Jussie Smollett isn't alone in trying to fake a hate crime for personal or selfish reasons. Hate crime hoaxes happen more often than many well-meaning Americans probably realize, and often they're orchestrated as part of a trend intended to provoke hysteria and panic. Sometimes, innocent conservatives guilty of nothing more than living in the area where the "crimes" allegedly occurred are falsely accused of carrying out the attacks, and subjected to a storm of online threats and abuse. The political subtext of these false reports is easy to spot. Just like the Smollett case, they're intended to portray Trump supporters and conservatives as violent bigots and homophobes willing to indiscriminately target members of the trans and gay communities.
And according to an investigation by New York Post columnist Andy Ngo, Smollett isn't the only hate crime hoaxer to avoid punishment. In the Portland area alone, trans and LGBT activists have incited a panic with reports of attacks on LGBTQ individuals that, when investigated, were either never reported to police, or, in some cases, the details gathered by police differed dramatically from what was disclosed in viral social media posts, in such a way as to suggest that an attack never occurred.
Ngo's piece begins with the Feb. 10 "attack" on Sophia Gabrielle Stanford, who launched a GoFundMe page that described her as the victim of a "brutal and aggressively blatant hate crime" that recounted how unidentified assailants had beaten her unconscious with a bat." The page stated that Stanford had suffered a "serious concussion" and would need "intensive physical therapy, CT scans and counseling".
A GoFundMe for activist Sophia Gabrielle Stanford went viral after it was alleged she was "violently attacked from behind with a baseball bat" by transphobes. That's not at all what the police reports say. Read my story for the @nypost: https://t.co/UxkmKYxYEC pic.twitter.com/HeVI5eX6Ox— Andy Ngo (@MrAndyNgo) March 30, 2019
The post went viral and raised thousands of dollars. But when Ngo investigated, he discovered that the details from a police report of the incident varied dramatically from Stanford's account. Per the report, Stanford even made an idle threat against the officers who were questioning her: “If you don’t treat me right, my people will get you."
In the early hours of Sunday, Feb. 10, emergency services received a call about a woman, identified as Stanford, found on a sidewalk with scrapes on her face and knuckles, claiming that she may have been assaulted. The responding officer, Edgar Mitchell, noted that Stanford smelled of alcohol.
"I asked [Officer Zachary Roe] what happened," the report states. "Roe said the individual admitted to being intoxicated, and Roe believed the person fell and hit her head."
Stanford either could not or would not state her name to the police. The responding officer was unable to discover Stanford’s name and claims that she made a threat: “If you don’t treat me right, my people will get you,” she said, according to the report.
The report also states that Stanford lost a pistol and bag she was carrying at the time of the alleged attack. A local resident found both items and flagged down another officer, Cuong Nguyen. When Nguyen attempted to return the gun to Stanford at nearby Emanuel Hospital, where she had been transported, she was already discharged.
When Ngo tried to reach out to Stanford, she swiftly blocked him across social media. But in the weeks after Stanford's story went viral, a number of "hate crimes" were reported across Portland, inspiring a panic in the city's sizable LGBTQ community. As a result, some refused to travel alone at night. Workshops popped up where members of the community were taught "how to spot a fascist." Yet, though no assailants were ever positively identified, members of the Proud Boys who were facing criminal charges over a street brawl with members of Antifa were targeted by social media pages, that encouraged readers to commit acts of "retaliatory" violence.
about a week after Stanford's alleged assault, another "fat-queer activist" published a claim on social media about an attack on her and her partner, claiming that "two young white men" in a "maroon SUV" had lobbed a full beer can at her and called her a homophobic slur. A photo of Bruso's partner was posted with a picture of a bruise on her cheek.
But though Bruso said the incident had been reported, when Ngo contacted police, he found no record of an incident at that location on that day.
On Feb. 17, Jenny Bruso, a self-described fat-queer activist, posted a claim on Facebook and Twitter that echoed Stanford’s harrowing story. She said that her partner, Brie Jones, was attacked by “two young white men” in a maroon SUV who pulled up beside her at a busy intersection, called her a homophobic slur and threw a full can of beer at her face. She was allegedly knocked to the ground from the impact. Bruso posted a photo of Jones with an abrasion on her cheek.
I spoke with staff at businesses along that intersection, but nobody I talked to had witnessed an attack. When Bruso’s post went viral on Facebook and commenters raised questions about the incident, she deleted the post.
"I, WE, owe you NOTHING," Bruso wrote on Facebook. "The intention was to warn our communities and that’s precisely what I did."
Bruso originally said the attack was “reported,” but Portland police stated in a report that there was no case number associated with the incident as of Feb. 27, 2019. I contacted Bruso several times by email asking where she reported the incident. She didn’t respond.
In response, activists sent out "attack alerts" and circulated the addresses of the alleged "attackers", one of whom, a former member of conservative groups in the area, was accused of being involved in the attack against Bruso and her partner because, according to Doxxers, he owned a maroon SUV. However, Ngo found that the SUV in question had been repossessed months before the attack occurred, and that there was no reason to suspect his involvement in the attack.
Meanwhile, these and other hate crime reports have been uncritically shared by the Portland Mercury, a local news organization, and Portland Mayor Tom Wheeler, who amplified the rumors on Twitter. Yet all the Proud Boys members who have been blamed for the string of attacks denied their involvement - not that there is any actual evidence linking them to the incidents.
Claims that the LGBTQ community should fear and distrust the police in progressive Portland have been used to amplify the paranoia. But in a city where the mayor doubles as the police commissioner, the notion that police would simply ignore allegations of a hate crime, or refuse to take them seriously, simply beggars belief.
Yet, the fact that Smollett has gotten off without any repercussions (so far, at least) for blatantly faking a high-profile hate crime should only serve to embolden hoaxers looking to follow in his footsteps.