Hate crimes

Hate or Hoax? When It Comes to Campus Bias Incidents, We Usually Have No Idea

A confusing report from BuzzFeed suggests perpetrators are seldom caught and true motivations are often unknown.

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Hate
Screenshot via American U

At American University this week, a man entered several campus buildings and posted racist fliers on bulletin boards. Attached to the fliers were pieces of cotton—reminders that black people were once slaves.

It's a disturbing incident. Campus police are investigating, and they have identified a suspect in what they are calling a "property-defacement" bias incident: a white, middle-aged man wearing construction gear and carrying a tool box.

That makes this case fairly unique. When someone commits an apparent act of bigotry at a university, he or she usually gets away with it. We often don't know who is posting the racist flyer, hanging the noose, writing the anti-gay slur. And we also don't know why.

These are important details to keep in mind as we consider a BuzzFeed investigation on the purported wave of hate that has struck college campuses in the wake of Donald Trump's election to the presidency. The piece, provocatively titled "Imagine Being Surrounded By People Who Hate You And Want To See You Dead," reports that "in the first comprehensive review of hate speech at higher education institutions since the 2016 election, BuzzFeed News has confirmed 154 total incidents at more than 120 campuses across the country. More than a third of the incidents cited Trump's name or slogans; more than two-thirds promoted white supremacist groups or ideology."

These incidents were reported to Documenting Hate, a ProPublica database of hate crimes and other bias incidents. BuzzFeed reviewed 400 of them, and was able to verify that 154 happened. According to BuzzFeed's descriptions of the incidents they chose to highlight, they include conduct that is probably criminal, conduct that is probably not criminal but may violate university policy, and conduct that is certainly not criminal and is likely protected by the First Amendment, which supersedes campus speech codes. They count everything from a student at the University of Colorado yelling "go back to Mexico" at a Latina professor to fliers urging students to reject "anti-white propaganda."

Buried in the second half of the article is an interesting passage:

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.

So perpetrators are almost never caught, and in three of the reviewed cases, the incident was a hoax. Three is not a lot, but keep in mind that only 5 percent of the 154 cases were solved in the first place, which comes out to 7.7 cases. Here's the million-dollar question: Are the three hoax incidents included in that figure? I would think they have to be, since how could the authorities know they were hoaxes unless the perpetrator was caught? Assuming that's the case—I don't know how else to make sense of BuzzFeed's counting here—then 3 out of 7 or 8 of the "solved" cases were fakes, which is a stunningly high ratio of hoaxes to actual hatred.

Perhaps it's the case that out of 154 cases, just three were hoaxes. But then I'm not sure how anyone could confidently make that assertion, since the authorities have no idea who perpetrated the incident in the overwhelming majority of incidents.

I emailed all three authors of the BuzzFeed story for clarification on these numbers. They did not respond. That's a shame: If BuzzFeed is going to run the deliberately inflammatory headline "Imagine Being Surrounded By People Who Hate You And Want To See You Dead," its writers should be able to answer questions about whether the data support this nightmarish fantasy.

All we know is that some bias incidents—like the one at American University—are true cases of racism, and that some are hoaxes. (Many others are mere accidents.) If BuzzFeed writers inadvertently figured out something useful about the relative likelihood of each, it would be kind of them to spell that out more clearly.

NEXT: The Jones Act and the perils of political ignorance

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  1. If it’s on a campus there is a 100% chance it’s a false flag. Off campus, 98%+.

    1. We have a pretty large sample of incidents whose perpetrators are known. And as far as I know, nearly all of them have turned out to be false flags. I don’t know of a single incident that hasn’t been shown to be a false flag. Maybe there are legit and proven cases but they are few in far between.

      Given that fact, I don’t see any reason to think that the unsolved incidents are also all or nearly all false flags.

      1. That was my first thought. Additionally, why call them “hoaxes?” If the goal was ‘bad-jacketing” a group that leftists disagreed with, than that should not be characterized as a “hoax,” in my mind. Despite the definition (‘a humorous or malicious practical joke) when most people think “hoax,” they associate it with practical joking and humor without malicious intent. Here, malice was almost certainly aforethought. The fact that our universities devote this much time to identifying and eradicating “speech-crimes” and “thought-crimes” is troubling!

    2. I usually assume false flag until proven otherwise on these.

    3. Given the types of people who can get in to college in the first place, probably.

  2. At American University this week, a man entered several campus buildings and posted racist fliers on bulletin boards. Attached to the fliers were pieces of cotton?reminders that black people were once slaves.

    It’s a disturbing incident

    No. A dog being run over by a truck is a “disturbing incident”. A flyer with a piece of cotton on it is not a “disturbing incident”. It is a prank; an offensive and stupid prank but a prank none the less. If you think that is a “disturbing incident” you need to either learn the meaning of the word disturbing or grow the fuck up.

    1. Remember, he called a dude a snowflake for videotaping a confrontation where a woman stole his property. His compass on this seems…off.

      1. The histrionics bug the hell out of me. These idiots have just raped the language so badly. What the hell is a bias incident? What does that even mean? Talk about a vague and stupid term. Someone getting beat up or having their car’s tires slashed or in some way being harmed is a very bad thing and something worth taking note of. A flyer, no matter how mean and racist or vile the language is not worth noting. It is a free country. Racists have the right to free speech too. They can print flyers just like the rest of us. The fact that this never occurs to Soave and he immediately takes this as some kind of “disturbing incident” on par with real violence or harm just shows how deeply he has let this nonsense infect his thinking.

        1. It was the racism pouring out of the cotton bolls that was so triggering.

          1. Que tips are a symbol of white supremacy. How much do you want to bet you could get these idiots to agree that wearing cotton clothing is racist and triggering? It wouldn’t surprise me if there isn’t someone out there already claiming that.

            1. I’m pretty sure sugar is racist too. It’s also white, sometimes, and was harvested by slaves. Therefore, Hershey’s kisses are racist. Especially the white ones.

              1. Aspirin must be racist too, then.
                It’s white, it works, and you have to pick thru cotton to get to it.

            2. Someone posted something the other day about someone freaking out because some hobby store was selling raw cotton as a decorative item. Apparently the mere appearance of cotton is a racist symbol now to some people.

              1. T-shirts hardest hit.

                1. Unicorn,

                  These people are beyond satire.

                  1. It’s been that way for awhile.

              2. I was in the military with a guy whose surname was Whitecotton. Imagine how he must feel.

            3. Que tips are a symbol of white supremacy. How much do you want to bet you could get these idiots to agree that wearing cotton clothing is racist and triggering? It wouldn’t surprise me if there isn’t someone out there already claiming that.

              -1000 for failing to end the speech in a panty raid.

    2. If people were disturbed by it, isn’t it be definition a disturbing incident?

      1. In some sense yes. But to say that you have to assume that there is no objective bar for what is and what is not disturbing and that something is disturbing simply because of the reaction to it regardless of whether being so is in any way rational. I don’t think that is true. I think that there is a level of reasonableness that goes with the term.

        Beyond that, given the context, I don’t see any way Soave could have meant those words to mean what you say they implied. Soave’s words were “it was a disturbing incident.” I don’t see how you can reasonably interpret that to mean anything other than the incident was in some objective way disturbing. I don’t think you can read that to mean “people were disturbed by this”. If your point is “people found this disturbing”, you say “people found this disturbing”. Saying “it was a disturbing incident” necessarily implies that the speaker was disturbed by this and thinks those listening should be as well.

      2. I think we could make a strong argument that most of these little twits come pre-disturbed.

    3. A dog being run over by a truck is a “disturbing incident”.

      Certainly not a happy incident, but I wouldn’t even call this a disturbing incident. If you were at a party, playing cards, working out, or watching TV and heard that a dog had been run over, do you stop the party, put away the cards, turn off the TV, or hit the showers? Nope. Maybe if it was your dog, your car, or in front of your house.

      A pressure cooker bomb killing one and maiming dozens at a high profile marathon, that’s a disturbing incident. Ryan White’s death, that’s a disturbing incident. A prank, even a racist one, at a University of adult-aged children? It’s practically an expected outcome. Soon, every drunken hookup will be a disturbing incident.

      1. “Soon, every drunken hookup will be a disturbing incident.”

        It already is. In Saudi Arabia and in many other similar places. Enjoy your drunken hookups while you can, monkey boy.

  3. “Imagine Being Surrounded By People Who Hate You And Want To See You Dead,”

    Ah, shouldn’t it be subtitled A Conservative’s Guide To College?

    1. Truth.

    2. That or How Robby Should Feel When He Reads The Comments Section

      1. 8/10

  4. If BuzzFeed is going to run the deliberately inflammatory headline “Imagine Being Surrounded By People Who Hate You And Want To See You Dead,” its writers should be able to answer questions about whether the data support this nightmarish fantasy.

    Of course they should be, but what’s the point of writing a deliberately inflammatory headline about fake news if you’re just then going to reveal in the article that it’s fake news?

    And never mind that that headline fits just as well with an article about campus conservatives.

  5. “BuzzFeed News has confirmed 154 total incidents at more than 120 campuses across the country.”

    How in the hell do you have a precise number (154) for the total number of incidents but, only an estimate for the number of campuses (> 120). It seems to me that if you know exactly how many incidents there are, you would probably also know enough about the details of those incidents to know which campus(es) was/were affected. And yet, all they know is that it is more than 120. Did they get bored and stop counting?

    It bugs the shit out of me when writers, editors and publishers give an estimate or a ballpark number for something that should be knowable with precision.

    1. Good catch. Why not just write “154 incidents at 121 (or whatever the number) campuses”? Also, I hate when writers say “a total of…” when it is clearly implied by the context and content of the sentence. Just say 154 incidents. It is a small thing but it is the sort of thing that anyone who had a decent college comp teacher should have stopped doing long ago. Soave is a paid professional writer. Why can’t he write to a higher standard?

      1. I believe that sentence is part of a quote from the buzzfeed article.

        1. Okay. Then shame on the buzzfeed writer. He gets paid to write just like Soave does.

      2. Paid by the word.

      3. John -“These idiots have just raped the language so badly.”
        In this context, the word “so” is a conjunction. Don’t leave us hanging.

    2. I think it’s probably sloppy writing, but it’s possible that some of the reports come from a school or system with more than one campus, and the reporter either doesn’t have the data, or is too lazy to look at it, to determine the exact number of campuses involve. It’s a stretch, but it’s *theoretically* possible.

    3. Related to this, 7.7 is not the best estimate of the number of perpetrators caught. The claim was “perpetrators were caught in less than 5% of cases involving vandalism or threats” — where only some of the 154 incidents involved vandalism or threats. Perhaps the three hoaxers were caught, and they were part of 65 “cases involving vandalism or threats”. Those three hoaxers alone could comprise all the perps who were identified.

      When writers toss out percentages without giving exact numbers, suspect shenanigans.

  6. OK, a confederate battle flag (insert disclaimers about the use of battle flags during the war, etc.) with the phrase “huzzah for Dixie” and cotton taped to it.

    Presumably posted in violation of university policies reserving bulletin boards for official student groups and university announcements.

    So I get how it’s defacement, because the guy probably isn’t from a recognized student group. As far as we know.

    Since it was posted without authorization it can be presumably removed without authorization the same way you’d throw out litter. Easy peasy. And this is regardless of whether it’s a Confederate flag or a flier by some off-campus dude advertising his band.

    But, sure, let’s all freak the heck out.

    1. And let’s start a manhunt for the “unidentified white man in the construction hat” who posted it. Rather just throw the damned thing away, we will launch an investigation to find the person who put it up presumably so they can be punished or may be prosecuted for a crime. Nothing says freedom like arresting people for the crime of hanging unauthorized flyers.

    2. If this fellow is an actual racist and not playing one on TV, then he’s presumably trying to attract attention, and he knows that this is a way to inspire a major freakout where he gets to see whole crowds of crying students addressed by Very Serious-Looking Administrators, and chants against Trump, etc.

      I recall in high school, during the student elections, someone posted a “Vote Communism” banner. The administrators checked it out and took it down. I don’t know if anyone was disciplined. The reason I don’t know is because they *didn’t* hold a schoolwide assembly about the incident where the staff lectured us on the badness of Communism and the counseling center offered free counseling, etc.

      I would like to add that it didn’t even make the school newspaper, but since I didn’t read the school newspaper I can’t say for absolute certain.

      1. These people’s entire identity is based on being outraged and a sense of victimhood. So, they just can’t help themselves and overreact. That, of course, makes them incredibly easy to manipulate into doing stupid and counterproductive things. See the entire political career of one Donald Trump for an illustration of how easily these idiots can be manipulated for fun and profit.

        1. Yeah, whether it’s a false-flag guy or a racist troll, the chances are he is aware of this phenomenon and wants to exploit it.

  7. To be sure, this could be the work of a devoted anti-racism advocate trying to spread awareness of the culture of hate on campus.

    You’re welcome Robbo

    1. What is important is not who hung the flyer but the conversation that hanging it started.

  8. Wasn’t Buzzfeed being cited as an authoritative source on hate-crime hoaxes not very long ago?

    what was noted in their previous roundup is that they pointedly excluded a number of examples of well-known hoaxes when pretending to evaluate the hoax-ratio

    iow, they created a mostly-clean sample to yield a mostly-clean desired result.

    if anyone wanted to actually do a credible analysis of hate-crime hoaxes, they’d use a less-obviously-partisan (and retarded) source, and use more robust data. e.g. http://www.fakehatecrimes.org/

    but that’s would be assuming anyone actually wanted to do that; from what i can tell, that’s not really the goal with any of this sort of reporting, which seems more about ‘narrative shaping’.

  9. “Huzzah for Dixie”, a Confederate battle flag and a cotton ball is at most a prank, not hate. It’s deliberately not even racist. If he had “hate” on his mind I’d expect racial slurs, violent imagery, or threats. Christ, I wouldn’t even say a nostalgic “stereotypical derogatory ” image would be anymore than a prank to “trigger the snowflakes”.

  10. And we also don’t know why.

    Either a false flag or someone just trying to stir the pot. The cotton seems too over the top and unrealistic.

  11. “… a man entered several campus buildings and posted racist fliers on bulletin boards. Attached to the fliers were pieces of cotton?reminders that black people were once slaves.

    It’s a disturbing incident. Campus police are investigating, and they have identified a suspect in what they are calling a “property-defacement” bias incident: a white, middle-aged man wearing construction gear and carrying a tool box.”
    How is this not speech protected by the 1st Amendment, again?

    The article didn’t say he accessed the college buildings illegally. He left fliers that contained racist comments with cotton attached.

    Sounds like fully protected racist free speech on a college campus to me.

    1. “Sounds like fully protected racist free speech ”

      Now is the time to exercise racist speech. It won’t be so free and easy in the future.

  12. just mentioning Trump is considered hate speech so that tells you where the 140 incidents are from

  13. Why is the word “racist” automatically applied to whites? As usual, this article, just like virtually all such articles, speaks of racism only from the premise of “How racist are whites?”

    Where is the article on “How racist are blacks?” or Asians? Or Hispanics?

    Collectively, all these articles are racist as all get out. Racist against whites.

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