Lying: An Absolute Crime and National Sport in the US

Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer who previously lied to Congress, was invited to tell the truth before the same Congress.

On Feb. 27, all of America watched Michael Cohen’s testimony. Donald Trump’s former lawyer, famous for having lied before Congress and having bought the silence of Trump’s former sexual partners, was invited to tell the truth before the same Congress. The Republicans did not fail to notice this paradox, and were anxious to limit the damage of this devastating testimony for the president.

In the United States, as we know, truth is held up as a cardinal virtue. Lying is an absolute crime, but above everything else, it is a national sport. That’s not to mention the political lies – from the sex scandal of White House intern Monica Lewinsky, which almost resulted in deposing Bill Clinton in 1999, to Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction invented by the Bush administration, to Trump’s escapades.

Let’s not even mention the countless instances of false testimony which have led to terrible miscarriages of justice. Let’s focus on the lies and the scams, which have one crucial victim: the values which drape America.

The Bad Samaritans

It was the kind of tale that Americans love. The story starts in October 2017. Kate McClure runs out of gas on a highway ramp near Philadelphia, but she has no money. A former soldier who has become homeless, Johnny Bobbitt, offers her his last $20 and goes to get her some gas. Moved, the young woman returns to repay him, accompanied by her boyfriend Mark D’Amico. The couple take a selfie with Bobbitt and organize a fund on the website GoFundMe to help him. America is generous, and during this Christmas season, 14,347 people give a total of $402,706.

Very quickly, the case turns sour. Bobbitt never sees a cent of the money, which D’Amico and McClure assure him was deposited into a trust fund. The formerly homeless man does not receive a house as promised, but a motorhome, which is not even in his name, installed on the couple’s property. Meanwhile, D’Amico and McClure are living the high life, celebrating the New Year in Las Vegas, buying a Louis Vuitton bag and a BMW despite their modest salaries—she, a secretary, he, carpenter—and living it up so much that Bobbitt sues them. It is apparent that the funds have largely disappeared.

In September 2018, the police analyze the couple’s text messages, and discover the truth. The whole thing is a scam, and the story of the good homeless Samaritan never existed. Bobbitt, who used part of the funds to buy drugs, is in prison for having skipped a hearing in January 2019. McClure accuses her boyfriend of having squandered the money. D’Amico faces 10 years in prison. GoFundMe, appalled, refunds the duped donors and assures the public that this type of fraud only relates to 0.1 percent of GoFundMe cases.

The Fake Racist Attack

Fraud cases are rare, but they make an impact. This is, notably, the case of African-American actor Jussie Smollett, star of the television series “Empire.” On Jan. 29, around 2 a.m. while he was returning home, Smollett was attacked by two people, who shouted racist and homophobic remarks at him. The attackers pass him a rope and yell, “this is MAGA country,” referring to Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again.” The outcry is enormous, and Democratic presidential candidates Kamala Harris and Cory Booker, both African-Americans, speak of an attempted modern-day lynching.

The police investigate this attack which took place in freezing 5-degree Chicago temperature. They question two suspects who have revealed that they were paid by the actor to fake the attack. Because Smollett was unhappy with how much he was being paid, he believed a racist and homophobic assault would contribute to an increased salary. Of course, the opposite has happened: the 36-year-old actor, who has been charged and released on bail, will disappear from the next episodes of “Empire.”

Like the GoFundMe case, this one is unsettling. The Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, estimates that fewer than 1 percent of claimed racist crimes are fakes, and their expert Brian Levin described the Smollett case as devastating. “This has the potential to eclipse the real facts about hate crimes,” which are greatly increasing under Trump, he told The New York Times. The president has taken on the case. “What about MAGA and the tens of millions of people you insulted with your racist and dangerous comments?” Trump said accusingly, while his supporters raged against the actor on Twitter. In these cases, social media offers unexpected fuel.

Fyre, the Festival in the Bahamas Which Took Place Only on Social Networks

Billy McFarland went further, trying to make a fortune on a story born on social media; the American dream of rich and beautiful people. Everyone wants to be a part of it, and the young, ambitious 28-year-old tried to sell this dream. Fyre Festival had to be the party of the century, three days of concerts and partying on an island in the Bahamas, which belonged to drug trafficker Pablo Escobar. To make his idea irresistible, McFarland counted on the buzz spread by magnificent top models, such as Bella Hadid, followed by 23 million fans on Instagram.

The buzz worked, but the logistics did not. In spring 2017, thousands of people, conned into buying very expensive tickets, headed for Miami and the Bahamas. There was no private plane, but a charter instead; there was no Pablo Escobar island, but a hastily laid out area on the island of Great Exuma. There was no dream event, but windy weather, a storm, in fact. Prior to the day of the event, rains soaked the tents which were serving as replacements for the nonexistent luxury lodges which had been advertised online.

And there was the financial pain of tens of millions of dollars. The case is so gripping that Vice made a documentary about it, and released it on Netflix in January. Fyre, the best festival that never took place; justice was running its course.

McFarland did not learn his lesson and started selling fake VIP tickets for shows on Broadway. He was sentenced in October 2018, ordered to repay $26 million, and spend six years in prison. He is serving his sentence in a jail for white-collar crime in the upstate New York. He will soon be joined by Cohen, the iconic American liar.

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