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Matthew Shepard, Trayvon Martin and the Power of Leftist Myth

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Next week, "The Book of Matt" by famed investigative journalist Stephen Jiminez, is slotted for release. The book tells the true story behind the murder of Matthew Shepard, who has become the angelic face of victimhood in the gay rights movement. Shepard's murder in 1998 launched a national effort, spearheaded by President Clinton, to push for a hate crimes law including sexual orientation. It became the basis for Hollywood's addiction to storylines involving the killing of gay men (see, for example, "Brokeback Mountain"). Shepard, the mythology went, died for America's homophobic sins.

There's only one problem. Shepard, according to Jiminez, was not killed because he was gay. His murderers, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, attempted the "gay panic" defense in court -- suggesting that Shepard had come onto them and provoked them into murderous rage. But that wasn't true. Jiminez, who is gay, reports that Shepard dealt methamphetamine, and that one of his murderers was a sex partner. Even gay-journalistic icon Andrew Sullivan has endorsed Jiminez's work.

But the left cannot let its mythology go. And so The Matthew Shepard Foundation released a statement decrying Jiminez's book: "Attempts now to rewrite the story of this hate crime appear to be based on untrustworthy sources, factual errors, rumors and innuendo rather than the actual evidence gathered by law enforcement and presented in a court of law. We do not respond to innuendo, rumor or conspiracy theories. Instead, we recommit ourselves to honoring Matthew's memory, and refuse to be intimidated by those who seek to tarnish it."

If the facts tarnish Shepard's memory, perhaps that's because the facts are inconvenient.

The same, of course, was true with regard to the killing of Trayvon Martin. The left insisted on a similar racial crucifixion story, in which a thuggish white racist, George Zimmerman, tracked down and shot an innocent black boy in cold blood. The facts of the case simply didn't bear that story: Zimmerman had no racist background; Martin had a history of criminal activity; witness testimony placed Martin on top of Zimmerman, banging his head against the pavement. But the narrative of the left was set: Trayvon was killed for wearing a hoodie and carrying Skittles and Arizona Iced Tea.

Radio host Dennis Prager has wisely observed that to the left, truth is not a value. Ideology is a value. And so the myths of Shepard and Trayvon must live on. That's because the left understands that narrative drives hearts and minds, rather than argument. Were the left to openly contend that gay men and women around America are in danger every day from the vastly homophobic majority of the American populace, most Americans would rightly be insulted and skeptical. Were the left to suggest that most Americans are vicious racists a hairsbreadth away from murdering black teenagers, most Americans would scoff. Instead, the left trots out cases like Shepard and cases like Trayvon -- and manufactures those cases to fit their needs.

Racism and anti-gay hatred must be wiped from the map. But there is no need to fudge the facts in order to combat them. The left's need to seize on individual cases as impetus for broad societal change demonstrates just how desperate the left is to paint exceptional cases as the rule to justify a broader agenda.

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