Mr. Reilly is a professor of political science at Kentucky State University, and his interest in hate crimes dates to his graduate-school days, when he became aware of several widely reported incidents in the vicinity of his hometown that turned out to be fake. In 2012 a popular gay bar in suburban Chicago was destroyed by fire, and the owner cited homophobia as the reason. The same year, black students at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside reported death threats from hate groups and found a noose hanging from a dorm room door. Ultimately, the owner of the bar pleaded guilty to arson and insurance fraud. And a black student at the university fessed up to sending racist threats and planting a noose.
More incidents followed, and Mr. Reilly’s skepticism grew. “This phenomenon of fake hate crimes did not appear to be small-scale or regionally based,” he writes. A gay pastor in Texas accused a Whole Foods store of selling him a cake with a slur written in icing. The store produced video evidence that the pastor was lying. A white woman in Oregon disfigured her own face with acid and claimed a black man had attacked her. Later, she admitted fabricating the entire story. After signs that read “blacks only” and “whites only” were found at bathroom entrances on the University at Buffalo campus in upstate New York, a black graduate student confessed to posting them.
Mr. Reilly eventually compiled a database of 346 hate-crime allegations and determined that less than a third were genuine. Turning his attention to the hoaxes, he put together a data set of more than 400 confirmed cases of fake allegations that were reported to authorities between 2010 and 2017. He allows that the exact number of false reports is probably unknowable, but what can be said “with absolute confidence is that the actual number of hate crime hoaxes is indisputably large,” he writes. “We are not speaking here of just a few bad apples.”
The author’s bigger concern, and rightly so, is the growing politicization of hate crimes, especially when they are directed at underrepresented groups and regardless of whether they in fact happened. The sad reality is that there is no shortage of individuals and entities with a vested interest in exaggerating racial tensions in the U.S.—from civil-rights organizations to corporate diversity officers to professors of race and gender studies.