A Detroit-area LGBT rights activist allegedly burned down the house he was living in, killing five pets and sparking a federal hate crime investigation because he was frustrated over a lack of gay rights battles to fight.
Nikki Joly has been charged with first-degree arson for burning the Jackson, Michigan, house he rented to the ground, as well as two counts of animal killing related to the deaths of three cats and two dogs that died in the fire. Police accused Joly of setting the fire as a fake hate crime against himself – and a police report obtained by the Detroit News suggests he did it because he wanted attention.
Joly had opened Jackson’s first gay community center in the months preceding the fire and had tirelessly led the fight to pass an ordinance prohibiting discrimination against gays in the town. With both those battles won, however, Joly was at a loss for a good fight, according to two church officials who worked with him at the church that housed his Pride Center. The Jackson Pride Parade and Festival – which took place five days before the fire – simply wasn’t generating enough controversy.
Joly was “very deceptive” and displayed “layers of manipulation,” the officials told police, noting that he had broken the Pride Center away from the church that housed it without informing them of the move – even though they had secured the funding for the center in the first place.
While Joly didn’t own the house and gained nothing from the insurance money, the Jackson LGBT community raised $58,000 for him and his wife after the fire. Even as the money flowed in, the FBI was zeroing in on Joly as the culprit, rather than a local man who had objected to plans to display a rainbow flag in a city park during the Pride Festival. While they initially investigated the arson as a hate crime, the timeline of events ruled out any suspect other than Joly, and they were sure within two weeks that they had their man. Despite their evidence – and a lack of denial from Joly himself – it took over a year to actually charge him, as the prosecutor wanted more proof before accusing the locally-beloved gay activist of staging a hate attack against himself.
The parallels with Jussie Smollett’s more recent self-inflicted lynching are numerous – a beloved figure, seeking attention, feeds into the narrative concerning the ugly undercurrents of hate we are told are lurking just beneath the surface of American society. Cops quickly start to suspect the “victim” but are forced to sit on their suspicions for fear of inflaming racial tensions. Both men profited from their crimes – either financially or through media attention.
There have been hundreds of fake hate crimes perpetrated since President Donald Trump took office, as if ‘hate-watch’ groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center’s predictions that hate incidents would rise under the Republican president were meant as self-fulfilling prophecies. FakeHateCrimes.org lists 348, and Kentucky State University political science professor Wilfred Reilly found 409 in his own research, but fake hate crimes are by no means a post-Trump phenomenon.
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