Election 2016

Hate Crimes, Hoaxes, and Hyperbole

A reality check for all sides


William C Lopez / Splash News/Newscom

Swastikas spray-painted on softball dugouts. Steve Bannon getting appointed to the White House. There's been lots of spooky stuff going down in America since Donald Trump was elected president. When I reported last Friday that there had been "no violent hate-crimewave" happening—emphasis on the word violent—it was to dispel widespread rumors of a post-election surge in physical attacks on gay, transgender, and non-white Americans by emboldened and bigoted Trump supporters. Thankfully, this still holds true. While the public expression of nativist, racist, sexist, or anti-LGBT sentiments may have experienced a post-election upswing, incidents of actual altercations or attacks have still been very rare.

Several of the most prominent early reports of Trump-inspired violence against people of color were later admitted to be fabrications or directly contradicted by police statements. Pointing this out seems to really anger people, who assume my intent is discredit all such reports, or to deny that there's any bigotry among Trump supporters. Neither is true. Rather, I saw a lot of distortions being spread and a lot of people who were really scared. I heard from LGBT and Jewish and non-white friends of mine, in private communications and on social media, who honestly believed it was open season on them this week. And I didn't want to see people I care about fearing for their very lives and physical safety because of a massive amount of misinformation floating around.

This isn't helped by groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which states that more than 400 hate crimes have been committed in America post-election. But the vast majority of the examples SPLC gives involve incidents like one elementary student telling another that he would be deported, or a white woman laughing at a black woman who overheard her saying racist things, or a man in a car yelling "fag" as he drove by a gay couple—things that may be intolerant, unkind, and legitimately scary for those targeted, but not what most people would conjure when they hear "hate crimes" or "hateful extremism." And pointing that out doesn't equate to condoning these acts, or dismissing the hurt and fear they inspire in people. It is simply an attempt to separate what is really happening in America right now from what is hyperbole, hysteria, or hoax.

The bottom line is that when it comes to physical aggression inspired by this election, we are looking at a little more than a dozen incidents reported, over a 10 day period, in a country of roughly 318.9 million people—none of which resulted in serious injuries. And these incidents vary widely in how much they can be attributed to politics, prejudice, and hate versus tempers, egos, and mental-health issues flaring along with the election results and our collective heightened emotional state.

Regarding the rash of hateful graffiti and signs popping up this week: while some was certainly meant to offend or inspire terror, other times it has turned out to be the work of anti-Trump forces who intended it as commentary on how they perceive "Trump's America." For instance, the message scrawled on an Elon University whiteboard post-election—"Bye Bye Latinos Hasta La Vista"—was actually "written by a Latino student who was upset about the results of the election and wrote the message as a satirical commentary," according the school's vice president for student life. The same for a Nazi flag that went up over a house in San Francisco last week.

In Pittsburg, California, a sign reading "You can hang a n****r from a tree / Equal rights he will never see!" was posted aside a house, and shared in a photo on Twitter November 12 by a man who wrote: "My sister texted this to me 10 minutes ago. Our democracy is being tested even in California." This post was retweeted more than 4,200 times. But it turns out the sign was posted by a black man, on his own house, long before last week in protest of a grievance the man has with the court system. "Police said they planned to cite the man for the banner's message," reported the East Bay Times, "but upon further review Monday discovered that they already did so last week."

True, these incidents make up just a small percentage of the offensive graffiti and messages reported this week, but they serve as a reminder that the most simplistic explanation—racist imagery spread by racists—isn't always the correct one.

Below, I've compiled information on any reports of election-inspired attacks, stalking, robberies, or physical altercations that I could find. (It is surely not a complete representation of such incidents, but I'm also not "cherry-picking," as some have suggested, and tried to include all such stories I could find.) The picture that emerges isn't a wave of hoaxes, a wave of attacks on minorities by Trump-emboldened bigots, nor a wave of attacks on Trump supporters by intolerant liberals—though all have occurred—but something more complex and, hopefully, a little less frightening, even if the stories that have happened are still horrible.

Anti-Trump Protester Tackled at Ohio State University: A young man leading an anti-Trump rally at Ohio State University (OSU) was tackled down a flight of stairs this week. The victim, Tim Adams, suffered bruises and bumps but is OK, he told local news. His attacker, OSU student Shane Michael Stanton, was arraigned in court Tuesday on assault charges. Stanton was initially assumed to be an angry Trump supporter, but OSU Students for Trump said he was not part of their organization and, according to the Franklin County Board of Elections, he is registered as a Democrat. Friends and classmates claimed Stanton was a big Hillary Clinton supporter, that he has Asperger syndrome, that he has a hard time sometimes in social situations, and that while they didn't know what motivated the attack, it definitely wasn't pro-Trump bias. The young man's father later confirmed to the Columbus Dispatch that he does have Asperger Syndrome.

Adams said Tuesday that he would drop the assault report he filed against Stanton. He posted on Facebook that he had made the decision now that "it was clear that my assault was not politically motivated in the way that we previously thought, nor was it committed by a Trump supporter."

Man Punches Hispanic Stranger on Street: In Redwood City, California, 34-year-old Michael Goggins was charged with two felony counts of resisting arrest and a misdemeanor hate crime after allegedly yelling a racial slur at a Hispanic man the day after the election, punching the man in the chest, and then biting police when they tried to arrest him. The victim was uninjured, according to police, and Goggins told them he had punched the man for being a "traitor." Goggins remains in jail with bail set at $50,000 and a trial set for later this month.

Woman Knocked Over by Trump Supporters at Villanova: A black Villanova University said she was pushed over on her way to class by a group of white men yelling "Trump! Trump! Trump!" The university and local police are investigating the incident.

Woman Punched at Brooklyn Restaurant by Trump Supporter: In Brooklyn, a woman eating at a French bistro was allegedly punched by a male Trump supporter after fighting with him about politics. According to the Brooklyn Paper, both had been dining at Bar Tabac in Boerum Hill last Saturday when he overheard the woman and her dining companion talking disparagingly about Trump. "The man asked [bar manager Jonas Leon] to throw the women out of the restaurant, but he refused, and instead moved the gent and his companion to a different table," the paper reported. "The guy paid his check and exited the restaurant at 6:50 pm, but then dashed back in again—nearly knocking over a kid on his way—and slugged one of the ladies in the face," according to Leon. Another diner corroborated this version of events. The victim filed a report with police, who are investigating.

High School Girl Attacked for Pro-Trump Comment: In Woodside, California, police are investigating an attack on a female high-school student, Jade Armenio, who said she was beaten up by classmates for making positive comments about Trump on Instagram.

Boy in MAGA Hat Beaten Up at Anti-Trump Rally: In Rockville, Maryland, a 15-year-old boy was beaten up by fellow teens after he showed up to an anti-Trump rally wearing a "Make America Great Again" hat. "Hundreds of students from Richard Montgomery High School were carrying signs reading, 'Love Trumps Hate,' and chanting near the Rockville courthouse," WTOP reported, when the Trump-supporting teen was attacked by multiple students. Rockville police officer Michael English said the victim had not been the aggressor. A bystander who witnessed the attack told WTOP, "they jumped him and beat him up pretty bad," but the boy's injuries were not serious. So far, one 17-year-old had been identified as a perpetrator and charged with second-degree assault.

Muslim Women Harassed, Robbed on Campuses: Muslim women were targets of alleged hate crimes on a spate of college campuses.

  • A Muslim student at San Diego State University had her purse and car stolen by two men, one white and one Hispanic, who reportedly made pro-Trump comments and disparaging remarks about Islam.
  • At the University of Michigan, police are investigating allegations that a drunk man threatened to set a female student's hijab on fire unless she took it off.
  • University of New Mexico student Leena Aggad said that a young man in a Trump shirt tried to tear her hijab off on election day.
  • In Queens, 19-year-old Fariha Nizam claims she was on the bus November 10 when an elderly couple started yelling at her to take off her hijab and tried to yank it off her at one point, until "other people on the bus started yelling at this couple to leave me alone ," according to what she posted to Facebook.

Muslim Woman Fabricated Campus Attack: In one of the first incidents to get serious post-election attention, a Muslim female student at the University of Louisiana reported that she was robbed and had her hijab ripped off by two white men wearing Trump hats. A few days later, she admitted to local police that she had made up the story.

Men Assaulted Over Trump Support in Boston, New York City, Connecticut

Gay Man Attacked in Santa Monica: In one story widely-circulated last week, a gay man was allegedly beat up by Trump supporters outside a bar in Santa Monica for being gay, and there were pictures of his bloodied face and body to prove it. When the man himself added more context, however, it was revealed that he had argued heatedly with Trump fans about politics inside the bar and, later, was jumped outside by unidentified people. Ball said he could not remember the name of the bar, and could not tell if his attackers were the same people he had argued with inside. Ball posted pictures of himself at a hospital, but was called into question when local police said they had received no report of the incident and had spoken to area hospitals, who also reported no such patient. Ball, who is Canadian, later provided a Calgary newspaper with a copy of a hospital discharge report from West Hills Hospital, about a 45 minute drive from Santa Monica.

Man Made-Up "Trump's Country" Tale: A 20-year-old man in Malden, Massachusetts reported to police that he was followed from a bus station by two white men who shouted racial slurs at him, made references to lynching, and said that he was in "Trump's country" now, forcing him to run and hide to get away from them. But according to Malde Police Chief Kevin Molis. the man later admitted to police that he had fabricated the story to help raise awareness about "things that are going on around the country."

Towson Stalking Took Place in April: A story about two black Towson University students who were followed and harassed by white students shouting racial slurs at them made its way into myriad roundups of election-related violence (and reported on by the Baltimore Sun) after Shaun King shared it on November 10 to the tune of thousands of shares. Towson University (TU) officials opened an official hate/bias incident investigation the same day. But on November 16, the school announced that while "the student who posted about the incident on social media believed it was a recent occurrence," an investigation by the school's Office of Inclusion and Institutional Equity and the Towson University police "determined that the incident occurred last April, when two TU students were approached by a non-TU affiliate as they walked back to campus."

Black Woman Threatened With Gun at Gas Station? In one widely-shared Facebook tale, Ashley Boyer, a black woman, claimed she was harassed and threatened by four white men while pumping gas at a Smyrna, Delaware, gas station on November 9. Boyer later deleted that post, stating in a subequent Facebook update that she had reported the incident to police and "charges were filed, fugitives were caught." But neither Smyrna police nor any nearby agencies had a record of such an incident, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Brian Donner of the Delaware State Police said "there is no record of this occuring in Smyrna, if at all."

No Record of Asian Student's Reported Run-In With White Trump Supporters, Cops: Last week, University of Minnesota student Kathy Mirah Tu claimed on Facebook that she had beens accosted by a white man while crossing a campus bridge. Shaun King's tweet of her story was shared more than 5,100 times within the day. "I was stopped in my tracks by a white male, who yelled at me to 'Go back to Asia,'" Tu posted, in an update that had received more than 17,000 shares by the next day. "Shortly after that moment, I was stopped by that same man who told me 'Don't you know it's disrespectful to walk away from someone when they are talking to you?'" Tu claimed the man the man grabbed Tu's wrist and threatened to hit her but she punched him first, after which the man's friends called the police. Tu described how the police showed up and handcuffed her but eventually let her off with a warning. Yet both campus cops and Minneapolis police deny ever responding to or receiving a report about any such incident.

Woman Attacked by Trump Fans While Catching Pokemon: A student at Ohio's Capital University, Brittany Daughenbaugh, said she was assaulted Thursday by two white men wearing pro-Trump clothing. She was left with bruises and a concussion after allegedly being punched in the face by the men, who said, "Don't worry, honey. President Trump says this is OK."

Florida Student Charged for Fake Election-Night Robbery Report: A female student at the University of South Florida police was arrested this week for falsely reporting that she had been robbed by two white men on election night. The 19-year-old, Fatou Gueye, was charged with false report of commission of crimes.

Chicago Man Beaten After Traffic Incident: While white Chicagoan David Wilcox was allegedly beaten up by a mob of angry black Democrats for his political views, the truth is slightly more complicated. The altercation started over a traffic accident, not politics. Regardless of how it started, however, it does seem to have devolved into Wilcox being beaten up, as onlookers cheered, for being perceived to have voted for Trump (something he says is correct, though there's no way his attackers and onlookers could have known that). In video of the incident, people can be heard razzing Wilcox for being a "white boy Trump supporter," and saying "beat his ass," "you voted Trump!" Wilcox was not severely injured but was left with significant bruises and scrapes. He filed a police report but no one has yet been arrested in conjunction with the assault.