First in a series. Part 2, October 1999, and Part 3, Nov-Dec 1999.
July 1999 – The pictures of the dead young man were poignant and powerful: Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old student at the University of Wyoming in Laramie, was small, slight of build, and vulnerable in appearance.
In contrast, his murder at the hands of alleged killers Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, both also 21, was brutal. After leaving a bar with the two men, Shepard was driven out to the lonely countryside, tortured and pistol-whipped so badly that his skull was crushed. Tied to a fence post and left to die, Shepard’s limp body appeared at first to be nothing more than a scarecrow to the passing cyclists who discovered him.
Although the Shepard murder was especially savage, what brought the incident into the national spotlight was one simple fact: Matthew Shepard was a homosexual.
The only solution to such heinous criminal conduct, activists insisted, is a renewed effort to ensure that hate crime legislation is a reality in every state and on the federal level as well.
Hate crime laws generally enhance the penalty for a crime motivated by bias against a list of protected groups. For example, in New York a man who punches someone in the nose could get as much as 15 days in jail. But if that same man uses a racial epithet while punching his victim, the sentence could be as much as a year in prison.
Usually hate crime statutes include categories such as race, religion, national origin, ethnicity or disability. Homosexuals want “sexual orientation” added to the lists – something which 21 states (and the District of Columbia) already do. An additional 18 states have hate crime laws that do not include sexual orientation.
Meanwhile, the Hate Crimes Prevention Act is a congressional measure that, if passed, would permit the federal government to prosecute bias crimes committed against homosexual, bisexual and transgendered individuals. Like state versions, the federal laws would allow for enhanced penalties committed on the basis of bias.
Homosexual hate crimes epidemic?
The demand for hate crime protection was led by homosexual activists, who claimed that the murder of Matthew Shepard was evidence of a veritable tidal wave of violence that threatens to sweep away their community.
“There is an epidemic of crime that is being perpetrated against people based on sexual orientation,” said Jeff Montgomery, a spokesman for the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, an organization sympathetic to the homosexual movement.
While such statements certainly indicate strong feelings on the issue, the facts show that the only thing that is increasing is the hype over what are still relatively rare crimes. The FBI began collecting data on the commission of hate crimes in 1990, and over the last eight years, hate crimes against homosexuals increased in only one year – 1997. That year there were 1,102 bias crimes based on sexual orientation, up from 1,016 in 1996. However, in 1998 the numbers fell again by 4%, according to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs.
The amount of actual violence against homosexuals is small, however. In 1997 only three murders were committed based on the victim’s sexual orientation (compared to two in 1996). While any murder is certainly reprehensible, that was out of the more than 18,000 homicides committed that year – a number representing less than .0002 % of the total number of murders.
In similar fashion, out of the more than one million aggravated assaults in 1997, FBI statistics showed that only 202 were directed towards homosexuals (.0002%).
Whatever else such figures might indicate, said Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby, “That is not an epidemic.”
In fact, said Jacoby, the uproar over the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard indicated the opposite. “Shepard’s slaying made headlines not because such things occur to gay men all the time, but because they don’t. When a young man is beaten to death by anti-homosexual bigots, it makes Page 1 – that is how unusual it is,” he said.
Gauging the frequency of hate crimes is further complicated by the fact that defining a hate crime is no easy matter. U.S. News & World Report columnist John Leo said, “Sometimes these decisions [to label a crime a hate crime] can be misty ones, based on non-verbal expressions. The FBI counts gestures and other body language in its hate crime statistics.”
In their book, Hate Crimes: Criminal Law & Identity Politics, New York University criminologists James Jacobs and Kimberly Potter said some crimes are considered to be based on bias by default. In New York City, for example, police automatically label a crime a “hate crime” if officers can’t establish a clear motive, and even when there is “substantial” doubt that the crime is bias-motivated. Such sloppy guidelines may explain why the Big Apple accounts for a large proportion of hate crimes each year.
Where angels fear to tread
One of the aspects of the Shepard murder that received little attention in the mainstream press was that the victim had gone willingly with two strange men who had apparently invited him to leave with them.
No one but the most hardened critic of the homosexual community would suggest that Matthew Shepard deserved to die, even if he, in fact, left that bar with two strangers for quick, anonymous sex.
“Where did Shepard think they were going? What did he think was going to happen once they got there?” asked homosexual advice columnist Dan Savage in Out magazine. Savage argued in his article that many in the homosexual community enjoy the risks associated with picking up anonymous men for sex.
Lesbian author Camille Paglia asked, “Does anyone really believe that Shepard…left the bar with [McKinney and Henderson] for cozy tea and conversation?” Paglia called it “rough trade,” which is “the dangerous, centuries-old practice of gay men picking up grimy, testosterone-packed straight or semi-straight toughs.”
But rather than being evidence of an epidemic of hate crimes against homosexuals that is being ignored by a homophobic society, many of these crimes might instead be easily avoidable if the victims had used good sense.
In the Shepard case, McKinney and Henderson had entered the bar with only enough pocket change to buy one pitcher of beer. Might they have seen Shepard as an easy robbery mark because he was homosexual? “Police said from the first that robbery was the principal motivation of the attack upon him,” said columnist Samuel Francis, “and it soon emerged that Shepard was lured by his assailants precisely because he was a homosexual and could be counted on to respond to their sexual enticement.”
As Paglia said, “[N]o law will ever fully protect gay men who pick up strangers.”
Pursuing an agenda
However, Paglia was quickly and loudly denounced, according to Savage, for daring to suggest that the careless and risky sexual practices of homosexual men might lead them into danger. Perhaps Paglia’s reception was harsh because her ideas are neither politically correct nor politically useful for activists. And the whole issue of hate crimes has had a distinct air of politics about it from the very beginning.
In fact, portraying homosexuals as victims of society in order to gain sympathy and thus momentum in the political arena was a tactic established 15 years ago. In a 1984 issue of the homosexual magazine Christopher Street, activists Marshall K. Kirk and Erastes Pill published their groundbreaking blueprint for the homosexual movement. It laid the groundwork for a political campaign to persuade straight America to accept homosexuality as normal, and that plan has been followed with amazing precision by activists since then.
Kirk and Pill said it was time “to learn from Madison Avenue and roll out the big guns. We are talking about propaganda.” What would that propaganda include? The authors told other homosexual activists to “portray gays as victims, not as aggressive challengers. In any campaign to win over the public, gays must be cast as victims in need of protection so that straights will be inclined by reflex to assume the role of protector.”
Kirk and Pill are amazingly frank in their prescription: among other things, straight America should “be shown graphic pictures of brutalized gays” to enhance the image of victimhood.
This is not to suggest that homosexuals are never victims of hate crimes. But politics may explain why there seems to be a rush in cities like New York to paint as many crimes as possible with the broad brush of bias. Leo said, “Decisions to label hate crimes are not made in a vacuum, but under pressure from identity groups with a stake in having as many offenses as possible counted as hate crimes,” he said.
As a result, activists are not above manipulating statistics in order to attain political goals. In New York City’s West Village, for example, activists began clamoring for more law enforcement help in 1998, claiming that hate crimes against homosexuals had risen 86%. While technically accurate, that figure makes the situation in the Village sound worse than it really is: hate crimes there increased from 7 to 13.
A co-host on CNN’s Crossfire and now a presidential candidate, Pat Buchanan said homosexual activists “carefully tweezer out of all U.S. crime statistics the tiny number of outrages that make their point. Then, their publicity organs go into overdrive to exploit the few outrages to propagandize for new laws."
Hate crime hoaxes
Beyond simply manipulating statistics for political purposes, Jacobs and Potter also say that hate crime laws may “encourage some individuals to claim falsely that they were the victim of prejudice-motivated violence in order to strike a blow against a group they dislike or fear, or simply because they crave attention and publicity.”
Such suspicions have been frequently vindicated. On numerous occasions hate crimes have been fabricated out of thin air in order to drive the agenda.
At Eastern New Mexico University, for example, posters threatening to begin executing “one queer a week” began to appear on campus. The incidents naturally produced a vociferous call for protection of homosexuals. However, the malevolent “gay-bashers” turned out to be a single person – a lesbian teaching assistant who allegedly staged the entire persecution.
Similar incidents have been reported at Duke University, the University of Georgia, Miami University of Ohio, Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, and Gilford College in North Carolina.
But the campus is not the only place where fabricated hate crimes are being used to drum up support for homosexual “victims.” Perhaps the best-known example last year involved 41-year-old South Carolina resident Regan Wolf. After claiming to have been knocked unconscious and savagely beaten – not once, but twice – by a gay-basher, Wolf was arrested and charged with falsifying information to the police, according to Out magazine. Apparently, a man had come forward and admitted that Wolf had paid him to beat her in order to create the appearance of a hate crime.
The irony of such “hoax crimes” is clear: they are fabricated, then used as proof of a nonexistent epidemic.
But whether overemphasized, exaggerated, or even falsified, the hate crime issue has less to do with crime, and much more to do with the accomplishment of a political and cultural coup. That's a message homosexual activists don't want to hear, but which straight America had better heed, because the revolutionaries are at the city gates.