On January 29, actor Jussie Smollett reported to police that he had been the victim of a vicious hate crime at around 2 a.m. in Chicago. Smollett, who is black and gay, claimed that two masked assailants yelled homophobic and racist insults, declared “This is MAGA country,” beat and kicked him, put a noose around his neck, and “poured an unknown liquid” on him before he managed to fight them off. All this in liberal Chicago during a polar vortex that had brought subzero temperatures. Showing support for Smollett in the wake of his unlikely story became a celebrated cause among progressive politicians and celebrities. Those who took a more skeptical view of the matter were attacked on social media and in the press as either deniers or even perpetrators of the prejudicial hatred that still supposedly washes across America. On February 20, Smollett was charged with the felony crime of filing a false police report. The whole thing was allegedly a hoax.
Our nation is not racked with hate crimes. When people in positions of power or visibility say that it is, they should be rebuked for it. I have done a great deal of research on hate crimes in America, and the tragically underreported fact is that an enormous number of such incidents reported over the past decades turn out to have been hoaxes. While Jussie Smollett’s case transfixed the nation, it is merely the most recent of a long line of politically motivated fake bias crimes. It’s difficult to think of a more compelling task for American scholars than to point out the dangerous lies behind this invented crisis.