Air Force Academy discovers racial slurs were hoax, months after superintendent lauded for tough speech

A racist message posted outside an Air Force Academy dorm in September was written by one of the alleged victims, the school confirmed Tuesday, casting blaring initial coverage of the incident -- which lauded the school superintendent's forceful reaction in an apparent bid to ding President Trump -- in a new light.

The student who wrote the slurs, which were discovered in September outside the rooms of five black students at an Air Force Academy dormitory in Colorado Springs, Colo., was no longer at the school, the Academy confirmed. A spokesman declined to say whether the student withdrew or was expelled, citing privacy laws. The student’s name was not released.

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."

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The surprising announcement was a jarring turn in an episode that prompted the superintendent of the Colorado Springs academy to deliver a stern message warning students that racists were not welcome at the school.

The speech, delivered by Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria, attracted nationwide attention and was viewed more than 1 million times on YouTube.

In his remarks, Silveria forced all 4,000 cadets to stand at attention shortly after the slurs were reported.

"Reach for your phones. I'm serious: Reach for your phones...Grab your phones. I want you to videotape this — so that you have it, so that you can use it, so that we all have the moral courage together,” Silveria said.

"We would also be tone deaf not to think about the backdrop of what is going on in our country," Silveria told cadets, referencing the recent violence in Charlottesville, Va., Ferguson, Mo., and controversial protests in the NFL in which dozens of players have knelt during the national anthem. 

He added: "If you can't treat someone with dignity and respect, get out."

A diverse array of political figures, such as Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and former Vice President Joe Biden, a Democrat, praised the speech, which was reflected in The Washington Post's coverage of the incident.

Media outlets such as The Washington Post, Axios and The New York Times played up coverage of Silveria’s five-minute speech, praising the academy’s superintendent.

Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria, superintendent of the U.S. Air Force Academy, discusses his goals and priorities to an audience of Total Force Airmen at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado, U.S. on August 17, 2017.   Courtesy Mike Kaplan/U.S. Air Force/Handout via REUTERS   ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. - RC1FFF45CCB0

Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria received nearly universal praise for his speech on Sept. 29, 2017.  (Reuters)

The Washington Post ran an opinion piece, titled “Too bad Trump can’t emulate the military when it comes to matters of race.” The piece compared Silveria’s response to the slur to Trump’s response to the events in Charlottesville, when a woman protesting white supremacism was killed.

“Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria did naturally what Trump is incapable of doing. The Air Force Academy superintendent answered the hate in his ranks immediately, head-on and with a moral clarity nonexistent in the Oval Office,” the piece stated.

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Trump was heavily criticized for his Charlottesville remarks, in which he condemned violence “on many sides” following the incident.

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence – on many sides, on many sides. This has been going on for a long time in our country,” Trump said during a press conference.  

Following calls from lawmakers to disavow racists and white supremacists, the White House issued a statement.

U.S. President Donald Trump reacts to questions about the violent protests in Charlottesville, Virginia while speaking at his Trump Tower residence in New York, U.S., August 15, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque - RC1F0ED931C0

President Trump was heavily criticized for his remarks following violence in Charlottesville.  (Reuters)

On Wednesday, the Post covered the academy’s investigation but noted “hate crime hoaxes” were rare, according to experts studying the subject.

“These hoaxes have become symbols for some who want to promote the idea that most hate crimes are hoaxes,” Brian Levin, the director for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University at San Bernardino told Talking Points Memo as reported by the Post. “That’s important to rectify.”

The Post also noted another incident in Kansas last week where police discovered the owner of a vehicle was responsible for defacing his car with racist graffiti.

The incident outraged students at the nearby Kansas State University, the Kansas City Star reported.

“As a black student who has witnessed racist incidents first-hand around Manhattan this hurts the credibility of students who actually want to step out and say something about it,” Andrew Hammond, a student at the university, told the Kansas City Star. “I’m not sure what type of human being does this kind of thing as a prank.”

In its morning newsletter the day after Silveria's speech, Axios made the remarks its top item.

“If you're starting to forget what a leader sounds like, we have a refreshing reminder to start your Friday,” the report began before highlighting the speech’s talking points.

In its newsletter, Axios had not yet covered the school’s discovery that one of the alleged victims wrote the racial slurs.

The New York Times covered Silveria’s speech as well, calling it a “resounding message.” The Times noted Silveria’s achievements in the Air Force and the Academy’s difficulties with addressing discrimination in past incidents.

As of Wednesday, the Times pulled in a wire story from The Associated Press regarding the investigation.

Despite the hoax, Silveria said Tuesday he stood by his speech.

"Regardless of the circumstances under which those words were written, they were written, and that deserved to be addressed," he said in an email to The Colorado Springs Gazette. "You can never over-emphasize the need for a culture of dignity and respect — and those who don't understand those concepts, aren't welcome here."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.