Hate in the Time of Trump

Media trips over itself to make hate-crime narratives converge

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Four black Chicago residents have been arrested in connection to the torture of a mentally disabled white man that the suspects broadcast on Facebook Live in what is potentially the first hate crime in the Trump era that was not a hoax.

The Washington Post reported on the disturbing video early Thursday morning, detailing the beating in graphic detail and noting that the alleged perpetrators shouted "obscenities about President-elect Donald Trump and white people." Hours later, the Post's The Fix blog—"regarded as one of the most heavily trafficked blogs in Washington"—published an analysis of the vicious crime headlined: "Pro-Trump narratives converge in one awful attack streamed on Facebook."

"If you believe discrimination against white people is rampant, that Donald Trump supporters face persecution, that Chicago is a war zone, and the media is dishonest, then your entire worldview is likely to be confirmed by one awful story," the story's first paragraph says.

Disrupting ideological narratives appears to be a newfound cause for the Post. The paper has made hate crime stories an important piece of their coverage since Donald Trump's electoral victory. In the two months since election day, the paper has published 196 news stories, analyses, and editorials mentioning Trump and hate crimes, an average of 3.2 pieces a day, according to Lexis Nexis archives.

The most comprehensive of these pieces came on Nov. 14, just six days into the era of President-elect Trump. "The postelection hate spike: How long will it last?," Post reporters queried. The article opened by documenting the rise in people searching Merriam Webster for the definition of "fascism, bigot, xenophobe, racism, misogyny."

"Americans perhaps were trying to make sense of a wave of postelection acts of hate," the story says. Over the next 1,855 words, the reporters weave together viral tales of robberies and assaults, vandalism and graffiti targeted at minorities seamlessly segueing to Trump's appointment of former Breitbart honcho Stephen Bannon and the concern it drew from Video Games: The Movie executive producer Zach Braff.

"The incidents have caused many to wonder—are they a triumphal postelection outburst, or are they a sign of what’s to come during Trump’s administration? Is the open expression of hate the new reality?" the Post asked.

The Post acted cautiously at times, noting that many of the stories originated on social media and that no bloc of Trump voters had yet claimed credit for the attacks.

"It’s unclear which groups and individuals are responsible for the acts," it says.

The picture became clearer as police departments and college campuses across the country responded to media and public pressure to address the "post-election hate spike." Nearly every hate crime detailed in the article, which used the word "alleged" once, turned out to be a hoax or investigations remain ongoing, though some have been suspended due to lack of evidence.

Police suspended the investigation into "the robbery of a Muslim student at San Diego State University who wore traditional religious clothing" in December after no corroborating evidence emerged to confirm her account that two Trump supporters ripped off her hijab and stole her car. "The victim in this case you are referring to decided she no longer wanted to pursue the matter criminally," a police spokesman told the Daily Caller on Dec. 23, adding that the report of a stolen car was "unfounded as the victim forgot where she parked her vehicle."

The Washington Post mentioned the alleged incident six times in hate crime posts, including a Dec. 15 article contrasting it with a New York City hate crime hoax: "Muslim advocates expressed concern that Seweid's episode would hurt the credibility of real anti-Muslim attacks and other hate crimes." It never mentioned it again after the Caller‘s report, nor did it update any previous stories that included the anecdote.

Then there was the "black church in Mississippi set on fire and spray-painted with ‘Vote Trump' on the wall," an incident mentioned in 11 Post articles. The final mention came on Dec. 22, when police arrested the alleged arsonist: a black parishioner of the church. Readers were reminded that a "prominent newspaper of the Ku Klux Klan offered a de facto endorsement of Trump" before the suspect's identity was revealed. The blog post did not appear to make the print edition, according to Lexis Nexis.

Another church in Indiana was vandalized with a swastika and the words "Heil Trump." There have been no arrests made in the case as of Dec. 3, when the church washed away the graffiti. Neither St. David's Episcopal Church, nor the Brown County Sheriff's Department returned messages seeking comment.

The Post highlighted a Slate article about "two white men [who] drove a pickup across the campus of Wellesley College, in Massachusetts, flying a Trump flag, … and harassing ‘women of color and openly queer women, calling one student a ‘dyke.'" The two men were cleared after a police investigation "found no evidence the men did anything other than drive through the campus waving a Trump flag out the truck window and yelling ‘Make America Great Again.'"

"The University of Michigan, where police said a man threatened to set a female student on fire with a lighter if she did not remove her hijab," was another hate crime fueling the media's narrative. The Post mentioned the incident in 13 stories, including a Dec. 21 blog post revealing that it was a hoax. That post did not make the print edition, though the paper did update its original story.

"Police are investigating swastikas scrawled in four dorm rooms at the New School in Manhattan," the Post noted. A New York City Police Department spokesman told the Washington Free Beacon that "no developments" had been made in the case, though the investigation is still open.

The investigation into an "alleged hate crime at State University of New York at Geneseo, where a resident assistant found a swastika and the word ‘Trump' scrawled in a common area of a residence hall" petered out even after Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered a multi-agency investigation to assist university police. A State Police investigator on the case told the Washington Free Beacon that "no suspects developed" and the case was closed after "all investigative steps were exhausted." Ditto a Trump swastika case involving mustard, according to the investigator.

"Canisius College, in Buffalo, suspended two students for hanging a black doll by a noose in an elevator," the Post noted. Unlike many of the more viral incidents, this one was clear-cut, confirmed by a local source and the university administration. The Post never mentioned it again.

The Post noted another real hate crime: "A man who was viciously beaten Wednesday in Chicago by a group of men and women, who threw the man to the ground and repeatedly kicked him while screaming anti-Trump taunts." This was not a hoax, though the paper failed to mention the races of the attackers (black) and victim (white). Or that the victim's car was stolen, and not lost in a parking lot. Or that when the victim jumped on the car the alleged attacker gunned the engine and tried to toss him from the vehicle.

The videotaped beating garnered two other mentions in news stories in November before it was rehashed in the Post‘s initial write-up of the Chicago torture video. The term "hate crime" did not appear in either article.

In November, the FBI released its latest hate crime report, showing an uptick in racial and religious hate crimes, though those statistics only accounted for 2015. The only non-anecdotal evidence offered in the "Postelection hate spike" story came from liberal groups, such as the Anti-Defamation League, Southern Poverty Law Center, and Council on American-Islamic Relations, who each relayed an influx in calls.

The ADL and CAIR were prominently featured in a Nov. 30 Post article on how "People have taken action by donating to organizations that support causes that feel threatened by a Trump administration."

The ADL "received 20 times the call volume from people who want to volunteer and a 50-fold increase in online donations, with close to 90 percent from first-time donors," fueled in part by "the surge of hate crimes recorded across the country."

"Making a donation is the ultimate sign of solidarity," a CAIR spokesman said.

Bill McMorris   Email Bill | Full Bio | RSS
Bill McMorris is a staff writer for the Washington Free Beacon. He joins the Beacon from the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, where he was managing editor of Old Dominion Watchdog. He was a 2010 Robert Novak Fellow with the Phillips Foundation, where he studied state pension shortfalls. His work has been featured on CNN, Fox News, The Economist, Colbert Report, and numerous print publications and radio stations. He lives in Alexandria, Va, with his wife and three daughters. His Twitter handle is @FBillMcMorris. His email address is mcmorris@freebeacon.com.