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There is nothing worse than a hate crime hoax, because while a real hate crime is bad enough, a hate crime hoax stirs the same anger, angst and fury against perceived foes, but it was all for nothing. It’s hard enough to deal with racists who attack innocent people because of their racism, but how do you deal with people who report a hate crime hoax?

Madison police announced on Friday morning that were unable to substantiate allegations made by a Madison woman that she was burned by four white men in Downtown Madison back in June and was reported as a hate crime.

Althea Bernstein, 18, of Monona, told police back on June 24 that someone sprayed lighter fluid on her and then set her on fire in the early morning hours and that it was done by four white men.  Many Americans thought it was a load of bullschtein from the very beginning, because the story just didn’t add up.

In a Friday morning statement, Madison police said it’s “closing the investigation into this case. After an exhaustive probe, detectives were unable to corroborate or locate evidence consistent with what was reported.”  In other words, she made it up.  It sounded so phony from the get go I’m surprised she didn’t tell police they said “This is MAGA country.”

The US Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Wisconsin and the US Department of Justice Civil Rights Division came to the same exact conclusion, according to the statement.

The US Attorney’s Office went further in its own assertion, nonetheless, saying that “after reviewing all available evidence, authorities could not establish that the attack, as alleged by the complainant, had occurred.”

In a statement given by the Bernstein family, they said that they appreciated “the detailed investigative efforts by all involved in this case,” and they have asked for people to respect their privacy.  They also said they would not be granting interviews.  In my opinion, they asked for privacy because they believe their daughter made the story up.

“Althea’s injuries are healing and the support of our community has been invaluable in that regard,” they said.

Bernstein’s report picked up national and even worldwide attention. She was interviewed on “Good Morning America” two days after she reported it and Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, formerly of the British royal family, reached out her her as well.  In other words, even respectable people in polite society can be bamboozled into believing anything.

Madison and Dane County officials condemned the alleged attack, and Madison Area Crime Stoppers and the Mizel Family Foundation and Center for Combating Antisemitism even offered a combined $10,000 reward for information resulting in the arrest and conviction of the member who did it.  That money’s not going anywhere.

However, there had been questions in regards to the credibility of the woman’s report as a result of, unlike in other crimes that occur Downtown, police never released video stills of the incident or possible suspects in an attempt to try to find the perpetrators.

Most areas Downtown are in open view of city cameras and private security cameras that police can access to put together a scene.

Police spokesman Joel DeSpain said police aren’t recommending Bernstein face charges for filing a false report or any other crime related the episode.  And that right there is why these kinds of hate hoaxes will continue.

Bernstein said the assault occurred at around 1 am, or 20 minutes after a group of people threw a Molotov cocktail through a window of the City-County Building in the Downtown, starting a small fire.

The Molotov cocktail was part of a larger Black Lives Matter (BLM) protest where rioters tore down two statues at Capitol Square, including one of a Union Civil War soldier and abolitionist. The protest had started in response to the arrest hours before of a local Black Lives Matter activist now facing state and federal charges for allegedly trying to extort money from at least one Downtown business.  He tried to pull a race hustle on them.

The timeline provided by police contains surveillance video images of Bernstein’s vehicle within a few blocks of the CCB in the minutes after it was set on fire.

Michael Johnson, president and CEO of the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County, had acted as the family’s spokesman in the days after the alleged incident.  He said Friday that the acting Police Chief Vic Wahl and Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway briefed him and other “community leaders” regarding the closing down of the Bernstein case Friday morning.

“I appreciate the time federal authorities and local law enforcement officials put into this case. In the meantime, we will continue to provide support to Althea and hope and pray for her healing and well-being,” he said in a statement.

Bernstein told the cops that she was sitting at a red light, supposedly on West Gorham Street at State Street, at around 1 am on June 24 when she was approached by four white men, and one of them yelled a racial epithet.

One of the men allegedly sprayed her with lighter fluid through an open driver’s-side window and then threw a lit lighter at her, setting her face and neck on fire before she patted out the flames. Photos were later released by the family showing the burns on her face.  The problem I had with her story is that a Bic lighter is the most popular around, and as soon as a Bic leaves your hand the flame is out.  The only lighter that could have stayed lit after being tossed like that would be of the Zippo variety, and I highly doubt anyone would throw away a Zippo.  Could it be that she was involved in something stupid where she was goofing around that got out of hand? That sounds a lot more plausible than 4 white guys setting her on fire.

When describing the men she said they resembled “frat boys” with two of them wearing “floral shirts” and blue jeans and the other two wore all black with masks. The man who allegedly sprayed her was wearing a “salmon-colored” floral shirt, she told police.

A surveillance camera at Gorham and State captured images of her car at 12:44 am, according to the city’s timeline, however, nothing to substantiate the alleged attack.

The timeline released by police shows Bernstein’s movements and her vehicle for about two and a half hours starting around 12:15 am and winding up with what appears to be a redacted photo of Bernstein in a hospital gown about 3 am at the UW Hospital emergency room.

According to the timeline and text messages analyzed by police, Bernstein first mentions the alleged attack at home in Monona at 1:24 am.

“Some (expletive) up (expletive) just happened,” she tells a person named “Nick.” “Someone on state street tried to set me on fire … yelled the n word and threw beer and a lighter at me … its still burning my skin … it was a group of white guys.”  Roughly a half hour later, surveillance images and her phone traced her to UW Hospital.


Daniel is a conservative syndicated opinion writer and amateur theologian. He writes about topics of politics, culture, freedom, and faith.

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