On Sunday night, staff for black NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace said they found a noose in his garage stall. Wallace had pressured NASCAR to ban the Confederate flag at events and placed a “Black Lives Matter” bumper sticker on his racecar. NASCAR did indeed ban the flag, sparking outrage and protests. NASCAR condemned the noose, and drivers expressed their support for Wallace. Yet many thought the story of the noose rather suspect. “Jussie Smollett” trended on Twitter as Americans expressed their skepticism. Was this a fake hate crime?
As the Associated Press reported, the noose appeared less than two weeks after Wallace “successfully pushed the stock car racing series to ban the Confederate flag at its tracks and facilities.”
“Late this afternoon, NASCAR was made aware that a noose was found in the garage stall of the 43 team. We are angry and outraged, and cannot state strongly enough how seriously we take this heinous act,” NASCAR said in a statement on Sunday. “We have launched an immediate investigation, and will do everything we can to identify the person(s) responsible and eliminate them from the sport.”
“As we have stated unequivocally, there is no place for racism in NASCAR, and this act only strengthens our resolve to make the sport open and welcoming to all.”
NASCAR statement: A noose was found in Bubba Wallace’s garage stall today at Talladega.
NASCAR is investigating. pic.twitter.com/dGYFYryVES
— Marty Smith (@MartySmithESPN) June 22, 2020
Other drivers also rushed to defend Bubba Wallace after this apparent attack.
“I don’t worry about our sport. I have confidence NASCAR’s leadership will find who did this and continue pushing us in the right direction. I do worry about Bubba. I hope Bubba is feeling loved and supported. Keep sending him that love and support. He needs it now more than ever,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. tweeted.
I don’t worry about our sport. I have confidence NASCAR’s leadership will find who did this and continue pushing us in the right direction. I do worry about Bubba. I hope Bubba is feeling loved and supported. Keep sending him that love and support. He needs it now more than ever.
— Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) June 22, 2020
Wallace insisted that the apparent hate attack “will not break me.”
“Today’s despicable act of racism and hatred leaves me incredibly saddened and serves as a painful reminder of how much further we have to go as a society and how persistent we must be in the fight against racism,” he said in a tweeted statement.
“Over the last several weeks, I have been overwhelmed by the support from people across the NASCAR industry including other drivers and team members in the garage. Together, our sport has made a commitment to driving real change and championing a community that is accepting and welcoming of everyone. Nothing is more important and we will not be deterred by the reprehensible actions of those who seek to spread hate,” Wallace added.
“As my mother told me today, ‘They are just trying to scare you.’ This will not break me, I will not give in nor will I back down. I will continue to proudly stand for what I believe in,” he concluded.
— Bubba Wallace (@BubbaWallace) June 22, 2020
The Washington Post‘s Jerry Brewer condemned this apparent hate attack, calling it “inevitable,” and insisting that this proves the Confederate flag stands for “hate, not heritage. Pure hate.”
“On Sunday, before bad weather delayed the race at Talladega Superspeedway, fans still angry about the flag ban waved their Confederacy relics as they drove by the racetrack in Lincoln, Ala. A plane also flew above the event towing both a flag and a banner that read ‘Defund NASCAR.’ The protests were inevitable, but it takes a disturbing combination of bigotry and nerve to try to intimidate Wallace in this manner,” Brewer argued.
The Post writer insisted that the apparent attack aimed to “put Bubba in his place.”
“Problem is, it didn’t work. Wallace isn’t scared, and now NASCAR is on a mission to ‘identify the person(s) responsible and eliminate them from the sport.’ With video surveillance and limited access to key areas because of novel coronavirus precautions, it shouldn’t be difficult to find the scum,” Brewer added.
It seems no one has yet been identified, however. Many have suggested this may be a hate hoax similar to Empire star Jussie Smollett’s claim that white men foisted a noose around his neck and poured a bleach-smelling liquid on him, shouting, “This is MAGA country!” on one of Chicago’s coldest nights. Police discovered that Smollett’s infamous story had been a gross fabrication, that Smollett had paid two Nigerian brothers to stage the attack, and that he lied to police.
“Did Jussie Smollett hire the Nigerians who put it there?” Errol Webber, a black Republican candidate for Congress in California, asked about Wallace’s noose.
Did Jussie Smollett hire the Nigerians who put it there? https://t.co/qw2Hp9hcxc
— Errol Webber For Congress (CA-37) (@ErrolWebber) June 22, 2020
Mark Dice, likely riffing off of the exercise ropes that were mistaken for nooses in Oakland, Calif., tweeted a picture of an orange extension cord and asked, “Is this the noose, Bubba?”
Is this the “noose” Bubba? pic.twitter.com/6U0Ux8vOVI
— Mark Dice (@MarkDice) June 22, 2020
“I’ll wait to learn more but one of my first questions is whether [Jussie Smollett] has been recently spotted in the area,” bestselling author Dinesh D’Souza tweeted.
— Dinesh D'Souza (@DineshDSouza) June 22, 2020
Comedian Tim Young was also hesitant to rush to conclusions, but he argued that if the apparent hate attack is real “it will be SUPER EASY TO PROVE” because “you need credentials to get into garages at Talladega, everything is extra restricted now because of COVID, and there are cameras everywhere.”
I won't scream Jussie Smollett part 2… but I will say that if this NASCAR noose thing is real, it will be SUPER EASY TO PROVE… You need credentials to get into garages at Talladega, everything is extra restricted now because of COVID, and there are cameras everywhere.
— Tim Young (@TimRunsHisMouth) June 22, 2020
Some have insisted that this skepticism is evidence of “systemic racism,” but Michael Malice pointed out that “Jussie Smollett was not only assumed to be telling the truth, but we were told we were racist for even questioning his subzero MAGA country story.”
Jussie Smollett was not only assumed to be telling the truth, but we were told we were racist for even questioning his subzero MAGA country story https://t.co/EawiKwPDIu
— Michael Malice (@michaelmalice) June 22, 2020
It is not racist to question Bubba Wallace’s story, but Americans should hesitate before leaping to conclusions and branding Wallace the next Jussie Smollett.
Wallace’s story is far more plausible than Jussie Smollett’s was. As the Post pointed out, this noose appeared in deep-red Lincoln, Ala. (Talladega County voted 62 percent-37 percent for Trump over Clinton in 2016), not deep-blue Chicago. The incident also followed NASCAR’s recent ban on the Confederate flag, which locals protested the same day.
However, a degree of skepticism is warranted. In discussing Jussie Smollett’s hoax, Wilfred Reilly — author of Hate Crime Hoax: How the Left Is Selling a Fake Race War – noted that hate crime hoaxes are disturbingly common. “I was able to easily put together a data set of 409 confirmed hate hoaxes,” Reilly explained. The FBI reported just over 7,000 hate crimes in 2017, but 409 is still a significant number, and it is likely an underestimate.
Bubba Wallace may or may not be the next Jussie Smollett. Only a thorough investigation will tell. But it would be foolish to dismiss the possibility out of hand. After all, Wallace — like Smollett — would arguably have an incentive to concoct a victimhood story, especially at this moment.
All that said, Americans need to avoid rushing to judgment. NASCAR and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. made the right decision to stand with Wallace for now, even as The Washington Post‘s Jerry Brewer wrongly used the attack as an excuse to condemn the Confederate flag — which truly is a symbol of heritage, not hate, for many Americans.
If the noose is legitimate, Americans should unite to condemn this heinous hate incident. If Bubba Wallace is pulling a Jussie Smollett, however, that would be despicable. It is also possible that the “noose” is not a noose or that whatever it was ended up in his garage stall by mistake. Not every incident fits neatly into the boxes of “hate crime” or “hate hoax.” While the Oakland “nooses” weren’t truly nooses, the man who put up the exercise ropes said the mayor was right to take them down because they could be misunderstood.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.