When The Washington Post and Academia Miss the Mark on Hate Crime Hoaxes

I’ll Keep This Short: Does This Phenomenon of Calling Out Hate Need Reevaluation? What is Mainstream Media Not Getting?

Read this Washington Post story. Or just the headline is fine. I don’t want to be bossy. Then skip to the excerpt. This quandary of several major hate incidents that are now determined to be hoaxes will only take a minute.

Brian Levin, director for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University at San Bernardino, told Talking Points Memo that hoaxes do appear in hate crime reports, just as they do in reports of other criminal offenses. But these fakes are a “tiny fraction” of the hundreds of hate crimes reported to law enforcement every year.

“These hoaxes have become symbols for some who want to promote the idea that most hate crimes are hoaxes,” Levin said. “That’s important to rectify.”

And indeed, scores of these incidents are cropping up across the country, particularly on college campuses.

Let’s be clear up front: I’m calling out to the media to reform their lack of critical thinking skills or be skeptical about the idea that there’s a pandemic of bona fide hate crimes. Yes, there’s certainly many. But how can we be certain there’s a massive spike as the media constantly bombards us with Trump-era stories of far-right violence? What do they even look like? When another 6000 or so are reported this month by the FBI (November they traditionally release last year’s hate crime figures), how violent are they, who are they directed at, and how do they impact lives for a vast portion of Americans?

How racist is the United States in 2017?

[Update: Hate crimes only increased a little more than 4% in 2016, according to FBI hate crime statistics, with the biggest spikes coming against Muslims (20% increase, with 307 of 6,121 total hate crime incidents) and white people (17% increase, 720 incidents). FBI hate crime arrest stats also indicate that blacks and Hispanics are over-represented in terms of offenders, and whites are under-represented. These are reported to the police, and not necessarily the media, and there’s a high probability most are authentic cases.]

First, this correction to the commonly understood narrative that the anti-black graffiti came from white racists was indeed a big story on November 8. Maybe it won’t be as widely seen as the now debunked original “hate crime” incident in Colorado Springs a few months earlier — nor will it be shared millions of times on Facebook — but it’s in the top ten Google news stories. The New York Times even found it newsworthy, mostly because they — along with a number of international news outlets — reported extensively about the graffiti which led to military leadership famously speaking out publicly and forcefully against racism and sexism.

The speech by Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria you can find linked in The New York Times update on what is now factually established as a hoax by a troubled black student. The September 29 article with that speech viewed more than one million times is titled, “Air Force General Addresses Racial Slurs on Campus: ‘You Should Be Outraged.’” Here is the corrective yesterday:

Indeed, when it comes to stories about hate crimes, it’s hard to put the genie back in the bottle when the narrative flips on its head. To the media’s credit, they’re trying here.

But back to The Washington Post story where I want to focus this quick analysis. Again, you don’t have to read it, as I list the key excerpts below. If you do, consider this simple question in the back of your head: How are a “tiny fraction” of hate crime reports hoaxes, as one go-to California State University, San Bernardino hate crimes expert says, especially when a BuzzFeed News article linked WITHIN the same Washington Post article shows only 5% have KNOWN perpetrators, and 3 of those incidents are hoaxes? This would mean almost 40% of incidents with known outcomes are fake hate crimes. (The math: 5% of 154 incidents is 7.7, and 3 out of 7.7 is 39%.)

It seems clear this following statement cannot be honest when the academic Brian Levin willfully ignores how up to 95% of hate crime incidents — such as the dataset found within the BuzzFeed News analysis — are indeterminate as to whether they’re real or hoaxes.

Brian Levin, director for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University at San Bernardino, told Talking Points Memo that hoaxes … are a “tiny fraction” of the hundreds of hate crimes reported to law enforcement every year.

Again, from BuzzFeed News linked in The Washington Post article:

Of the more than 400 alleged incidents, BuzzFeed News was able to follow up on 154 through interviews, public statements, police reports, and local news stories … Colleges typically responded to bias incidents quickly and to the satisfaction of their students. Most students who spoke with BuzzFeed News for this story commended their school leaders for how they handled the situations. In nearly every case, university presidents sent off mass emails condemning the hate speech and asserting that officials were making efforts to track down the culprits. But perpetrators were caught in less than 5% of cases involving vandalism or threats. At least three investigations led college officials to conclude that a racist incident was a hoax.

I’m not saying Brian Levin’s wrong on some points. And even Fox News quotes him heavily. I put most of the blame on The Washington Post. Still, there's little doubt the former Southern Poverty Law Center staffer is invested in a certain narrative.

What social justice-minded academics like Levin don’t say, and what is undeniably true, is that a majority of hate incidents have unknown actors involved. It’s also true that there are dozens upon dozens of “fake” incidents annually, though they’re mostly cataloged by dedicated — some could say obsessed — individuals such Laird Wilcox, the man behind the website fakehatecrimes.org. He lists at least 100 fake hate crimes since 2014, and more than 300 overall. I’ve checked out several, and a vast majority are credible and pass scrutiny (here, here, here or here, for example). I did find one dubious example, a xenophobic hate incident on a Chicago bus where no sources are listed to debunk it. That was the only example I found like that, but there may be more. Bottom line: It’s misleading to say there’s a small number of fake hate crimes when comparing fake hate crimes against all incidents when up to 95% have unknowable outcomes. The media, with all its resources and professional ethics, does this far too often.

Levin’s statement about there being a “tiny fraction” of hoaxes overall were echoed in Fox News, Mic, and several other news outlets. Certainly, he may be using other methodologies to come to his conclusions. But the BuzzFeed example The Washington Post uses in conjunction with his quote is journalistic malpractice. It leads the reader to believe one argument while undermining it with questionable evidence riddled with holes.

Yes, a single Washington Post story says that a “tiny fraction” of hate crimes are hoaxes, while their ProPublica-data-driven BuzzFeed News source to prop up that argument actually indicates nearly 40% of known perpetrators were tricksters. What’s the truth? What’s reality or context? Who are the experts we can trust when the experts pushed forward by media are invested in hyping data to show that hate is a major threat affecting everyday lives of the most vulnerable in society?

What if it’s actually shown there were more reported acts of battery violence against Trump supporters post-election than against minorities? The Southern Poverty Law Center downplays it. The Washington Post certainly didn’t exhaustively research and write about it. No one tackled the story.

I did. Why? Because I wanted context after analyzing more than 100 sources in the confusing avalanche of stories pummeling Americans after the November 2016 election.

In the end. I’m just asking for media and the academy to be open and clear so we can all operate from the same set of facts.

Addendum

Some points don’t come across. And maybe I missed making one here. After I originally wrote this article, Brian Levin and myself had a little back and forth on Twitter when I saw he again downplayed hoaxes in when posting The Washington Post article about this incident in Colorado Springs.

First I responded with a question and this Medium post:

Then he replied with:

I tried to keep it respectful, but it didn’t take long for it to degenerate. I found Levin’s “Hey Genius” salutation amusing:

In the end, I can only say three things:

  1. The right will continue to play up false flag hate crime incidents, because they’re the ones most often blamed for committing them. (Even though it’s ironic and definitely under-reported that non-Hispanic whites are under 50% of the offenders while being 61% of the population. Note: That FBI hate crime offender link actually combines “white” with Hispanic to represent 77% of the total population.)
  2. The left — and those that profit from the narrative of unyielding hate like Levin and the Southern Poverty Law Center — will continue to downplay false flag hate crime incidents, for the same partisan reasons.
  3. The rest of us are stuck in the middle trying to make sense of it all.

Finally…

I’m not the only writer to have a run-in with the “tendentious” Brian Levin. Check out this story by conservative Michelle Malkin:

Step one: Find an expert with an impressive-sounding academic title to legitimize shoddy advocacy propaganda.

Meet Brian Levin. He’s the one-man band behind something called the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino. The “center” (that is: Levin) claims to be “nonpartisan” and “objective.” But he is a former top staffer of the militant, conservative-smearing Southern Poverty Law Center, leaving in 2002. SLPC was forced to apologize earlier this year after including famed black neurosurgeon and GOP 2016 candidate Ben Carson on its “extremist watch list” of hate groups.

At SPLC, Levin infamously posited that the 2002 Beltway jihad snipers were angry white men, a fatal error echoed by politically correct law-enforcement officials whose wild-goose chase needlessly cost lives. A decade later, the SPLC’s target map and list of social conservative groups were used by convicted left-wing domestic terrorist Floyd Lee Corkins to shoot up the Washington, D.C., office of the Family Research Council.

The radical left-wing SPLC, whose annual “hate and extremism” report spawned Levin’s sham “center,” brazenly declared that its mission is to “destroy” its political opponents. Harper’s magazine writer Ken Silverstein called the SPLC and its work “essentially a fraud” that “shuts down debate, stifles free speech, and most of all, raises a pile of money, very little of which is used on behalf of poor people.”

And:

Step three: Attack the messenger. After I published a lengthy post on my blog outlining an epidemic of Muslim hate-crime hoaxes at colleges, mosques and businesses dating back to 2001, Levin took to Twitter to accuse me of “smears.” The facts, which the rest of the media failed to inform readers about while hyping Levin’s work this week, speak for themselves (see michellemalkin.com).

Step four: Classify this article as “hate” and any media outlet that publishes it as a “hate group,” so that other journalists shun the truth and continue perpetuating the hoax.

Hmm. I wonder if that last step is pertinent here.

Writer. Researcher. Designer. Human seeking better outcomes. Also searching for relevant facts and logical arguments above expedient or politial narratives.