Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) has admitted making a "poor choice of words," during House debate on a "hate crimes" bill on April 29, when she used the word "hoax" in connection with the 1998 murder of a homosexual Wyoming college student, Matthew Shepard. Here's what she actually said:
"We know that young man was killed in the commitment of a robbery. It wasn't because he was gay. The bill was named for him, the hate crimes bill was named for him, but it's really a hoax that continues to be used as an excuse for passing these bills."
It should be clear to anyone remotely familiar with the Shepard murder or the hate crimes issue that she was not claiming that Shepard never existed or that his murder was a "hoax," but only that it's classification as an anti-gay "hate crime" was a "hoax." Nevertheless, she was mocked as roughly the equivalent of a Holocaust denier.
Yesterday, Foxx explained, appropriately, that she was not trying to minimize the horror or brutality of Shepard's murder in any way. "Mr. Shepard's death was nothing less than a tragedy, and those responsible for his death certainly deserved the punishment they received."
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Some people, however, may still not be aware of the basis for Rep. Foxx's claim that classifying this brutal attack as a "hate crime" is inaccurate. I explained it in a 2007 op-ed in the Washington Times.
Below is an excerpt:
The ultimate irony in all this is that Matthew Shepard's death was probably not a "hate crime" at all. A courageous investigative report by ABC's 20/20, which they unfortunately buried on the day after Thanksgiving [November 26] in 2004, revealed that most of the people most closely involved in the case say that the attack on Matthew Shepard was motivated by robbery and driven by drugs - not by hostility toward Matthew Shepard's homosexuality. If he was specifically targeted, it may have been because he was small (only 105 pounds) and well-dressed - not because he was a homosexual.
When asked about the proof that it was a "hate crime," Cal Rerucha, who prosecuted the case, declared, "Well, I don't think the proof was there... That was something that they [friends of Shepard] had decided." Ben Fritzen, a former police detective, said, "Matthew Shepard's sexual preference or sexual orientation certainly wasn't the motive in the homicide... What it came down to, really, is drugs and money."
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McKinney's girlfriend, Kristen Price, said, "I knew that night it was all about getting money... Money to get drugs." McKinney himself, talking for the first time (he did not testify at his trial), told ABC's Elizabeth Vargas that "it wasn't a hate crime... [A]ll I wanted to do was beat him up and rob him." In fact, McKinney said, "I have gay friends. ... You know, that kind of thing don't bother me so much."
Wyoming had no "hate crimes" law. But that didn't stop Shepard's killers, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, from being sentenced to two consecutive life sentences, after being spared the death penalty only because Shepard's parents interceded against it.
So it's hard to argue that a "hate crimes" law would have made much difference-even if it had been a "hate crime."