A massive racism hoax took place at Oberlin College in February 2013 in which two students made seemingly racist, anti-Semitic and other such posters, graffiti and emails for the purpose of getting a reaction on campus, not because they believed the hostile messages. At least one of the two was an Obama supporter with strong progressive, anti-racist politics.
School officials and local police knew the identity of the culprits, who were responsible for most if not all of such incidents on campus, yet remained silent as the campus reacted as if the incidents were real. National media attention focused on campus racism at Oberlin for weeks without knowing it was a hoax.
The hoax was confirmed when Chuck Ross of The Daily Caller recently obtained police records. Now it’s out in the open. Here is the history of how the hoax developed, played out in the media, and was covered up by the Oberlin administration.
The “hate” incidents cause campus and the media to erupt in protest
During February 2013 into early March, there were racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic postings on an Oberlin message board and in graffiti and signs around campus.
The issues burst onto the national media scene when a student claimed to see someone walking in a Klan robe late at night.
Left-wing websites like Slate.com ran with the story with dramatic flair:
It turned out that the Klan sighting at Oberlin likely was just a woman wrapped in a blanket, but no matter, Oberlin erupted in protest and classes were cancelled to that on campus solidarity rallies could be held.
Lena Dunham, an Oberlin grad, tweeted about it:
This really saddens me. The school I remember was the safest place to do you: http://t.co/N718oecMG0
— Lena Dunham (@lenadunham) March 4, 2013
Hey Obies, remember the beautiful, inclusive and downright revolutionary history of the place you call home. Protect each other.
— Lena Dunham (@lenadunham) March 4, 2013
Dunham’s tweets were news in themselves, via AP:
The New York Times, among dozens of newspapers, covered the story, publishing photos of the protests.
The incidents were used to draw larger conclusions about society, and particularly about conservatives and Republicans, as in this column at BET.com, Oberlin’s Racism Blemish:
How does a progressive institution like Oberlin find itself in this situation? This is a student body whose members know the history and commitment to upholding a liberal, tolerant educational atmosphere long before that arrive on campus. How is it that such madness infects one of the premier institutions of broadmindedness?
The sad truth is that the infection of intolerance is pervasive in American society in the age of Obama. We’re living in an era when Supreme Court justices consider the right to vote for African-Americans to be a form of “racial entitlement.” We’re in a period where Republican candidates for president cavalierly refer to the nation’s first Black commander-in-chief as the “food stamp president.” This is the period in American history that has seen the most highly orchestrated assault on minority voting since the end of Reconstruction. And in the midst of it are Republican elected officials boasting about it.
Melissa Harris-Perry was all over it, along with Ta-Nehisi Coates, using the Oberlin experience to draw larger points about racism:
Thirty-six alumni from the Oberlin Asian/Pacific American Alumni Association wrote an open letter of support:
… we write to express our solidarity with the students who spoke out and held the institution to account: continue to be bold, we stand with you. Seek comfort in the fact that you will emerge from these experiences stronger and more resilient. We empathize with your struggles and heartache in the wake of recent events and applaud your sustained efforts to actively and swiftly combat the racism, homophobia, xenophobia, gender-based violence and other forms of oppression as they continue to plague our society. This fight continues not only in the microcosm of Oberlin, but in many of the communities where we, as alumni, currently live, work and struggle. Your struggle is ours.
Students from other colleges expressed solidarity, like this letter signed by dozens of Williams College students:
… Please know that you are not alone in your struggle. Please know that you are not the first to march these paths. Please know you are paving the ways for others. You know too well that your actions are being watched and discussed by many, but please remember you have allies, too. Though we are scattered far and are often quiet, we hold you close in our hearts. We hope that you see this letter as an extension of our student-to-student kinship.
As a family, we are stronger than the demons that we face. In solidarity,
The Oberlin Administration put up a Wall of Silence
I smelled a rat, and investigated rumors that this was a hoax. I was met with a stone wall of silence from the Oberlin administration and students, Oberlin declines to comment on motivations of students behind writings (March 6):
I asked [Press Spokesman]Scott] Wargo if the Oberlin administration had any reason to believe that these were a hoax. He said that he “can’t speak to the motive behind the writings.” I tried that question several different ways and the response was similar.
Wargo refused to confirm that these were acts motivated by racism not a hoax:
Q. “Does the administration believe these were acts of racism?”
A. “Again, it’s an ongoing investigation and I can’t add anything beyond that.”
Oberlin went into communications shut down, Oberlin pretty good at keeping secret the identities and motives of perps (March 7):
Local police are quoted as saying they have identified two students possibly connected to the rash of racist, anti-Semitic and anti-gay writings on campus, but were uncertain as to their motives.
As detailed yesterday, the Oberlin administration is not willing to talk about it, to the point of being unwilling to confirm or deny that it was a hoax or whether racism was the motive.
And surprisingly, the names and motives have not leaked out yet (at least not that I have been able to find).
Oberlin, despite the campus having devolved into an online spitting war, is keeping those secrets pretty well covered.
The students and administration had to know early on in March that this was a hoax. The student newspaper published a report that the connections between the online postings and the campus graffiti already was made:
The Oberlin student newspaper indicates the hunt for the perpetrators continues, which would be contrary to what the police have said:
Mounting circumstantial evidence — including timestamps, common IP addresses, mimicked content and online accounts analyzed by the Review, as well as interviews with confidential sources — strongly suggests a link between hate speech appearing on anonymous Oberlin online forums and incidents of written hate speech on campus.
Incredibly, Oberlin referred the matter to the FBI for investigation, but Oberlin and local police already knew, or soon would learn, it was a hoax.
The Oberlin College President had multiple opportunities to set the record straight, including when CNN Interviewed him live on national television, but he just played along with these being hate incidents:
I didn’t give up, and followed up, Oberlin update — two white male student suspects but motives unclear (May 3)
“The college’s investigation into the bias incidents led to the identification of two students who may be responsible. Both have been removed from campus.”
Wargo declined to comment on the status of the prosecution or what steps Oberlin had taken other than removal from campus, or as to the gender and race of the suspects, citing educational privacy:
“I can’t speak to what the prosecutor’s office may or may not be doing. To your second question, I am not permitted to disclose information pertaining to any student’s education records.”
As of this writing Wargo has not responded to a follow up email as to the college’s position on whether the acts were motivated by racism or were a hoax to create the appearance of racism.
We still don’t know who the students are, but people on campus must know. I reached out to the editors of the Oberlin student newspaper, The Oberlin Review, for comment but received no response.
The Hoax exposed through police records
It all turns out this was a hoax perpetrated by two progressive students on campus.
Chuck Ross of The Daily Caller obtained the police report through a public records and identifies the two students who admitted to doing most, if not all, of the graffiti and signs as a hoax to get a reaction from campus.
The Daily Caller identifies the two culprits as Dylan Bleier and Matt Alden.
Bleier was an Obama supporter, as shown in an event link found by The Daily Caller. His Linked In profile (which now has been taken down) reflects his politics:
School officials and police knew who was behind the campus incidents weeks before the supposed KKK siting and campus protests, as reported by The Daily Caller:
On February 11, a female student claimed that both Bleier and Alden were making derogatory comments about her online. She also stated “she had reason to believe that Alden and Bleier were responsible not only for the obscene posts about her but also the derogatory fliers that are being posted around campus.” The student said that Alden and Bleier “are good friends and always together.”
According to the student, someone using the email address email@example.com directed her to a derogatory comment that had been posted about her online.
On February 13, a student reported to campus officials that a racist flier had appeared on her door. The flier made a derogatory reference to Black History Month and — in all capital letters — the sexual assault of “A WHITE WOMAN!”
The unidentified student said she believed that Bleier and Alden were “responsible for this flyer being posted on her door.”
On February 15, a large handmade poster of a Nazi flag with a swastika was discovered taped inside the windows of the second floor of the Science Hall. Bleier was later found to have after-hours access to the Science Center.
The police report shows that school officials questioned Bleier and Alden. The report says that the two students admitted to leaving at least some of the markings, literature, and other paraphernalia across campus as a “joke” or a “troll.”
Oberlin police later subpoenaed IP records from Google and determined that Bleier was behind the fake Krislov account. Krislov initially indicated that he wanted to pursue an investigation but he did not follow through with the complaint, the police report says.
On February 27, Oberlin security officers finally caught Bleier and Alden — apparently red-handed — in the process of their hateful message circulation. At the time, according to the report, one of the students had discarded a piece of paper reading: “Islam. It kills.” …
At one point, police records say, Bleier wrote a statement in [police officer] Burton’s office claiming responsibility for the flier left on the door of a female student February 5. He also owned up to responsibility for some cards containing the word “niggermania.”
The two denied involvement in prior incidents, but the incidents to which they admitted constituted the bulk of the incidents reported by the student newspaper as having taken place, including the one involving a Nazi flag, as reported by The Daily Caller:
“I printed out a page of racist ‘niggermania’ cards to show to friends as a joke/for the shock value,” he allegedly wrote, adding that he had somehow accidently left them sitting in a lounge on campus.
“Matt Alden and I made a giant Nazi flag as a joke to troll people and put it up in the science center,” Bleier also confessed, the police report says.
He claimed to have had nothing to do with any of the other swastikas strewn around campus, but then allegedly wrote, “I posted Krislov’s head photoshopped onto Hitler’s body LoL.”
Comments left by Bleier on an official campus blog suggest that Bleier disagreed with an article Krislov wrote addressing some of the name-calling on a contentious discussion board called ObieTalk. Bleier asked what moral authority Oberlin had in the first place, “especially after approving the switch to frack gas…”
Alden categorically denied involvement in spreading the Nazi imagery, writing in a statement, “I had nothing to do with any swastika banner or other sickening Nazi paraphernalia.”
School officials and police also knew it was a hoax, not intended to express actual racist or other such sentiments, but to get a reaction on campus, yet they allowed the campus and the nation to go through hand wringing as if these were real acts of racism.
A student interviewed by The Daily Caller who knew Bleier and Alden did not think they were racist, did it as pranks, and were behind all of the incidents:
“I wouldn’t consider the individuals involved to be racists,” he said. ”I think they were kind of troublemakers trying to stir up the pot a little bit.”
The student, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, also suggested that Alden got a kick out of messing with people. “Matt was more of the prankster,” he explained. “Considering they were trolls, they were kind of getting what they wanted out of people getting so upset about it.”
But “then it got to the point where they realized it was bigger than they imagined it could become,” the student added.
The student thinks that Bleier and Alden were likely behind all of the hateful graffiti that marred that campus during the string of incidents in February. He also said that Alden and Bleier had been suspended and removed from campus before the March 4 report of someone wearing KKK attire.
One other Oberlin alum, who commented at the time of the incidents, was prophetic as well:
Oberlin is my alma mater, and I can confirm the general sentiment that it’s a haven for progressive thought…. Whoever is behind the KKK garb, the “whites only” and swastika graffiti, and everything else, he/she/they are doing it with the purpose of provoking a reaction. They will probably get caught, and their lives will never be the same.
Just another campus racism hoax, but bigger
This was just another in a long line of campus racism hoaxes, but bigger. I’m quoted in The Daily Caller article as follows:
Cornell University law professor William Jacobson, who tracked the Oberlin story at his blog Legal Insurrection, said the fraudulent hate-related incidents “may be the greatest race hoax since Tawana Brawley.”
Jacobson has unsuccessfully reached out to Oberlin officials for comment on the incidents on several occasions.
“Oberlin allowed the entire country to go through months of handwringing over supposedly racist incidents knowing full well it was a hoax,” Jacobson told TheDCNF. “If the president of Oberlin knew of this hoax and allowed Oberlin falsely to be portrayed as a racist campus, he should resign.”
Michelle Malkin, an Oberlin alumna, called this a hoax from the beginning. Oberlin College: Still manufacturing hate crimes hoaxes after all these years:
My crazy alma mater is at it again….
So, as soon as I read the fresh reports this week about a purported racist in a “KKK” hood lurking on Oberlin’s campus and reports of bigoted graffiti/vandalism, the fake hate crime alarm bells went off.
And so it goes. The “KKK” hood appears to have been a student in a blanket and it is not clear if the “hate speech” was of malicious intent or meant to be a purposely provocative exercise of free speech by sympathetic students….
Nothing has changed. The self-victimization/manufactured racism impulse at Oberlin — and at so many higher mis-education institutions across the country — is as strong and poisonous as ever.
I was right. Michele Malkin was right.
The enormity of the hoax cannot be overstated, and it could not have taken place without the cover up by the Oberlin administration. Had Oberlin’s President gone on television or issued a statement that the acts were a hoax, the campus and media would not have devoted weeks to portraying Oberlin as having a racism problem.
The Oberlin administration has a lot of answering to do to the community, the nation, and to Oberlin alumni. How must those alumni feel to see their school smeared based on a hoax. Will Lena Dunham now tweet about it? Will CNN cover the hoax aspect as deeply as it did the incidents? Will Melissa Harris-Perry talk about the role of racist hoaxes in creating a false narrative of racism?
[Note: The order of paragraphs was changed after publication to correct an initial editing mistake.]