Smollett case highlights reasons for skepticism about hate crime statistics

Update: The Chicago Police Department took “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett into custody early Thursday on a charge of making a false report to police. “Bogus police reports cause real harm,” Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said at a press conference announcing Smollett’s arrest.

By Jarrett Stepman | The Daily Signal

Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good narrative.

For a time, that’s what happened in the case of Jussie Smollett, a gay, black actor who stars in the show “Empire,” who claimed he was the victim of a vicious and brutal hate crime in Chicago. On Wednesday, Smollett was charged with filing a false police report and disorderly conduct, according to Chicago Police Department spokesman Anthony Guglielmi.

The case received national attention, in part due to Smollett’s celebrity and his immediate openness to the media, and in part because of how media and pundits latched on to the story.

The underlying narrative was that, because of President Donald Trump, violent hate crimes against minorities are rising. Smollett’s story—that he was beaten by two men who poured bleach on him, tied a noose around his neck, and yelled, “This is MAGA country”—fit the narrative just too perfectly, which is why more reservations from the get-go would have served everyone well.

But that skepticism was notably absent. Celebrities and politicians couldn’t help themselves from jumping in to condemn not just the crime itself, but a large section of the American population.

While you won’t hear this from mainstream media, much of the talk about hate crimes lacks crucial context.

For instance, a report released Wednesday by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a far-left organization, claims that there is an all-time high number of hate groups since it began tracking in the 1980s.

Media out outlets ran headlines like “Trump ‘Fear-Mongering’ Fuels Rise of U.S. Hate Groups to Record: Watchdog,” and “President Trump Blamed for Rise in Hate Groups to Record High in New Report.

Of course, it makes sense that there would be more hate groups on SPLC’s list given that its definition of what constitutes a hate group continues to expand, extending to mainstream social conservative organizations like the Family Research Council and Alliance Defending Freedom.

Furthermore, we have seen numerous hoaxes in recent years—in some cases, misreported incidents that turned out to be different from initial reports. Many of these were compiled on Twitter by Quillette’s Andy Ngo.

Peter Hasson at The Daily Caller News Foundation also catalogued 19 “hate crimes” in the Trump era that turned out much different than the media initially reported. This list included a woman who said a man threatened to light her on fire if she didn’t remove her hijab, which turned out to be untrue, and a Texas waitress who faked a racist note about Hispanics she said she received on a receipt.

It also bears noting that the data on “rising” hate crimes is deeply unclear, as Reason’s Robby Soave has documented.

“While it’s true that the FBI’s count of hate crimes rose 17 percent from 2016 to 2017, it’s important to note that 1,000 additional agencies reported information to the FBI in the latter year,” Soave wrote. “It should go without saying, but as the number of agencies participating in the FBI’s count of hate crimes grows more numerous, the total number of hate crimes will undoubtedly rise. This does not necessarily mean that hate crimes are surging—just that the authorities undercounted them previously.”

Soave then explained how one statistic about rising anti-Semitism, which the Anti-Defamation League said had risen 57 percent under Trump, “reflected an increase in bomb threats against U.S.-based Jewish institutions perpetrated by just one person: a deranged Israeli teenager. Anti-Semitic violence, according to the [Anti-Defamation League’s] count, actually decreased 47 percent.”

This is not to say that these sorts of crimes aren’t happening, or that they aren’t actually on the rise. It is just misleading to make such a claim based on the available data.

Unfortunately, too many are willing to make snap judgments, despite the examples of hate crime hoaxes.

Just consider the reaction to Smollett, who has gone from victim to suspect over the course of a month.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., called the Smollett incident “a horrific instance of the surging hostility toward minorities around the country.”

Among the worst takes were from Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Kamala Harris, D-Calif., who both equated the incident to an “attempted modern-day lynching.”

But then, the story began to unravel. A credible source revealed that Smollett allegedly paid two men to carry out the assault. Both Booker and Harris then pivoted and said we should wait for the facts to come out before rushing to judgment.

But there’s even more reason to doubt Smollett. Back in January, he claimed to have received a racist, threatening letter containing a white substance. The Chicago Police Department has now cast doubt on the authenticity of the letter, which contained crushed Tylenol.

“The two brothers involved in the Jussie Smollett attack told police that Smollett was behind creating a racist letter that was sent to the actor on the set of his show, ‘Empire,’ according to two sources with first-hand knowledge of the investigation,” CBS Chicago reported.

Those two brothers said Smollett orchestrated the fake attack on himself after the letter failed to get a “bigger reaction.”

So, as of this moment, the evidence doesn’t fit the initial story at all.

Sanders, Booker, and Harris were just a few of the countless people who spewed hot takes on the matter and turned out to be egregiously wrong.

It should come as a word of caution to those who were quick to embrace a narrative that implicated large swaths of Americans. If further reports confirm that this was a hoax, it will just be one in a long string that have recently received widespread attention and turned out very differently from how they were initially reported.

If the allegations against Smollett are true, then he has indeed committed a very serious crime. Maybe he is just a disturbed man crying out for help, but his actions have wasted valuable police and FBI resources—not to mention the potential harm that could have been done had the police wrongly arrested someone for carrying out the “attack.”

Perhaps the greatest damage of all has been done to the real victims of such crimes. Whenever a hoax takes place, it becomes that much more difficult for them to be heard and believed.

While Smollett’s motives aren’t completely known, one thing can be said: It’s quite sick that he would rather be embraced as the victim of a hate crime than celebrated for his success as an actor.

This whole episode seems to be an extension of the identity politics culturewe’ve seen on college campuses, which promotes victimhood as the main social currency over things like achievement and merit. Being a victim is more valuable than money or accomplishments, which Smollett seems to already have in spades.

John McWhorter, writing in The Atlantic, aptly called this trend “victimhood chic.”

“Future historians and anthropologists will find this aspect of early-21st-century America peculiar, intriguing, and sad,” McWhorter wrote.

One would hope so. Yet this assumes that victimhood chic will eventually die.

Given the growing power of leftist identity politics, it seems natural that incidents like this would, for the time being, become more common, not less.

And this is why it’s highly problematic when we look at stats like rising hate crime and hate groups and have reason to be suspicious when its proponents, so committed to the idea that history bends toward justice, try to convince us that mass violence and fascism are right around the corner.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Bifalcucci

6 thoughts on “Smollett case highlights reasons for skepticism about hate crime statistics

  1. I still contend 2 of the leftarded pres contenders had a hand in this FAKE
    LYNCHING, both booker and healsup harris had a lynching bill before the senate that is a perennial bill that never got passed. This year it did AFTER this broke by the liar press releases claims of MAGA involvement.

    I also contend there is SO LITTLE RACISM in the Trump era with SO MUCH DEMAND for Racism they have to now Fake it like the sNEWS Fakes the Truth in the furtherment of leftarded idealism.

  2. The one positive thing about the aftermath of this “hate crime” is the amount of egg on the faces of the lib candidats who rushed to judgement and expressed their outrage. A black, gay person claimed he was attacked so it had to be true. Now that the real truth has come out, these folks are running for cover.

  3. The one good outcome from all this uproar over this “hate crime” is the amount of egg on the faces of the declared lib president candidates who rushed to judgement. A black gay guy said it so it had to be true and they jumped on their soap box to show their outrage about this “hate crime”. Boy are they running for cover or backtracking now.

  4. Give me a break, Smollett is just another Snowflake that was upset with his salary wanting more because (I’m Special). Just another Liberal.

    So this” Genius ” decided in order to get more money, stages an assault and uses the fact that he is ” Black & Gay ” who cares and then portrays it was done by a Trump Supporter due to a ” MAGA ” hat, then the best part, they tied a rope around his neck and poured some bleach on him. You talk about a fairy tale.

    So hopefully he gets some Jail Time and becomes Unemployed, you talk about baggage. But wait he’s a Liberal DemocRAT so he’ll use as his defense “Trump Derangement Syndrome” yup, he’ll slide on this as it was Trump’s fault. Liberal DemocRATs, just keep giving Trump more ammo for 2020.


  5. There was a case here in Vermont recently where a person identifying as “black” did not like something a white man said to him, made up a story and the new “social justice warrior” received a full ride to Columbia for his lies, and they were lies. Vermont’s AG set up this “racist white person” to be prosecuted by our courts and persecuted by our state media…………no we here in Vermont do not have free speech when you can be prosecuted in court on such made up lies. No taped conversation, just a he said by a person identifying as “black” who used his skin tone to lie and get ahead in this world of ours……….nobody is safe in this country.

  6. That won’t stop the State of Vermont:

    H.381 would require a ‘racial impact statement’ on any proposed legislation impacting pretrial detention, sentencing, probation or parole. Apparently ‘equal protection clauses’, contained in the 5th and 14th Amendments to the Constitution, aren’t enough. Besides, that dusty old document was written by old white men.

    H.305 requires mandatory ‘implicit bias training’ for all State employees. Why (and how) would anybody push back against this when they would simply be slandered by the Commissars running the self-criticism class? We can’t prove that you are biased, but you are because we say so. You cannot prove that you are not, so, again, you have to accept that you are. Just sit down and shut up and the Diversity Bullies will smile upon you.

    Our own AG is rolling out a ‘Bias Incident Reporting System’. So much for the 1st Amendment and that archaic right to ‘free speech’ you thought you had, which apparently only applies to the permanently aggrieved classes (PACs). Interesting there’s now much wrangling to get representation from these PACs on the panel deciding which cases to investigate. One has to wonder how many more years we have left before Vermont mandates a China-like ‘Social Credit System’. I would expect they would somehow tie it to our income tax so they can finally force all ‘dissidents’ from their Utopia – right before they’re forced to declare bankruptcy.

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