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Dennis Prager baselessly claims Black students commit ‘overwhelming’ share of campus hate crimes
If Your Time is short
Dennis Prager offered no evidence to substantiate his claim that Black students are overwhelmingly responsible for on-campus hate crimes involving the hanging of a noose or the writing of a racial slur. No data source specifically tracks that, anyway.
Researchers who study hate crimes have documented that hate crime reports are not falsified with anywhere near the level of frequency Prager suggested.
False hate crime reports often garner significant media coverage and have happened on college campuses multiple times, giving claims like Prager’s an appearance of credibility, experts said. But the outsized attention doesn’t mean most hate crimes are falsified.
Conservative radio host Dennis Prager baselessly claimed that when nooses are strung or racial slurs are graffitied on college campuses, "the odds are overwhelming" that the hate crime was really a hoax perpetrated by a Black student at the school.
The claim came as Prager, the co-founder of PragerU, which makes conservative video content, riffed on his radio show about what Twitter will look like once billionaire Elon Musk takes over.
"Twitter will be flooded with hate, and a lot of it will come from people on the left who want to show how hate-filled it is," Prager said April 26. "It's like their race hoax industry. If you see a noose on a college dorm of a Black student, the odds are overwhelming that the noose was put there by a Black student. If you see the n-word on a dormitory building, the odds are overwhelming that a Black student actually did that. We're filled with race hoaxes."
Prager referenced Jussie Smollett, the "Empire" actor who in 2019 paid associates to stage an attack against him in Chicago. Smollett was sentenced to 150 days in jail and ordered to pay a $145,000 fine for lying to police about being the victim of a hate crime.
Though a noose was involved in what Smollett framed as a racist and homophobic attack by supporters of then-President Donald Trump, Smollett was not a university student.
Prager offered no evidence on his show or in response to PolitiFact’s inquiry that Black students are "overwhelmingly" responsible for the on-campus incidents in recent years that have involved nooses or the use of a racial slur.
In fact, experts who track hate crimes told PolitiFact that there isn’t even a nationwide data source that Prager could have used to pin down the number of incidents — real or fake — that specifically involved hanging a noose or scrawling the racist insult on college buildings or grounds.
The nationwide data that does exist flies in the face of Prager’s claim.
"In my 40 years of experience studying hate crimes, I would say the vast majority of instances where a noose was used to threaten or intimidate, it was displayed by white individuals," said Northeastern University’s Jack McDevitt, a professor of the practice in criminology and criminal justice and the author of two books on hate crimes.
"Mr. Prager is long on hyperbole and bigotry and short on facts," said Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino. "Any look at available data shows that out of the officially reported hate crime allegations on college campuses, only a handful out of hundreds are provable false reports, and remember that colleges devote a significant amount of investigative resources to these reports."
The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program keeps tabs on hate crimes in the U.S., based on data submitted by law enforcement agencies. The most recent figures are from 2020.
Of the 2,353 "anti-Black or African American" incidents where the offender’s race was known in 2020, 1,717 of them, or roughly 73%, were perpetrated by white people. By comparison, 90, or about 4%, were perpetrated by Black people. The breakdown was similar in 2019 and 2018.
Not all law enforcement agencies record the offender’s race.
At the Center for the Study of Hate Crimes and Extremism, Levin, a criminologist, produced a report in 2019 analyzing hate crimes that also looked at hate crime hoaxes.
Defining false hate crime reports as alleged incidents that were reported to authorities but later discovered to have been intentionally falsified, Levin’s team counted just 11 out of an estimated 7,600 hate crimes in 2018, amounting to 0.14%.
"I live these numbers," Levin said. What Prager claimed "is a lie. It’s promoted again and again as a social construction of a hoax epidemic, when what we're actually having are increases in hate crime."
Orlando Martinez, a detective and the coordinator for hate crimes with the Los Angeles Police Department, told the Washington Post in 2019 that he estimated five of the approximately 1,500 cases his team handled over the previous five years involved intentionally falsified reports. Martinez did not specify the race of the people involved in those false reports.
Michael Jensen, a senior researcher at the University of Maryland’s National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, said his research examining the characteristics, motivations and behaviors of those who commit hate crimes also suggests that less than 1% of all hate crimes reported are hoaxes. Jensen said outsized media coverage can make hoax hate crimes appear more recurrent than they are, and that actual hate crime reports have been rising in spite of the fact that fewer and fewer police departments are reporting them to the FBI.
"No serious scholar of hate crime believes that this spike is driven in any way by hoaxes," Jensen said. "I am unaware of any serious data source that would support the conclusion that the majority of anti-Black hate crimes are hoaxes."
Many universities have not revealed the identities of students caught perpetrating legitimate hate crimes, often citing student privacy concerns.
There have indeed been accounts of false hate crimes at colleges, and entire websites have been built to document such cases beyond college campuses. A Black cadet candidate at the Air Force Academy was revealed to be responsible for writing racial slurs in 2017 on message boards on students’ doors, including their own, for example. The Colorado Springs Gazette reported the student committed the act "in a bizarre bid to get out of trouble he faced at the school for other misconduct."
College campuses are among the more common locations for such false reports to occur, Levin said. He attributed that to several possible factors, including diversity on many campuses, the seriousness with which school authorities typically regard reports of hate crimes, and the desire of some students to draw attention to an issue or themselves.
But there’s no evidence that the overwhelming majority of campus hate crimes — of which there were hundreds logged to the FBI and the Department of Education in recent years — are faked.
One scholar who has cataloged more fabricated hate crimes than other experts researching the subject is Wilfred Reilly, an assistant professor of political sciences at Kentucky State University. PolitiFact reached out to Reilly for this fact-check, but our questions went unanswered.
In a book on hate crime hoaxes, Reilly culled together a dataset of more than 400 hate crime hoaxes between 2010 and 2017.
Other scholars, including Levin, have argued that Reilly’s tally is too broad. According to The Washington Post, Reilly counts some cases as hoaxes in which there was no offender at all, such as an alleged noose at a construction site that police determined was a rope for moving equipment.
But the roughly 400 hoaxes that Reilly counted make up less than 1% of the roughly 50,000 hate crimes that were reported to the FBI in that timeframe.
And while Reilly has said he believes as much as 15% of hate crimes reports to the FBI could be falsified — based on the possibility that some allegations that don’t face heavy press scrutiny might never be revealed as false — that figure would also not provide evidence of what Prager said were "overwhelming" odds.
Prager said that when there is "a noose on a college dorm of a Black student" or a racial slur "on a dormitory building, the odds are overwhelming that a Black student actually did that."
Prager offered no evidence to support his claim; there isn’t even a data source that tracks on-campus hate crimes and hate crime hoaxes with that level of specificity, experts said.
The more general data that is available on hate crimes in the U.S., however, suggests that Prager’s claim is far from the truth. The percentage of hate crime reports to the FBI that have turned out to be falsified is nowhere near "overwhelming."
We rate Prager’s claim False.
Media Matters for America, "Dennis Prager: If there is ‘noose’ or ‘the n-word on a dormitory building, the odds are overwhelming that a Black student actually did that,'" April 27, 2022
FBI, Crime Data Explorer, accessed May 6, 2022
U.S. Department of Education, "How many hate crimes were reported?" accessed May 6, 2022
Various articles found via Google and Nexis, accessed May 6, 2022
The Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, "Report to the Nation: 2019 Factbook on Hate & Extremism in the U.S. & Internationally," 2019
The Washington Post, "Are hate crime hoaxes on the rise along with real hate crimes?" Dec. 5, 2019
Buzzfeed News, "’Imagine Being Surrounded By People Who Hate You And Want To See You Dead,'" Sept. 27, 2017
Email and phone interviews with Brian Levin, professor of criminal justice and director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, April 28, 2022 and May 2, 2022
Email interview with Michael Jensen, senior researcher with the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism at the University of Maryland, April 29, 2022
Email interview with Jack McDevitt, professor of the practice in criminology and criminal justice at Northeastern University, April 28, 2022
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Dennis Prager baselessly claims Black students commit ‘overwhelming’ share of campus hate crimes
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