Wilfred Reilly: Interrogating Dogma
Click the image above to watch or listen to the latest episode of our FAIR Perspectives podcast featuring FAIR Advisor Wilfred Reilly titled “Narratives and Reality.”
There are certain beliefs within progressive circles that are taken as gospel—the police are racist; reverse discrimination does not exist; women are oppressed by the patriarchy. And to question these beliefs would be to risk excommunication. But despite this risk, Wilfred Reilly, a political science professor and author, interrogates dogma wherever he finds it.
Reilly teaches at Kentucky State University, a historically black college, and perhaps not where you would expect to find a black professor who had written a book titled Hate Crime Hoaxes: How the Left is Selling a Fake Race War, which uses empirical evidence to dismantle the panicked narrative that hate crimes and racial tensions are an epidemic sweeping the nation.
Reilly grew up in and around Chicago, or “Chi-cah-go,” as he pronounces it. His mother was an inner-city school teacher. He canvassed for Environment America and the Human Rights Campaign. He checked every box you might expect to have produced a hardcore leftist. Instead, he emerged as a staunch centrist with a penchant for diving head-first into controversial topics. For instance, in Reilly’s 2020 book Taboo: 10 Facts You Can’t Talk About, a follow-up to Hate Crime Hoaxes, he challenges popular mainstream narratives by claiming that “White privilege and ‘cultural appropriation’ turn out hardly to exist at all when examined using modern empirical methods.”
During grad school at the University of Illinois in the early 2010s, Reilly noticed a disturbing pattern of hate crimes throughout the midwest student community. Nooses were hung at the University of Wisconsin in Parkside. A student at the University of Chicago, Derek Caquelin, purportedly had his Facebook hacked and defaced with racist and sexually violent messages. Even more troubling, to Reilly, was that the much-publicized incidents eventually turned out to be fake.
“Velvet [Rope] Ultra Lounge, which was sort of a cool club, it was in the inner suburbs in Oak Park, very bisexual, female friendly, lot of ferns throughout the place, this bar where a lot of Northwestern kids would go, was burnt to the ground and someone spray painted these awful anti-gay slurs through it,” recounted Reilly. The owner of the lounge, Frank Elliot, later admitted to setting his business on fire in 2012, resulting in two years of probation and $107,000 of debt to insurance companies. Reilly began committing the trend of hoaxes to a data set and released his book on those data in 2019.
“One of the things I found in passing is that most sexual assault claims, this had been the time of accusations about the campus rape frenzy and so on, certainly are real. Most claims of beatings certainly are real,” Reilly said. “But the flip of that is that if you look at the 20 highest profile, quote-unquote, ‘racial incidents’ over the past couple of years, most of which could have been prosecuted as hate crimes...None of them turned out to be real.”
Reilly’s favored hypothesis to explain these fabrications is what he calls the “Continuing Oppression Narrative,” which posits that there are businesses profiting from overstating societal persecution. If the fight ends, so do the jobs and financial systems that rely on these activist movements to continuously find and combat oppression.“I think to some extent there's a desire for stories that confirm the narrative of continuing race war and race conflict, because there's a massive apparatus that's based around the idea… I don't want to be too cynical, but I'm a businessman by background,” explained Reilly. “The question is why this is continuing today, when [94%] of people say they'd be utterly cool with an interracial marriage?”
He pointed out that the Southern Poverty Law Center has an endowment of approximately $470 million, while his own state university’s stands at around $20 million. He also went on to note that by December of last year, $10.6 billion had been donated to Black Lives Matter organizations, according to a report by The Economist.
“What you see is the redefinition of concepts. Racism has always meant...genetically-based dislike of another person. You're a racist if you hate blacks or whites or Irishmen. We're now seeing dramatic changes to that idea. So scholars like Ibram X. Kendi are saying, ‘Well, we need to keep the old anti-racist groups in place because racism is any system that produces disparate outcomes across groups.’ The argument there, at some level, means we can never get rid of this apparatus because every system produces disparate outcomes among groups.”
Reilly’s ideas were welcomed by the growing number of Americans disillusioned with the so-called “woke” left and heightened factionalism in politics, a trend he says is aided by the “modern ad-selling media.”
“What a lot of people don't seem to understand is that if you are getting a free service that has another client base somewhere, you are the product. The goal of mainstream media is to take eyeballs and deliver them to their true masters in front of whom they bow, you know, the major corporate giants in the USA,” said Reilly. “So there's a tendency towards sensationalism. There's a tendency toward supporting, I guess, what would it be? In-group bias, if you're coming from a social science perspective. There's a tendency to give you what you want.”
All of this work led Reilly to the Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism (FAIR) “The focus of [FAIR], on opposing both traditional racism and 'woke' neo-racism, struck me as obvious but original and important. There seem to be few if any other players in that space. I was glad to get involved with a good team,” he said.
Reilly now serves in many roles for FAIR, including as an advisor, a contributing writer, a guest speaker, and a representative of the organization at events across the country, including most recently in Indiana and at FreedomFest in the Dakotas. He is currently working on a book titled Alt Wrongs, which will examine the political arguments of the American Alt-right movement.
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