This only recently came to my attention. In 2018, a member of my former department in Bloomington, Indiana pled guilty to faking a hate crime. His offense occurred a week after the presidential election of 2016.
A dyed-in-the-wool conservative will diagnose TDS, “Trump Derangement Syndrome.” I diagnose (if I may) something more deeply wrong. The president is not the real issue.
To see the offender’s former undergraduate self online, one would think he was flying high and full of self-confidence. Slender, reasonably handsome, bespectacled, articulate, he has a gorgeous video on YouTube showing off his Missa Brevis, a choral work he composed as a result of a grant. (The school sent him to–get ready–New York City to hear a concert performance of the Missa Solemnis. Which is, of course, not a missa brevis. Personally, I’d rather cuddle up with Palestrina in the comfort of my living room, but what do I know.)
I suppose it might have been prejudice by then, but I smelled Excellent Adventure. That’s my term (borrowed from the movie) for someone who thinks he is, in Fétis’ memorable phrase, a “superior being” who can “move with the times and hold his own.”*
Alas, such a person is seldom collegial, seldom chatty (except about himself), seldom an open book. A mask is always being worn; something is always being marketed, crafted, sold, branded. There’s always a mirror within reach.
I have seen many an Excellent Adventure burn itself out like a distant supernova.
This one certainly burned out with a bang.
George was the organist of a small Episcopal church in Bean Blossom, Indiana.
I love that name. Driving home from my church in Indianapolis, I would pass the sign for Bean Blossom Creek. It’s a poetic name in distinct Hoosier style, and I am pleased to have been a Hoosier for a short time.
Bean Blossom itself is a hamlet, and I am sure the church had nothing like the expansive program we had at Fairview Presbyterian in the Butler-Tarkington, Meridian-Kessler area, led for decades by John Schmid himself. Still, a gig’s a gig, and I’m sure Bean Blossom is a sweet little place.
The election was November 8. The outcome plumped for by the media didn’t happen, and people across the country lost their minds. To me, the dynamic was that of a bitter family divorce, a topic on which I am sadly well informed. In simple terms, nothing Dad does can ever, ever be anything but awwwful. Not “Trump Derangement Syndrome,” but divorce.
George, who like so many organists is an out gay man, was one of those who flipped out over the election of Donald Trump. He won’t admit this, but he wanted his mommy.
So on Sunday morning, November 13, George supposedly arrives at his little Bean Blossom episco-parlour to find it vandalized with graffiti, including “Heil Trump” and a swastika, not to mention a Fred-Phelps-inspired word for gay persons. The clergy were all but thrilled–real proof, proof positive, of conservative hatred for Episcopalianism.
Then the police got George’s cell phone records and found that he had been there the night before.
He was eventually arrested for faking the hate crime and confessed. He was sentenced early in 2018 to 180 days in jail (two served and the rest suspended) plus substantial community service.
What shocked me was the mugshot. Gone was the handsome-ish, slender young man who spoke with animation. In his place was a bloated, unkempt, unattractive person with dead eyes. A New Yorker’s false image of a Hoosier.
He looked incredibly sad, sad to a degree that a mere criminal arrest cannot justify.
He said he did it to “start a movement.” (And stop a career?) He used the words “sad” and “regret” to express his feelings, but nobody has quoted him saying “I’m sorry” or “I apologize.” Right there I understand half of his apparent depression. It must be tough to be so superior, all the time, that apologizing is unthinkable.
The damage the Georges in our midst have done is profound and pervasive. Even when debunked, a fake hate crime lingers in the popular mind as “evidence”: as if somehow, deep down, the faker is telling the truth. But he’s not.