The Smollett episode, of course, is also a window into a complementary phenomenon on the right, specifically an ever-simmering resentment at being labeled the party of bigotry, or racial grievance, or discrimination, which many conservatives reject as a form of discrimination itself. The opportunity to take the rare, public victory lap, then, was irresistible for some. As Quillette editor Andy Ngo noted in an extensive Twitter thread, conservative writers and journalists have been keeping tabs on fabricated hate crimes for years, most notably the Duke lacrosse scandal and the U.V.A.-Rolling Stone affair. The Covington Catholic High School fracas, in which a white male teenager faced off in a video against a Native American activist, quickly devolved into a political version of Rashomon, in which several prominent pundits ultimately apologized for rushing to judgment.
But the Smollett case was one of the most egregious examples that Ngo had observed to date. “He is a well-connected celebrity and political activist—in other words, very privileged… His celebrity friends are numerous,” Ngo told me in an e-mail. “The influencer ecosystem was able to amplify his fake story to millions and millions of people across the globe.” Daily Beast senior columnist Matt Lewis, formerly of the Daily Caller, made a similar point. “Victim status [has become] the pinnacle of moral authority” in the culture, he told me. “It’s not surprising to me that people are treating themselves as victims specifically, or members of a victim class. So I think that conservatives are cognizant of media confirmation bias, and the desire for people to get attention, and to treat themselves as beyond reproach.”