction to hate crime hoaxes adds to this likelihood.

It’s difficult to spot a ‘trigger’ event, however, attacks on law enforcement following a police-involved shooting (like the 2016 Dallas attack) is an excellent example of how reprisal works. Every racially-motivated crime or hoax crime is potentially one step closer to being a trigger for further violence.

 

Always Out Front,

Samuel Culper

 

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Samuel Culper is a former military intelligence NCO and contract Intelligence analyst. After 39 months of deployment time to Iraq and Afghanistan, he's now the conflict and warfare researcher at Forward Observer.

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