In September, the head of the US Air Force Academy in Colorado delivered a grave, impassioned speech about racism that quickly went viral after the words "Go home, nigger" were found scrawled on the dormitory message board of five black cadet candidates.
The incident drew national outcry and the school swiftly launched an investigation. On Tuesday, the academy announced its findings: The message was a hoax perpetrated by one of the black students who reported being targeted.
"We can confirm that one of the cadet candidates who was allegedly targeted by racist remarks written outside of their dorm room was actually responsible for the act," the Academy said in a statement.
The cadet candidate admitted responsibility, which the investigation confirmed, and he is no longer at the prep school, the Academy added.
The Colorado Springs Gazette reported that the young man “committed the act in a bizarre bid to get out of trouble he faced at the school for other misconduct."
The school would not elaborate as to why the student chose to write the hateful words on his own message board.
"We acknowledge that there may be additional information already in the public space, but we will refrain from discussing further details surrounding the investigation due to privacy act requirements," the Academy said.
Meanwhile, Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria, the superintendent who powerfully decried the incident weeks ago, said he was standing by his message despite the hoax.
“Regardless of the circumstances under which those words were written, they were written, and that deserved to be addressed,” he said in a statement. “You can never over-emphasize the need for a culture of dignity and respect – and those who don’t understand those concepts, aren’t welcome here.”
In his five-minute speech, Silveria had harped on the importance of diversity and treating others fairly.
"If you can't treat someone with dignity and respect, then get out," he told the 4,000 cadets who were standing in rapt attention.
He also said it would be "tone-deaf" to discuss the act without "thinking about the backdrop of what's going in our country."
Along with garnering national coverage and condemnation from politicians, the incident sparked outrage from students at the school and their parents.
In a now-deleted Facebook post, the mother of one of the cadets who said he was a victim of the racist message shared a photo of the whiteboard, calling it "disgusting."
Her post read:
This is why I'm so hurt! Someone left this disgusting message on my sons door at the Airforce Academy in Colorado! I'm angry that people are teaching their children such hate. These young people are supposed to bond and protect each other and the country. Who would my son have to watch out for? The enemy or the enemy? I know this is hard to see but it's the reality my family and the country is dealing with. We cannot tolerate such hatred! Keep your head up son!
In another Facebook post, the cadet's father wrote, "My son is not playing a victim...The real victim is the person raised with that kind of hate."
One of the cadet's whose name was on the whiteboard tweeted on Oct. 3 that, after "long thoughts and countless talks with my family about recent events that took place," he had decided to withdraw from the Air Force Preparatory School "following this year."
"I want to say thank you to the coaching and staff at the Air Force Academy who believed in me," he concluded.
On Tuesday, he tweeted that he had received an offer to play football at Alabama A&M University and will be transferring from the Air Force Academy, according to Chris Boyle, a sports reporter for Daytona Beach News-Journal.
Another Air Force cadet candidate made a similar announcement on Halloween, calling his decision to withdraw from the prep school "God's plan."
"After taking time to talk with family, friends, and coaches, we have decided that it's best for me to withdraw" and "reopen my recruitment," he tweeted. "This is the end of this chapter and I'm anxious to start my next one."
Brianna Sacks is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
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