Laird Wilcox, arguably the nation’s foremost hate crime hoax detector, was back in the news. The hoax du jour unfolded–and unraveled–at Eastern Michigan University. Last week Eastern Michigan University Police arrested an African American for spray painting university walls on at least three occasions with vicious anti-black slogans. These incidents predictably inspired candlelight vigils at the university and all the requisite demands for diversity training and the like.
None of this is surprising. What may surprise is that the Kenneth Spencer Research Library at the University of Kansas is home to the Wilcox Collection of Contemporary Political Movements. The collection includes “nearly 10,000 books, pamphlets and periodicals, 800 audio tapes, 73 feet (22 m) of manuscript materials and more than 100,000 pieces of ephemera including flyers, brochures, mailings, clippings and bumper stickers.” Even more surprising is that the creator and chief archivist for this collection, Laird Wilcox, is alive and well and living in Lawrence.
Wilcox’s 1994 book, Crying Wolf: Hate Crime Hoaxes in America, is still the standard in the field. The Eastern Michigan University arrest could not have surprised him. “This isn’t just my opinion,” Wilcox told Fox News after a comparable incident was exposed in April 2017. “This is widely recognized now. I would say now 80 percent of the events that happen on campus are hoaxes or pranks. It’s a place where consciousness of discrimination, sexism and homophobia is at a peak, and when there’s nothing happening, and they need something to happen, they can make it happen.”
The site fakehatecrimes.org builds on the work of Wilcox. The arrest of the EMU fraudster represents incident #322 recorded in the site’s database. Two weeks before that arrest University of Maryland Police arrested another black man for painting swastikas on university walls.
Wilcox’s work extends well beyond hoax detecting. His 1997 book, The Watchdogs: A Close Look At Anti-Racist “Watchdog” Groups, proved invaluable in exposing the motives of some of the Kansas City Star’s go-to hate crime experts, none more illustrious than local boy Leonard Zeskind. The Star has turned to Zeskind at least 23 times in recent years–and as recently as August–for his enlightened take on extremist groups.
As Wilcox points out, Zeskind knows something about extremism. In 1978, Zeskind penned an article for the journal, Urgent Tasks, titled “Workplace Struggles in Kansas City.” In the article, Zeskind talked about the value of a grass roots “school of communism,” one conceived “to destroy the marketplace, not sell at it.” The journal, by the way, took its title from a quote by Lenin.
To ingratiate himself to the Star and the Mainstream Coalition, Zeskind did not have to change his politics. He simply had to change his tactics. “Rather than present socialism or Marxism-Leninism as their goal,” Wilcox wrote Wilcox of Zeskind and his allies, “they piggy-back it onto anti-racism which is far more popular.”
The piggy-backing continues. In recent years, it has infected “mainstream” reporting to the point of pathology. Seeing how eager the major media are to report some new infamy, hoaxers like those at Eastern Michigan and the University of Maryland know they just need a can of spray paint to make the headlines.