President Joe Biden has never been one to let the truth get in the way of a good story. Now, the president seems to have perpetuated a fake story of an anti-gay hate crime.
Biden recently marked the 25th anniversary of the infamous killing of Matthew Shepard with a statement lamenting the supposed anti-gay murder and connecting it to the Democratic agenda on LGBT issues.
“Twenty-five years ago today, Matthew Shepard lost his life to a brutal act of hate and violence that shocked our nation and the world,” the White House said . “The week prior, Matthew had been viciously attacked in a horrific anti-gay hate crime and left to die — simply for being himself.”
“Today, as threats and violence targeting the LGBTQI+ community continue to rise, our work is far from finished,” the president continued . “No American should face hate or violence for who they are or who they love. I once again call on Congress to send the Equality Act to my desk so that we can ensure LGBTQI+ Americans have full civil rights protections under our laws — because every American is worthy of dignity, acceptance, and respect.”
There’s just one problem: Matthew Shepard was indeed tragically murdered, but it almost certainly wasn’t because of his sexuality.
Yes, Sheppard’s death was believed to be an anti-gay hate crime at the time it occurred, but extensive reporting and evidence in the many years since has drastically undercut the original understanding of what happened as gaps in the narrative have arisen.
As Billy Binion reports for Reason:
It wasn’t until the prominent gay journalist Stephen Jimenez published his 2013 book, The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths About the Murder of Matthew Shepard, that those gaps started to narrow significantly. [Aaron McKinney, one of the murderers] and Shepard reportedly were connected by the drug trade, with Shepard set to receive a $10,000 shipment of methamphetamine around the time he was killed. Also relevant is that McKinney was allegedly not traumatized by advances from Shepard, as the two had been sexually involved.
In other words, Shepard’s murder was almost certainly fueled by disagreements over money and drugs rather than gay identity, something that [Russell Henderson, the other murderer] confirmed in an interview from prison with the Associated Press in 2018.
So, the real story of Matthew Shepard is most likely not the fabled anti-gay hate crime that Biden and countless others continue to tell. Why does this matter? After all, hate crimes are real, even if this specific one most likely didn’t happen.
For one, the truth still matters. The public should be able to trust that when they hear something coming out of the mouth of the president of the United States, what they are hearing actually has some basis in reality. And it’s deeply ironic for the same Democrats who constantly complained, often rightfully, about former President Donald Trump’s penchant for lying suddenly to think it’s fine for Biden to spread untruths if it’s “for a good cause.”
Second, it’s an insult to the memory of Matthew Shepard. Biden and others who perpetuate the false story of his life are essentially saying that what actually happened to him isn’t good enough, isn’t useful enough, to be worth remembering.
Third, Biden is using this tragedy to promote a partisan agenda, specifically tying it to the controversial Equality Act, which does not include adequate protections for religious liberty and freedom of conscience. While it is sadly common, politicians should not use emotionally charged anecdotes to convince the public of their agenda. But they especially should not do so with fake anecdotes. Your case to the public for your policies should, at the very least, be based on things that actually happened.
If a Republican president spread a false story to advance his partisan agenda, the New York Times and CNN would spend days debunking it. But don’t hold your breath waiting for the establishment media to call Biden out for doing the very same thing.