As if the 2016 climate couldn’t get any more divisive, false or questionable reports of violence linked to Donald Trump’s victory have gained steady traction on social media since last week – complicating efforts to distinguish fact from fiction amid very real political unrest.
In one case, a student at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette claimed that two white men – one wearing a Trump hat – jumped out of a sedan, attacked her, and stole her hijab and her wallet. The unnamed woman also said the men knocked her to the ground and screamed racial slurs at her.
News of the attack quickly spread on social media, and soon some national media outlets including CNN began reporting it. The attack also was quickly condemned by the state branch of the American Civil Liberties Union.
“The ACLU of Louisiana is outraged at the news of a young Muslim woman being assaulted and robbed of her hijab in Lafayette yesterday morning,” the organization said in a written statement. “The report that her attackers also shouted slurs and wore Donald Trump clothing is especially troubling in light of Mr. Trump’s frequent use of anti-Muslim rhetoric on the campaign trail.”
The problem is: the incident was fabricated.
“There were a lot of things that didn’t make sense,” Lafayette police spokesman Karl Ratcliff told The Acadiana Advocate. Ratcliff said the student ultimately confessed to making up the entire story after police pressed her for details.
Another report of questionable origin making the rounds involves a supposed surge in transgender teen suicides tied to the election. Claims that Trump's victory triggered at least 10 suicides surfaced Wednesday when some started posting Facebook updates saying the information came from private support groups for parents with transgender children.
The stat was given a global spotlight after Guardian writer and Out magazine editor-at-large Zach Stafford tweeted that “at least 8 trans youth have committed suicide in the wake of Trump’s win.” He went on to report 10 teens took their lives.
Stafford later admitted he had no evidence to back up claims that any transgender teens had killed themselves because of Trump.
Such accounts have only muddled the picture of the very real unrest to seize the country since last week's election. Harassment or violence has been attributed to both sides, in several documented cases.
In the upstate New York town of Wellsville, police have launched an investigation after someone drew a swastika symbol and spray-painted “Make America White Again” on the back wall of a community softball league’s dugout.
In Michigan’s Royal Oak Middle School, students were caught on video during their lunch period chanting “build the wall.”
Royal Oak Schools Superintendent Shawn Lewis-Lakin wrote in a statement that officials “addressed this incident when it occurred.”
“We are working with our students to help them understand the impact of their words and actions on others in their school community,” Lewis-Lakin wrote.
In Silver Spring, Md., an Episcopal church in a heavily Latino suburb was vandalized. A banner advertising the church's Spanish-language service was slashed Saturday night and the words “Trump nation. Whites only” were written on the back. The same phrase was written on a brick wall in the church’s memorial garden.
Last week, the beating of a suspected Trump supporter also was captured on video in Chicago.
Two Florida homes reportedly were vandalized with anti-Trump messages – this, as protests broke out in cities across the country, with one in Portland causing significant property damage.
Meanwhile, the Ku Klux Klan announced it plans to hold a victory rally for Trump in North Carolina next month.
Trump addressed the recent outbreak of racist rhetoric during an interview with "60 Minutes" that aired on Sunday.
“I am so saddened to hear that and I’ll say stop it, if it helps,” he said when asked about the reports. “I’ll say it right to the camera – stop it.”