Conservative columnist John Leo notes that "fake hate crimes, like the one just perpetrated by Princeton student Francisco Nava, are quite common on college campuses." He urges both liberals and conservatives to be more skeptical about reported on-campus hate crimes targeting their respective sides.
If fake hate crimes really are becoming common, the interesting question is why. After all, if the perpetrator gets caught, his reputation is likely to take a major hit and the cause he espouses will suffer a setback in the court of public opinion. For example, Francisco Nava is now a pariah to the Left; conservatives are likely to be wary of him as well, for fear of being tainted by association with him. And Nava's actions have surely damaged the cause of conservatism at Princeton far more than they helped it.
Why then, do, the Navas of the world perpetrate fake hate crimes that are likely to harm both themselves and their cause? One possibility is that most such people are irrational or stupid and don't realize that their hoaxes are likely to be exposed. That may well be what happened in Nava's case.
The other possible explanation is far more troubling: perhaps it's easier to get away with a hate crime hoax than we think. For every Nava who gets caught, maybe there are several other hate crime scam artists who get away with it. Although it's difficult to effectively fake an assault (as Nava tried to do), it's probably easier to fake threats, racist graffiti, nooses, and the like. If the perpetrator is smart, it may be hard to prove that he planted these kinds of items himself. If hate crime hoaxes actually have a good chance of succeeding, then it is not irrational or stupid for the perpetrators to commit them. Ex ante, the risk of getting caught may be outweighed by the expected benefits to the perp and his cause if he succeeds.
By definition, it's tough to detect a successful hoax; after all, if it's been detected, that means it's no longer a success. Nonetheless, it is at least possible that the rash of failed hate crime hoaxes is an indication that others may have succeeded.