On Tuesday, news outlets reported that members of the University of Utah women’s basketball team were subject to racial slurs and intimidation while staying in Coeur d’Alene. According to a police report filed by a donor to the team, two pickup trucks revved their engines while speeding by the team as they walked down Sherman Ave. The trucks then turned around and drove by again and the drivers yelled racial slurs.

The officer who recorded the report said he was unable to make contact with the actual players, but he did his due diligence and recorded what information he was given.

Four days later, the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations held a press conference to discuss the alleged incident. CDA police chief Lee White appeared at the press conference and issued a statement, saying his office had an open investigation. At this time there do not appear to be any known suspects, nor even anyone who has corroborated the report. The purpose of the press conference appeared to be to denounce racism in Idaho.

There were two initial reactions throughout Idaho politics. Gov. Brad Little, members of the Legislature, IACI, and several other organizations and figures issued statements denouncing the attack and promising to root out racism. Others questioned the incident, bringing up the Jussie Smollett affair and other hate crime hoaxes over the past few years.

Dustin Hurst tweeted that we should condemn racism, but be careful about assuming this actually happened. He linked to an NPR story about a fan who was banned by BYU for allegedly yelling racial slurs at visiting players from Duke. A subsequent investigation found no evidence that the fan uttered racial slurs nor heckled the Duke players.

I responded by saying that even if it did happen, does it really merit the over the top response, including a statement from the governor?

This was apparently a faux pas, as some very unkind people informed me that this was proof of my own racism:

Yet I believe my point stands. Racial slurs are wrong, and revving your engine to startle strangers is wrong as well. If any laws were broken, I trust local police to handle the matter. But did this alleged event really demand the attention it was given yesterday?

Hurst was right, these things often turn out to be hoaxes. A 2019 article suggests that only 1 in 3 so-called hate crimes are genuine. Why? Precisely because of the response we saw this week. There are numerous organizations, in addition to the news media, that thrive on stories like this, whether true or not.

The Task Force that held the press conference exists to combat what it calls white supremacy, prejudice, and discrimination. If racism disappeared entirely tomorrow, would the Task Force hold a congratulatory party and disband? Of course not. Demand for racism in 21st century America far outstrips supply.

This incentivizes both hoaxes and an ever-increasing definition of what constitutes racism. When most of us picture racism we imagine violence, prejudice, and yes, yelling racial slurs at strangers. But in a classic motte and bailey argument, the word has been redefined to mean everything from crime statistics to an inherent original sin embodied by all white people. According to authors like Robin DeAngelo and Ibram X. Kendi, denying racism is proof of racism.

That doesn’t mean the incident in Coeur d’Alene didn’t happen, of course. I have no idea if it’s true or not. But the truth apparently doesn’t matter either. Former Idaho GOP chairman Trent Clark, currently engaged in a battle to retake the party at the precinct level, said on Twitter that it’s not our role to question these claims, rather we must dutifully denounce them whenever asked:

Clark is referring to the Jussie Smollett hoax, which as you recall involved a gay black actor who claimed to have been assaulted by white men wearing MAGA hats, wielding a noose, on the streets of Chicago in the middle of night in the dead of winter.

Most people with critical thinking skills were able to see through the flimsy story pretty quickly. In investigation by the Chicago PD eventually revealed that Smollett had staged the attack, but not before media outlets and politicians fell over themselves to denounce those evil racists:

This is the heart of the issue. Every time something like this happens, whether it was real or a hoax, we are expected to denounce it in the strongest possible terms. Like Stalin’s audience clapping forever because nobody dares to be the first to stop, Republican politicians fall over each other to denounce racism and hatred lest anyone suspect them of racism as well. The purpose of this is not a good faith desire to stamp out racism, but to label millions of people — conservatives, Trump supporters, white people in general —as irredeemable racists who should be fired from their jobs, kicked off social media, and ostracized from polite society.

Ironically, skin color doesn’t even matter. Minorities who dare espouse conservative ideas are labeled white supremacists as well, as Larry Elder found out when he challenged California Gov. Gavin Newsom three years ago:

The truth is that most Americans aren’t racist. In fact, most Americans hate the idea of racism and racial prejudice. For most Americans, being called racist is the worst thing possible. That’s exactly why we have a cottage industry of journalists and activists who spend the careers pointing and screeching, calling us racist for not dancing to their tune.

You would think that having watched the way the media treated Donald Trump we would have grown wise to this game. It didn’t matter how often Trump denounced some fringe group or another, media figures continually demanded he do it again. If he did not denounce to the journalist’s satisfaction, then they would publish an article about his “refusal” to disavow, and how that was “proof” of his secret racism.

Unfortunately, too many have not yet learned the lesson, that dancing to the media’s tune never works out well for us. The reason this story from Coeur d’Alene has been amplified is not to find and punish the specific people who revved their engines and shouted racial slurs, rather it is about creating an election year narrative that conservatives are racist and evil.

Rep. Heather Scott said it well:

Racism is bad, and there are few people who would truly disagree with that. Yelling slurs at strangers, racial or otherwise, is rude and unkind. That said, conservatives need to stop dancing like puppets on media strings. As the example with Donald Trump shows, they are not operating in good faith and they will never be satisfied.

The day before Gov. Little issued his statement condemning racism, he was lambasted as a racist Nazi for signing a mostly-toothless bill outlawing DEI statements in public universities. Denouncing racism can be an attempt to avoid such accusations by shifting them elsewhere. “I’m not racist, it’s that other Republican who didn’t denounce this incident!”

Winston Churchill recognized this sort of situation: “Each one hopes that if he feeds the crocodile enough, the crocodile will eat him last. All of them hope that the storm will pass before their turn comes to be devoured.”

Let us seek the truth and stop feeding each other to the crocodiles in the media. Let us celebrate the dignity of all people, not use race for political games.

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