Last week an openly gay campaign staffer for Chad Lee, a Republican candidate trying to win Tammy Baldwin’s House seat in Wisconsin, claimed that he was beaten up by supporters of the openly gay Democratic candidate for that seat, Mark Pocan. That staffer, Kyle Wood, later recanted that story during a police interview. Here’s what he initially claimed had happened:
“It was terrifying,” Wood told Christian Schneider of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “All of a sudden, there was something around my neck, so I couldn’t breathe — I mean, I could breathe enough to live, but I couldn’t scream. All I could think about was getting it off my neck.”
He also claimed that he had received a flood of threatening text messages from Pocan’s husband and others connected with the campaign, and said, “It probably had something to do with the fact that I support a Republican candidate running against an openly gay man.” But he then recanted the entire story:
“In an interview this afternoon with Madison Police detectives, the victim in this case recanted his earlier statements in regards to this crime. This crime, alleged to have occurred on High Street in the South Police District, will be cleared as ‘Unfounded’ for case reporting purposes,” the police statement read. “Once follow up investigation is completed, MPD’s case file will be reviewed with the Dane County district attorney’s office.”
The Lee campaign put out a statement Monday night saying that Wood had been dismissed.“Today, our campaign unfortunately learned that a deeply troubled volunteer misled police, news outlets, and our own team in regards to an attack at his home that apparently never occured,” the statement read. “Our campaign dismissed Mr. Wood immediately and we will fully cooperate with the authorities as they continue with their investigation. As the Madison Police Department is investigating this matter, we cannot comment further at this time.”
Pocan’s husband says he’s considering filing defamation charges, and he certainly has a solid basis for doing so. And while it would be easy to crow about this and point fingers at the lying Republican staffer, these kinds of hoaxes are not exactly rare regardless of the politics. There’s a fairly long list of people who have faked hate crimes, most recently a woman in Louisiana who police say made up a story about being set on fire by men who wrote “KKK” on her car.
It doesn’t matter which side of a political battle someone is on, falsely claiming to be the victim of violence should be condemned in the harshest possible terms — not only because it falsely accuses innocent people but also because it diminishes the credibility of those who really have been beaten and tormented due to bigotry.