Hate crimes happen. I don’t much like the term, but let’s accept that it as modern shorthand for criminal acts, usually of violence, motivated by some form of prejudice, be it racial, religious, sexual, or otherwise.
Last Monday evening, my friend Maajid Nawaz — founder of the anti-extremist organization Quilliam and a host on London’s LBC radio — was the victim of such a crime. As he stood outside the Soho Theatre on Dean Street, a white man called him a “Paki” and punched him in the face. The assault occurred after Maajid challenged the man for mocking an Asian family because “they weren’t English.” There were several witnesses.
I am sure more than one politician must have condemned this attack. However, the only quotation I have found was from the Shadow Home Secretary, Diane Abbott, who described it as “shocking.”
At the end of last month, another hate crime was reported. The victim was the gay African-American actor Justin (“Jussie”) Smollett, who claimed that he had been attacked in Chicago’s Streeterville neighborhood by two white men in ski masks who told him, “This is MAGA country.” They then poured bleach on him and put a noose around his neck. The actor told the police that he had fought them off.
This being America, politicians were ready to express their outrage at this abhorrent hate crime. Democratic senators and would-be presidential candidates Cory Booker and Kamala Harris denounced it as an “attempted modern day lynching.” The only hitch is that this particular hate crime appears to have been staged by Smollett with the help of two brothers of Nigerian descent previously employed as extras in “Empire,” the television series in which Smollett appears.
It is certainly tempting to ridicule Smollett and the politicians and media folk who too readily swallowed his story. The best line came from Titania McGrath — the spoof social justice warrior whose Twitter account mercilessly mocks “woke” culture: “It is absolutely *essential* that we believe Jussie Smollett,” she tweeted. “If we don’t, other people who haven’t been attacked might not have the courage to come forward.”
Yet there is something more serious going on here. Smollett’s fraud on the public might have gone undetected had it not been for the tireless work of the Portland-based journalist Andy Ngo, who smelled a rat from the outset. In a mind-blowing Twitter thread, Ngo has now listed more than 30 fake hate crimes from the past two years.
What motivates someone to bear false witness in this way? As I said, there is no lack of real hate crime. According to the US Department of Justice, more than 7,000 hate crime incidents were reported in the United States in 2017. In England and Wales, you may be surprised to learn, 94,000 offenses were identified as hate crimes in the year after April 2017. This doesn’t mean that there is 13 times more violent bigotry in Britain than in the United States, any more than the lower figures for 2016 mean that there has been a “surge” in hate crime. The statistics reflect the reclassification of perennial acts of violence or vandalism as hate crimes — and the ways the public and police are incentivized to report them as such.
The problem is that there is not enough of the right kind of hate crime to validate the narrative, so cherished by the left, that Trump’s election unleashed a wave of white supremacist violence. Only half of the known offenders in US hate crimes in 2017 were in fact white. Anti-Semitic acts often turn out to be by nonwhite perpetrators, though you would need to read between the lines of The New York Times to work that out.
Under these awkward circumstances, there is clearly an immense demand for tales of murderous MAGA-hat-wearing rednecks roaming the streets of, er, Chicago and New York, conurbations famed for their large populations of such people. On Thursday, Kamala Harris said she was “sad, frustrated, and disappointed” by the news of Jussie Smollett’s arrest. “Disappointed” says it all.
This is the same senator who refused even to address a question to my wife, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, when she testified about Islamic extremism before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs in June 2017. Why? Because Islamic extremism is the wrong sort of extremism. Democrats like Harris only want to talk about white extremism — in the same way that the phony civil rights organization the Southern Poverty Law Center used to publish a list of “Anti-Muslim Extremists” but never a list of Muslim extremists. Ironically, Maajid Nawaz and my wife both appeared on that list — until Maajid sued them.
Like the case of the Covington Catholic schoolboys — who were falsely accused of having insulted a Native American activist during a visit to Washington —the case of Jussie Smollett only serves to validate President Trump’s insistence that it is liberals who propagate fake news. This is going to matter in the 2020 presidential election.
But the more profound consequence of fake hate crimes is to impede us from facing the complex realities of hatred itself.
Niall Ferguson is the Milbank Family Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. His most recent book is “The Square and the Tower: Networks, Hierarchies and the Struggle for Global Power.”