Air Force silent on motive in hate crime hoax

Dan Elliott
Associated Press

Denver — Racial slurs posted outside the dorm rooms of five black students at the Air Force Academy were written by one of those students, the school said this week.

The academy would not discuss what prompted the action, but a researcher says people who pull off hoaxes are sometimes trying to bolster their reputations, or they’re in trouble and want to deflect attention away from it.

The announcement was a jarring turn in an episode that prompted the academy’s superintendent to warn students that racists were not welcome at the school — a speech that attracted nationwide attention.

Brian Levin, a researcher at California State University at San Bernardino, said Wednesday hate crime hoaxes are often meant to attract or divert attention. He says hoaxes can also be a political statement.

The student is no longer at the school, the academy said. A spokesman declined to say whether the student withdrew or was expelled, citing privacy laws. The student’s name wasn’t released.

The slurs were found in September at a dormitory that houses students attending the academy’s prep school. The prep school is on the academy grounds but not part of the four-year academy program. It helps promising students meet the academy’s entrance requirements.

In a written statement Tuesday, the academy said, “We can confirm that one of the cadet candidates who was allegedly targeted by racist remarks written outside of their dorm room was actually responsible for the act. The individual admitted responsibility and this was validated by the investigation.”

The statement added, “Racism has no place at the academy, in any shape or form.”

Academy superintendent Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria gave his stern speech to cadets shortly after the slurs were reported. A video of the speech was posted online and has been viewed thousands of times.

“If you can’t treat someone with dignity and respect, get out,” he said.

At one point, he insisted that everyone in the audience take out their phones and record him so his message was clearly heard.

“We would also be tone deaf not to think about the backdrop of what is going on in our country,” Silveria told cadets. “Things like Charlottesville, Ferguson, the protests in the NFL.”

Silveria stood by his speech Tuesday, the Colorado Springs Gazette reported .