Sunday, May 22, 2016
Welcome to the One True Church of Victimology
In 1987, the TV evangelist Oral Roberts told his viewers he needed urgently to raise $8 million — or “God will call me home.”
Even by the standards of pray TV, Roberts was seen as a huckster and a charlatan, so when God finally did call him home (22 years later) his earlier appeal received prominent placement in the obits.
Today, though, TV hucksters don’t even need a syndicated Sunday-morning gospel hour. They make their pitch on YouTube and they raise money from a different congregation — the The One True Church of Victimology, Inc.
Take the Rev. Jordan Brown, a gay man who hoped to cash in on an appeal as bogus as Roberts’ last month in Austin, Texas. Picking up a wedding cake at a Whole Foods, he made a YouTube video claiming that, though he had ordered the legend “LOVE WINS,” some unseen hater had added the word “FAG.” He sued Whole Foods within four days.
Commenters pointed out that he would likely have seen the hateful word (which was anyway written with a different frosting tool than the rest) immediately upon picking up the cake, which was packaged in a box with a transparent top.
Plus, seriously: Whole Foods? In Austin?
This week, after Whole Foods proved Brown was lying using security-camera images, he withdrew his lawsuit (as Whole Foods did its countersuit). Brown didn’t admit that he lied. Instead he said, “I was wrong to pursue this matter.”
Not quite. He was wrong to fabricate this matter in pursuit of attention and money, in the meantime sullying the reputation of the city of Austin, a great American company and the employee who sold the cake (a “member of the LGBT community,” Whole Foods added).
The Rev. Brown is the latest in a line of hate-crime hucksters seeking to profit from imaginary victimization. This is fraud.
Last June in Baltimore, resident Julie Baker said a neighbor had sent an anonymous note calling her yard decorations “relentlessly gay” and asking her to “tone it down” because “this is a Christian area.”
An outraged Baker quickly went to the GoFundMe site to monetize her feelings and asked donors to pitch in to make her yard decorations even more “relentlessly gay.” She quickly raised $43,000. As accusations that she was a hoaxer piled up she announced she was returning all donations in a vaguely worded semi-apology (“the truth is that this project went from an artistic snowball tossed in the face of hate to an avalanche”).
Last summer 21-year-old Rick Jones of Delta, Utah, claimed some thugs beat him up and carved “Die fag” into his arms while he was working at the family pizza shop. Jones’ family started a GoFundMe campaign to capitalize on the result and had already earned $12,000 when police announced that they believed Jones had fabricated the incident. Jones’ lawyer admitted as much but called the claims a “cry for help” instead of the cry for money and attention it looked like to everyone else.
Serious question: Why are none of these people in jail?
If Whole Foods had been unable to prove the Rev. Brown was lying — if it didn’t have a security camera trained on the right spot — it could have suffered massive damage to its immensely valuable reputation. A smaller grocer that couldn’t afford a network of security cameras to protect itself from lying customers might have been put out of business entirely.
Graffiti is a crime. If the Rev. Brown had Kryloned the word “fag” on Whole Foods’ front door, and been caught doing it, he would have been prosecuted. But what he did was far more damaging. Graffiti doesn’t hurt your reputation. You clean it off and move on. It doesn’t (as Brown’s fraud did) create international headlines that cast your business as a haven for intolerance.
Brown tied up public resources in filing a lawsuit. He made it less likely that the next gay person who claims to have been wronged will be believed. He did damage to the image of the great state of Texas, if not the United States of America herself. Which Texas lawmakers will introduce legislation specifically outlawing hate-crime fraud?
Thanks to the Web site (227 entries so far), it’s easy to keep tabs on the hustlers and mountebanks trying to sell bogus bias claims. Perusing the various stories yields a strong suspicion that these fraudsters are almost never punished in any way, though it is encouraging that the black University of Albany students who falsely claimed they were victims of a racist assault on a bus this winter were expelled for their lies. Hate crime con artists stir up hatred, cheat honest people out of their money and waste public resources on investigations. They do harm to all of us. They should be treated as criminals.