I got a DM on Twitter late last night from a friend in Ohio. A friend of my friend—Adam Hoover, a young LGBT rights activist in Cincinnati—had been kidnapped. My friend and the rest of Adam's friends were desperately trying to get #FindAdamHoover trending on Twitter. Would I please help?
Here's how Hoover's friends learned about the abduction:
Hoover also posted a status update to Facebook that included his home address and his parents' phone number. He begged his Facebook friends to contact his family and warn them about the danger they were in. Hoover's Facebook note closed: "Please please call. I don't want to die."
How's this for a coincidence: 10 years ago another friend-of-a-friend was abducted in the parking lot of a club while we waited for him inside. He was locked in the trunk of his own car, driven from ATM to ATM, forced to withdraw money, and repeatedly pistol-whipped. His abductors told him they were going to kill him. This friend-of-a-friend was saved when a cop pulled his car over and he began loudly banging on the inside of the trunk. So I know this sort of thing—being abducted, being locked in the trunk of your own car, being told you're going to die—can happen. It happened to someone I know. But something seemed off about Hoover's story: Why didn't Hoover call the police from inside the trunk of his car? And wouldn't a halfway competent gang of murderous kidnappers think to take Hoover's phone from him?
There have been too many instances of LGBT people faking hate crimes—way too many—and something about this report seemed off. But I didn't express my doubts to my friend: He was distraught and I didn't want to come across as heartless or uncaring. So I clicked on the #FindAdamHoover hashtag and scrolled down—and down and down and down—until I finally found something I felt comfortable retweeting:
A plea for help on social media spurred an overnight search effort in the Tri-State—but police say the whole thing was a hoax.... Police later said that Hoover’s claims were made up and the incident did not actually happen. He was charged with making false claims—a first-degree misdemeanor. Investigators said Hoover’s vehicle was found abandoned in Miami Township on US 50. He was found unharmed nearby. Deputies said Green Township police and Hamilton County sheriff’s investigators interviewed Hoover before determining his story was not true.
Hoover's mom posted this on her son's Facebook page this morning:
This is Adams mom. Thank you for your support and prayers. I have a special request. Social media is powerful. Could every please remove posts and tags and give us some time to figure this all out. Adam has helped so many please help me help him.
I hope Hoover gets the help he needs and I hope this incident doesn't haunt him for the rest of his life. Victimhood has a perverse and alluring currency in LGBT activist circles, and Adam did something stupid and impulsive, and I'm sure he regrets it. But false hate crime reports are a real problem. And not just because every time something like this happens—every time someone falsely reports a hate crime—people are less likely to believe hate crime reports filed by people who aren't lying. (False hate crime reports harm actual victims of hate crimes in the same way that false rape reports harm actual victims of rape.) False hate crime reports do something else, too, something that we don't talk about, something that—if we're going to apply hate-crime statutes fairly—we need to face: A false hate crime report is itself a hate crime.
When a racist shitstain burns a cross on the lawn of an African American family, the African American family next door, the African American family down the street, the African American families in the next town over—all those other African American families are victimized and terrorized, too. When an anti-Muslim shit attacks a woman wearing a hijab, all the Muslims in that community are made to feel unsafe and unwelcome. When a homophobic or transphobic shit finds a queer person to beat up, it's not just an attack on that one unfortunate queer person. That queer person is obviously the immediate and most traumatized victim of that attack, of course, but all members of the queer community are impacted by anti-queer hate crimes. We're all made to feel unsafe, fearful, and threatened.
Hate-crime statutes don't make it "extra illegal" to punch someone because they're black, queer, or Muslim. (For the record: Hate-crime statutes apply when people are singled out for attack because they're white, straight, or Christian.) Hate-crime statutes—the additional penalties that kick in when hate-crime charges are brought—address the impact hate crimes have on entire communities. There are additional victims, there are additional penalties.
So when someone makes a false hate crime report—when someone, say, falsely claims that three masked men broke into her house and carved antigay slurs into her flesh—others in the community are impacted:
[Charlie] Rogers told police three men wearing black ski masks broke into her home during the early morning hours on July 22, bound her wrists and ankles with zip ties, beat her and carved anti-gay slurs into her arms and abdomen. Rogers also alleged the men spray painted homophobic slurs inside the home and poured gasoline around the house before lighting it on fire.... News of the alleged attack sparked multiple vigils attended by thousands of gay-rights supporters who donated money in support of Rogers in cities throughout Nebraska.
I remember that Charlie Rogers story: Queer people at the vigils told reporters that they were afraid they would be next, they said they felt unsafe in their homes, some said they wouldn't be able to sleep at night until the men who attacked Rogers were caught. So that false report of a hate crime had the same impact on the queer community in Nebraska that an actual hate crime would have had. And if Charlie Rogers had been assaulted, hate-crime charges would've been brought against the men who attacked her, charges that took into account the harm these men had done to other members of the queer community. The attackers in Rogers's case were fake, but the harm done by Rogers's false report was real. By the logic of hate-crime statutes—additional victims, additional penalties—Rogers should've faced hate-crime charges on top of charges for filing a false report.
Adam Hoover should, too.
UPDATE: It's also distressing and depressing to read the transcript of the 911 call—which became available after I wrote this piece—and to see that Hoover claimed that his abductors were three black men.