We thought we knew this tragic story.
It was late and Matthew Shepard, a young gay college student in Wyoming, needed a ride home. He left the Fireside Lounge with two strangers who offered a lift. Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson were not Good Samaritans, however. They took Shepard to a remote outskirt of Laramie, tied him to a fence post and pistol-whipped him so many times that the cyclist who found him the next day mistook him for a scarecrow.
The media told Shepard’s story repeatedly, explaining the two murderers had gone into a homophobia-induced rage when Shepard came onto them. JoAnn Wypijewski described the immediate aftermath of the murder in Harper’s Magazine, “Press crews who had never before and have not since lingered over gruesome murders of homosexuals came out in force, reporting their brush with a bigotry so poisonous it could scarcely be imagined.”
Groups like GLAAD moved in and defined the narrative: This is what happens when homosexuality isn’t fully embraced as part of mainstream society. In fact, as Breitbart’s Austin Ruse writes, this attack had enormous cultural consequences:
Almost immediately Shepard became a secular saint, and his killing became a kind of gay Passion Play where he suffered and died for the cause of homosexuality against the growing homophobia and hatred of gay America.
Indeed, a Mathew Shepard industry grew rapidly, with plays and foundations along with state and even national hate-crimes legislation named for him. Rock stars wrote songs about him, including Elton John and Melissa Etheridge. Lady Gaga performed John Lennon’s “Imagine” and changed the lyrics to include Shepard.
Even before Shepard died, two of his friends were peddling the narrative that he died at the hands of vicious homophobes. Within days, the gay establishment latched onto what would drive the hate-crimes story for years to come; even now, the Laramie Project, a stage play about the killing, is performed all over the country. Indeed, it will be performed next week at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C.
But what if everything we knew about the Matthew Shepard story was a lie?
Read about how this wasn’t a hate crime at all here.