When President Obama signed a federal “hate crimes” law in 2009, many people at the time were calling it The Matthew Shepard Act. There was just one problem: The murder of Matthew Shepard, while horrible and grotesque, wasn’t a hate crime (i.e., crime of bias). It had nothing to do with anti-gay bias until after the fact, when it suited many persons’ interests to make it seem like it did.
Matthew Shepard was a methamphetamine addict – and possibly a small-time meth dealer/courier – who was well-acquainted with his chief killer, Aaron McKinney. “Well-acquainted” meaning that McKinney and Shepard had done meth together more than once, had conducted business as small-time meth dealers/couriers, and yes, had occasionally even had sex with each other.
It’s probable that Shepard didn’t know the other convicted killer: McKinney’s then-recent acquaintance, Russell Henderson. But there’s evidence that Henderson wasn’t homophobic and, on the night of the killing, may have even taken a knock from McKinney as Henderson spoke up for Shepard (against McKinney’s raging, meth-fueled violence). Which, if true, would make Henderson’s *murder* conviction unjust. (He would still deserve a lesser conviction as an accessory.)
Shepard’s killing was most likely a criminal-style ‘debt collection’ by McKinney that went wrong because McKinney was a troubled and cruel person coming off of a multi-day meth binge. So, who fabricated the myth of a hate crime perpetrated on Shepard by two homophobic total strangers, and why? It was a combination of personal and political interests.
- McKinney’s higher-up meth connections wanted to remain hidden, and they would be able to kill McKinney (even in prison) if he squealed on them. Which meant: McKinney would desperately need to avoid naming them. Which meant: McKinney needed to hide his own meth dealings, and therefore, the true nature of his relationship with Shepard.
- As a short, little guy (135 lb) headed for prison in the late 1990s, McKinney also needed to hide his own bisexuality. Which, again, meant: hiding the nature of his relationship with Shepard.
- McKinney, his girlfriend and his lawyers all thought (at the time) that a “gay panic” defense, however unfaithful to reality, would be McKinney’s best shot at acquittal (or reduced charges).
- Certain friends of Shepard may have also wanted to distract people from their, and Shepard’s, meth use and dealings.
- Gay activist groups – ranging from GLAAD and HRC to what is now the Matthew Shepard Foundation – obviously gained benefits, both political and financial, from the myth.
- The media gained a big “story”.
- Once the public/media frenzy started over the (perceived) Shepard hate crime, Bill Clinton got involved in it – at least partly to try to blunt the impact of his Monica Lewinsky scandal. Shepard was attacked on 10/6/1998 and died on 10/12/1998 – roughly around the time Kenneth Starr released his reports and the House of Representatives opened its impeachment inquiry on Clinton.
All this, and more, is cited or documented in The Book of Matt, by Stephen Jiminez. It was published in 2013 and V the K posted on it. I had the book and recently, after talking with liberal friends who were still unaware of the revelations about Shepard, I finally read it.
Despite the horror of its subject, the book is a powerful work of investigative journalism. No such book can get everything right. But this one is readable, gripping, and honest about Jiminez’ own fears and doubts as he slowly comes to understand the falseness of the Shepard “hate crime” myth. The book weaves together a wealth of recollections and coherent detail from dozens of sources who knew Shepard or his dealings, including two of Shepard’s more important boyfriends. The book evaluates the credibility of its sources and, where that may be lacking, provides multiple sources for key claims.
Like millions, I was strongly affected by the Shepard “hate crime” myth when it burst into America’s consciousness in late 1998. I had been a gay activist for years and was still dealing with my belief in America’s homophobia; and thus, my own fears of gay-bashing, discrimination, etc. As the Shepard “hate crime” myth was presented to the world at the time, it had powerful echoes of Christ’s crucifixion.
Today, I am not saddened to learn that the “hate crime” part of it was just a myth. The reasons I’m not sad are first, because by now I have accepted the fact that the media is full of frenzies and myths – while I would always rather know the truth. And second, because it’s a relief to have one less piece of evidence for America supposedly being homophobic.
I can’t vouch for every detail of the book, but I simply must give Jiminez props for it. Debunking a myth so large that it inspired an act of Congress is a thankless task, for the most part. Mr. Jiminez, here are my thanks. As I read the book, time and again I was struck by your dedication to pursuing the truth, no matter where it led you. That is a great virtue, of which this world needs more.