Last September, five black cadets at the Air Force Academy Preparatory School discovered racial slurs written on the message boards outside of their rooms, leading to an investigation and an eloquent speech by Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria. Now, it has been revealed that one of the supposed victims was actually the perpetrator.
As reported by The Washington Post, Silveria delivered a speech just a few days after the incident took place at the Colorado Springs institution, denouncing the “horrible language” and encouraging everyone to treat each other with “dignity and respect,” and recommending that anyone who was unable to act in such a manner to “get out” of the academy.
But, on Tuesday, the academy made a startling announcement, asserting that the person responsible for the racist messages was one of the cadet candidates who initially appeared to be a victim.
“The individual admitted responsibility, and this was validated by the investigation,” said academy spokesman Lt. Col. Allen Herritage in a statement, adding, “Racism has no place at the academy, in any shape or form.”
The candidate who is accused of writing the messages has not been identified but is reportedly no longer a student at the school.
Sources also asserted that the cadet candidate “committed the act in a bizarre bid to get out of trouble he faced at the school for other misconduct.”
The announcement adds the Air Force Academy incident to a growing list of “hate crime hoaxes,” where the acts of racism or anti-Semitic behavior are later discovered to be attributed to someone within the targeted minority group.
Such incidents are a major point of concern for civil rights activities who document such events, as false reports, according to senior investigative writer for the Southern Poverty Law Center Intelligence Project Ryan Lenz, “undermine the legitimacy of other hate crimes.”
“There aren’t many people claiming fake hate crimes but, when they do, they make massive headlines,” said Lenz.
Despite recent accounts of fraud, many hate crime experts state that false claims remain relatively rare, representing only a “tiny fraction” of the hundreds of hate crimes reported, according to Brian Levin, the director for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University at San Bernardino.
“These hoaxes have become symbols for some who want to promote the idea that most hate crimes are hoaxes,” said Levin. “That’s important to rectify.”
Even with the discovery at the academy, Silveria stands by his original remarks.
“Regardless of the circumstances under which those words were written, they were written, and that deserved to be addressed,” said Silveria in an email.
“You can never over-emphasize the need for a culture of dignity and respect – and those who don’t understand those concepts aren’t welcome [at the academy].”