Whatever the percentage rate might be, the sheer fact that there are enough of these very high-profile stories to fill a 300-page book raises some questions. The first might be: what are the signs of a likely hate-crime hoax? While there are several poker tells here – the involvement of known activists on left or hard right, the absence of any corroborating evidence in camera-laden US or UK cities – the most obvious to me is the unlikely cinematic story. Real crime tends to be stupid and mundane: local teens clumsily stole a bicycle from my porch this week, for example; street fighters often clumsily break their own hands throwing punches. In contrast, Juicy Smolliet dreamed up a story where two big men wearing bright red MAGA hats, and carrying a noose and a gallon bottle of bleach through a Chicago nightlife district, attacked him at 2am during a blizzard – but he fought off both of them without ever dropping his Subway tuna salad sub (admittedly a fine sandwich). I ask: what are the odds of that scenario having ever actually taken place?
As a specific sidebar, it is worth noting that a consistent sub-theme of such ridiculous stories is the invocation of archaic racist symbols no longer in regular urban use even on the hard right – nooses, Klan robes, (incorrectly drawn) swastikas, and so forth. There clearly is a knuckle-head right, just as there is a bomb-thrower left, and it would frankly be no surprise to see Proud Boys polos, Confederate or old English flag tattoos, or Pepe or Groyper masks represented among a group of lads brawling with Antifa. But there simply aren’t many active members of the Ku Klux Klan today – even in the deep American South, much less in Lorain County, Ohio, our northern ally of Canada, and most of the other places where members have been ‘spotted’ of late. ‘Klansmen’ reported on Lorain’s Oberlin College campus turned out to be a group of students playing a prank; similar sightings on Bowling Green’s campus turned out to be pieces of lab equipment behind a window blind; and those sighted at the University of Missouri in 2015 apparently never existed at all. This pattern, no doubt, extends beyond those three fine schools.
Why would anyone do this at all? Why falsify such a crime? Again, there are several common answers: insurance money, to have a laugh, general anger at a campus opponent of a different gender or race. But there is also one broad and very common answer: we have attached a considerable value to victim status in the modern US and UK.