Police records obtained by the website The Daily Caller show that several of the bias incidents that shook the Oberlin campus this spring were the work of two white male students, one of whom was an Obama volunteer. The two students — Dylan Bleier and Matt Alden — were suspended from Oberlin when their involvement in the incidents came to light this spring, and have apparently not returned to campus.
The Daily Caller cites Bleier’s support for Obama and his membership in an anti-racism organization as evidence that the hate crimes were false-flag hoaxes, but the student allegedly told campus police that he was simply trolling — that he performed the acts as “a joke to see the college overreact to it as they have with the other racial postings that have been posted on campus.”
Indeed, despite the Caller’s insinuations there seems to be no evidence of a subterranean pro-tolerance motive behind the incidents. Though Bleier has posted occasional anti-racist comments online over the years, I’ve found no evidence that he was involved in any anti-racist groups on campus, or that he participated in any of the organizing around the spring’s hate crimes, as is typical in faked incidents that are intended to raise awareness of bigotry.
Both Bleier and Alden, moreover, were vocal defenders of ObieTalk, an online campus forum that others had criticized as a haven for harassment and bigoted speech. In response to an April 2012 blogpost about ObieTalk, one such forum, Alden wrote that those who “don’t want to read offensive things about either individuals or groups” should simply stay off the site. “Whining and crying like a little child,” he wrote, “isn’t going to change the fact that…you need tissues in order to get through reading the contents of an anonymous message board.”
In December of last year Bleier took a similar view when quoted on the subject in a campus newspaper article. ”Free speech should be protected unless it’s actively inciting hate or violence against a group,” he said then.
A student interviewed by the Caller endorsed the view that Bleier and Alden had no political motive. “Considering they were trolls,” he said, “they were kind of getting what they wanted out of people getting so upset about it.”
According to the Caller Bleier is a member of an organization called Ithaca White Allies Against Structural Racism, but the site says he only joined the group in May of this year — well after the incidents occurred, and after he was removed from campus.
The Oberlin student newspaper reported in March that Bleier and Alden — who they did not name at the time — were suspected of having posted hate speech on ObieTalk and other online forums at Oberlin “over the last year.” In all, they said, there had been “well over a dozen ” bias-related incidents on campus that semester alone.
If these allegations are true, and Bleier and Alden were the only individuals involved — and it should be noted that they have denied responsibility for some of the acts of vandalism, and have not to my knowledge been questioned about the forum postings — then they perpetrated a string of dozens of bigoted acts over a period of months, in the face of mounting campus alarm.
If that’s what happened, if that’s what they did, then whether they or their friends consider them biased against people of color, Jews, women, and LGBT people seems quite beside the point. A sustained campaign of bigoted vandalism that has the intent and effect of provoking fear and panic among the members of your community may be a hoax, but it’s also something else.
It’s a bias crime.
August 24 Update | Oberlin has released a statement on the Daily Caller’s report. Whatever their motivations, the statement says, “These actions were real. The fear and disruption they caused in our community were real.” It goes on to note that the incidents, which “ included racist, homophobic, and anti-Semitic graffiti, flyers, and Internet postings, as well as written harassment of targeted individuals including threats of bodily harm and rape … occurred on a virtually daily basis over a period of weeks.”
The statement offers no new information on the perpetrators and confirms none of the Caller’s allegations or speculation.