Professor: Hate crime hoaxes are more common than people think

Wilfred Reilly is an associate professor at Kentucky State University where he teaches political science. Reilly has a piece at USA Today which is based on a forthcoming book he is writing on hoax hate crimes. His conclusion is that these crimes happen far more often than people think:

Doing research for a book, Hate Crime Hoax, I was able to easily put together a data set of 409 confirmed hate hoaxes. An overlapping but substantially different list of 348 hoaxes exists at, and researcher Laird Wilcox put together another list of at least 300 in his still-contemporary book Crying Wolf. To put these numbers in context, a little over 7,000 hate crimes were reported by the FBI in 2017 and perhaps 8-10% of these are widely reported enough to catch the eye of a national researcher…

In college campus hate hoax cases (Kean College, U-Chicago), the individuals responsible almost invariably say that they staged incidents to call attention to real incidents of racist violence on campus. Certainly, the media giants that leap to publicize hate crime stories later revealed to be fakes, and the organizations that line up to defend their “victims” — the Southern Poverty Law Center, Black Lives Matter, CAIR — think that they are providing a public service by fighting bigotry.

However, hate crime hoaxers are “calling attention to a problem” that is a very small part of total crimes.

It’s worth noting that the number of hate crimes is not a figure that represents uniform national reporting. According to the FBI: “Agencies that participated in the Hate Crime Statistics Program in 2017 represented more than 300 million inhabitants, or 94.1 percent of the nation’s population, and their jurisdictions covered 49 states and the District of Columbia.” So it’s most of the country but not quite all of it. So it’s at least arguable that these crimes are still underreported.

Still, the total number of violent crimes in the U.S. in 2017 was 1,247,321 (that doesn’t include 7,694,086 property crimes). So in the scheme of things 7,100 hate crimes is not a huge number, which is obviously a good thing.

It would be interesting to know what span of time the 409 cases Prof. Reilly identified covers. The most interesting part of this piece is the suggestion that only about 10% of reported hate crimes generate much news. I wonder if the high-profile cases, i.e. ones that become national stories, are somewhat more likely to be hoaxes than some of the others that don’t make the news. You can kind of see how that would make sense. A hoax crime, like the Smollett case now appears to be, is tailor-made to make a splash with the media. As Megan McArdle said the other day, Smollett’s story appeared theatrical, almost cinematic, from the start. The noose, the bleach, the ranting about “MAGA country” was a perfect story for attracting anti-Trump eyeballs. That, combined with Smollett’s celebrity, made it much more likely it would become national news.

Reilly’s book comes out next week. I’m sure this opinion piece was meant to generate interest and for me, it worked. I’d like to hear more.