The Myth of Matt

StephenJiminezAlmost exactly fifteen years ago, Matthew Shepard, 21, a gay college student, was horrifically beaten by two presumed anti-gay bigots and left for dead, tied to a fence on the outskirts of Laramie, Wyoming. Overnight, Shepard became a martyred icon of homophobic violence and a propulsive force for the enactment of hate crime legislation. Everyone knows, or thinks they know, these broad strokes of the terrible tale – but self-described “gay, liberal” journalist Stephen Jimenez says that what everyone knows isn’t the whole story.

Upon hearing of Shepard’s fate, two friends immediately contacted a gay reporter and local gay organizations, and the national media ran with it from there. “Once it started,” said prosecutor Cal Rerucha, “it took off like wildfire,” though he later acknowledged to Jimenez that “I don’t think the proof [of a hate crime] was there.” The news media quickly fell into a uniform account of the crime and the motive behind it.

The perpetrators Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson (purportedly strangers to Shepard) were ultimately convicted of kidnapping, aggravated robbery, and second-degree murder – but not of a hate crime, which was not on the books in Wyoming at the time. Nonetheless, Shepard’s death brought national and international attention and sympathy to the issue of hate crimes, and the Matthew Shepard Act, which President Obama signed into law in 2009, became the wedge pushing an expansion of legislation dealing with crimes against victims for their gender or sexual orientation. Shepard’s story has since been engraved in the public consciousness in songs, plays, movies, documentaries, and books.

Now comes The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths About the Murder of Matthew Shepard, in which Jimenez details his thirteen-year investigation that covered twenty states and more than a hundred interviews, and in which he had privileged access to previously unavailable documents and information. He initially went to Laramie in 2000 to research the story of the murder, after McKin­ney and Henderson were sentenced to life without parole. His aim was to write a screenplay to dramatize what he, like the rest of the nation, believed to be a clearcut incident of vicious bigotry. But what Jimenez gradually uncovered in that “tight-knit, somewhat incestuous” town was layer upon layer of ugly secrets and potentially myth-busting revelations about the relationship between Shepard and his killers, and their involvement in the deadly underworld of methamphetamine trafficking.

From the beginning, Jimenez met with resistance about pursuing his politically sensitive angle of the story. The familiar argument he heard was, “let slumbering truths lie when so much good has been accomplished in Matthew’s name.” Shepard was the Emmett Till of gay rights, he was told. But Jimenez felt that “clinging to a partly false mythology could never yield the subtler, more powerful meanings of his sacrifice,” and it “would be a disservice to Matthew’s memory to freeze him in time as a symbol, having stripped away his complexities and frailties as a human being.”

Jimenez had actually co-produced a controversial 2004 20/20 segment on the murder which, like the new book, challenged “the widely accepted scenario of an innocent gay man targeted for robbery and murder by two homophobic strangers because he made a pass at them.” But even the network refused to air certain revelations it deemed too “editorially explosive” – revelations that not only was Aaron McKinney not unknown to Shepard, but that he was a bisexual hustler who had partied on numerous occasions with Shepard and actually had sex with him in exchange for drugs and money.

According to Jimenez, McKinney wanted no one to know this, and was worried that his girlfriend would leave with their child, so his attorneys went with the “gay panic” defense. McKinney later admitted privately to Jimenez that the story “was a lie and that Matthew coming on to him sexually was not the source of his murderous rage.” McKinney, Henderson, and McKinney’s girlfriend, who helped conceal drug paraphernalia evidence after the crime, all confessed to Jimenez that they covered up a drug robbery motive.

The book pursues an angle that both law enforcement and the mainstream media only halfheartedly, if at all, addressed – the surprisingly active meth trade in Wyoming, and McKinney’s and Shepard’s connection to it. Jimenez was told that local cops themselves were as involved with drugs as the citizens were, and that two key cops even consistently denied to the media that drugs were a factor in the murder. As for the media: “the few journalists who had attempted to examine [Shepard’s] life in more than a summary fashion had been hindered in their efforts by sealed court records and witnesses who had been ordered to remain silent.”

Unsurprisingly, The Book of Matt has drawn fire from the radical left, who are determined to protect a very useful narrative about the supposedly violent, homophobic underbelly of America, a narrative they use to smear conservatives who object to the concept of hate crimes itself. Think Progress called the new book “dreadful,” attacked Jimenez personally for his “vainglory,” and attempted to discredit his sources. Media Matters jumped on the “right-wing media” for “celebrating” Jimenez’s book.

But The Advocate acknowledged that Jimenez “amassed enough anecdotal evidence to build a persuasive case that Shepard’s sexuality was, if not incidental, certainly less central than popular consensus has lead us to believe.” It goes on to say, with stunning candor, that “there are valuable reasons for telling certain stories in a certain way at pivotal times, but that doesn’t mean we have to hold on to them once they’ve outlived their usefulness… [emphasis added] There are obvious reasons why advocates of hate crime legislation must want to preserve one particular version of the Matthew Shepard story, but it was always just that — a version.”

Yet others rush to denounce Jimenez’s version as victimizing Matthew Shepard all over again and tacitly giving ammunition to the right. A different Advocate op-ed, for example, decries The Book of Matt author’s “trutherism” and complains that “Jimenez wants to tell the ‘real story’ of Matt’s murder. But to what end? For what purpose?”

For what purpose? Well, to know the truth would be a nice start, but apparently that’s not a high priority for many. Examining the degree to which a hatred of gays actually played any part in the vicious murder is not to excuse the terrible crime itself, though many will leap to that assumption. To attempt to lay bare the facts is not to smear Matthew Shepard or exonerate Aaron McKinney (it’s not clear that Russell Henderson took part in the beating), nor is it to suggest that Shepard deserved to die. The goal is simply to know the truth and to accept it for what it is, rather than exploit it politically one way or another. Until we can all agree on that simple aim, Matthew Shepard’s story may always remain shrouded in myth.

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  • UCSPanther

    It is always said that the myth is the last thing to die…

  • Marlin B. Newburn

    Empty and corrupt “movements” have to be based on invented tragedies to exist. Focus only on emotions, and you can control anyone, even presidents.

    • Nabuquduriuzhur

      Good points.

  • Ben

    Hatred and fear of male homosexuality is endemic in our society – you would have to be an idiot to think otherwise.
    I think the story told in this article sounds very believable and I don’t doubt that it is true.
    But that doesn’t mean that gay men are not extremely discriminated against in our society, nor does it mean that the stonewall riots or a push for same sex marriage is some sort of “invented movement”
    Anyone who believes in equality but has an “except” after it is no better than the islamists as far as I am concerned.

  • edlancey

    The truth doesn’t matter with Teachable Moments

  • WW4

    Anti-gay sentiment was the explanation given by the defendants; whether or not it was the main motivation for this heinous crime there can be no doubt it was a factor. Shepard was picked, at least in part, because he was gay.

    We live in a media culture that looks to invent myths daily. If it wasn’t Shepard it would have been someone else. There’s no shortage to pick from.

    • Race_Dissident

      I read this story and I have to wonder if Mathew Shepard was not murdered not only because he was afraid that someone’s girl friend might find out or for the money, but also due to the fact that they were b._._._ sore.

      After all they exchanged zex for drugs. You have to wonder, who was the top and who was the bottom.

    • trapper

      No, anti-gay sentiment was given by one defendant, McKinney. But McKinney was bi-sexual and an “intimate” friend of Shepherd. McKinney and Shepherd had known each other for years and had “partied” together according to at least 10 people according to Jiminez. They were also both involved, it appears, in the Meth business. Read the book!

  • skbn113

    I’m in Isaiah right now, specifically 46 and wow….it exposes today brilliantly.
    As bad as it sounds, it even gives me hope.
    For in having homosexuals “come out of the closet and into the noon day sun”….it also shines the light on their darkness: the worthlessness of their idols.

    Let’s America see all the wretchedness of their lives. “Amazing grace….that saved a WRETCH like me.”
    They are wretches; He saves wretches; works for me!
    Let all of America see plainly their futility as a warning to avoid these false gods with which they would be surrounded.
    Let judgment come upon the idolatry, sorcery, self-indulgence, arrogance and cruelty– even to God’s people.
    I believe homosexuals not only hate Christians but hate God Himself.
    “Woe to him who strives with his Maker!”

    • MarilynA

      You may be getting your information from Isaiah but if you ever have a chance to read Adolph Hitler’s speeches you will realize that his description of what was going on in Germany when he took over sounds an awful lot like what is going on in the USA today. Someone sent me a copy of his speeches translated into English because I wanted to understand why the German people adored him so. And they did adore Hitler. He could never have gained the control he had if they people had not been with him. Hitler blamed all the depravity he described on the Jews who he said Germany had taken in when they fled from Russia because the Germans felt sorry for them. But he said that within 25 years they had taken over the banks, universities, the legal and medical professions, the press, movies, etc. and that they were promoting homosexuality, and other perversions. He claimed that the books published, movies made, plays produced, etc. all depicted and promoted homosexuality and other perversions. The infamous book burning came about because the people decided to burn all the dirty books written by mostly Jewish authors and it got out of hand and they burned all books written by all Jews. If things were as bad in Germany back then as they are here today, and Adolph Hitler was the result, we had better start mending our fences and changing our ways.

      • skbn113

        Bottom line: expose the darkness.
        Bible says emphatically to do so.

      • truebearing

        Well, like Obama, Hitler was a pathological narcissistic, liar, megalomaniac. He was also a homosexual, as was his long-time friend and leader of the Brownshirts, Ernst Rhom.

        The rampant homosexuality of pre-WWII is a fact, but what Hitler failed to admit was that his friend Rohm, and the rest of the leadership within the Brownshirts, were flagrantly homosexual. Rohm’s notorious gay orgies were at least partially what led to “the night of the long knives,” where Himmler’s henchman murdered Rohm and his minions.

        Obama doesn’t pretend to condemn homosexuality, but his henchman did threaten Larry Sinclair into shutting up about their crack-fueled homosexual trysts. At least Sinclair survived. Two of Obama’s gay friends from Reverend Wright’s “church” were murdered, execution style, not long before Obama began his presidential campaign.

        • skbn113

          Did you see that documentary The Nazi Gospel or Gospel of the Nazis?
          It was an EYE OPENER ! @@1proactive2:disqus
          They had a total and all encompassing relationship with the occult.
          Few really know the extent of the Dark Side …. its here.
          Last Days, full blown, balls to the wall DARK SIDE.
          (Homosexual Nazis are here.)
          I felt that revival was so imminent. My pastor’s wife burst my bubble and she’s not being negative– it’s foretold– she just said no….this is the manifestations of Last Days.
          Jesus talked about it. He was not mum.
          So neither should we be….

  • Cold_Drake_80

    FPMers are all about equality “except”. What they mean is power for themselves and their masters. Death for anyone who disagrees. Simple as that. Look at SKBN113. What a fundie crackhead spewing a doctrine that can only lead to murder and endless discrimination.

  • hrwolfe

    In 2001 or 03 I was traveling to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally and wanted to stop at Fort Laramie to take in the fabulous history of this former frontier port of entry to the west. I got there late in the day and could not enter the Fort as it was after hours. I got a camp site in the local campground, I was the only occupant (Ft. Laramie is a very small town) and walked off to get some chow. There were only 2 options a cowboy Pizza bar or a cafe. I choose the latter and got engaged with some locals in some very interesting and revealing revelations of the local going on’s. One of the main topics of consternation was the Tweekers (Meth users) coming up from Cheyenne and causing havoc. Who knew such of going on’s in these obscure places but Meth definitely leaves it’s mark every where it goes but instead of focusing on that problem activists see an opportunity for hijacking an event for their cause and the real cause gets sidelined. The high amount of property damage, theft, mayhem, and murder related to the “Tweekers” largely goes unmentioned except in little cafes in little towns.

    • UCSPanther

      Meth is a terrifying drug. It makes its users violently paranoid and causes them to destroy themselves in a pretty gruesome fashion.

      I can’t see what the point is of pumping that foul poison into one’s bloodstream, especially considering how its made, and the effects that it has.

      Scary how a molecule made of a carbon ring connected to a methyl group and a amine group can do so much damage…

      • Ian Deal

        Was an alcohol and drug counselor for several years. The impact of drugs on peoples’ lives keeps me from becoming libertarian. Drugs destroy the user’s identity and moral structure. Amazing how little time the press spends on the impact of meth in rural America. But any story that fits their politically correct narrative will get 24X7 attention.

        • Ben

          But don’t forget, as a D&A Councillor you will always see the worst.
          That said, most Meth users have some degree of problems with the drug at some point.
          Other drugs not so much

    • trapper

      Sir, Fort Laramie is not the same as the town of Laramie where this event happened. Laramie houses the University of Wyoming and is located a hour on I80 west of Cheyenne. Fort Laramie is located in eastern Wyoming and has a population of only a few hundred.

      • Howard

        So, DPSS?

    • skbn113

      What in God’s name has happened to our country.
      I don’t even recognize it anymore, do you?


    “It goes on to say, with stunning candor, that ‘there are valuable reasons for telling certain stories in a certain way at pivotal times, but that doesn’t mean we have to hold on to them once they’ve outlived their usefulness…
    [emphasis added] There are obvious reasons why advocates of hate crime
    legislation must want to preserve one particular version of the Matthew
    Shepard story, but it was always just that — a version.'”

    In writing this, the Advocate has let the cat out of the bag – what the mainstream media practices today is not journalism – for those few who didn’t already realize that. The media is in the business of peddling narratives which serve the political Left, which is why truth must be sacrificed.

    Good story by Tapson.

  • Race_Dissident

    No, hatred and fear of male homosexual is not endemic to American society. What we have now is a fairly small–let’s say 8%–and impotent minority of true homophobes (many of whom are black), a much larger group–roughly 67%–who hold homosexuals (particularly male homos) in a mild and benign form of contempt, and the remaining 25% who view homosexuals as substantively no different from heterosexuals, or actively exalt homosexuals. Consequently, there is very little actual discrimination against male homosexuals, and certainly no oppression.

  • UCSPanther

    If you want to see a society where homophobia is very ingrained, look at Saudi Arabia.

    The official penalty there for “embracing the alternative lifestyle” is forfeiture of one’s head…

  • Race_Dissident

    Crying about “except”

    What is endemic is the fact, the LGBT groups want acceptance and people, singing their praises and not toleration. So you come up with this “except” argument.

    Not going to happen.

    Where is the gay gene exactly? I heard about stuff years ago or more, but since gays are getting their way, I have heard nothing about biological proof.

    Looks to be more about bullying or a choice than anything genetic.


    Social engineering is always based on half-truths, full lies, and mythology. The whole story was probably concocted to push a particular agenda.

  • Nabuquduriuzhur

    Something not mentioned, that I noticed when I lived in gay/lesbian areas, was that the “lifestyle” is violent. (I suggest looking at crime maps of those areas in cities.) From what I observed, two gays/lesbians would try to “commit” to each other, but since the lifestyle is anything but manogamous, they cheat on each other, and it leads to violence. Another cause is that their consciences are typically driving them nuts and when confronted by the truth about themselves, they lash out.

    • Ben

      “consciences are typically driving them nuts and when confronted by the truth about themselves, they lash out.”

      How so – Because a 2000 year old book says they are in sin? ok sure

  • trapper

    Truth is not a value for the Left: Advancing their agenda is. Thus they lie and lie and lie: environmentalism, the Duke LaCross fiasco, Trayvon Martin, US heterosexual aids, CO2, Three Mile Island. And on and on. I live in Wyoming and it was clear from the start that the Leftist narrative regarding Shepherd was not true. Although large in size Wyoming is small in population and word gets out. A policeman friend of mine was told by a Laramie detective years ago the facts of the case. Well, about time the truth is out!

  • truebearing

    ““there are valuable reasons for telling certain stories in a certain way at pivotal times, but that doesn’t mean we have to hold on to them once they’ve outlived their usefulness…”

    Ah yes, the ends justifies the means…the great principle of evil. Truth is always subordinate to the political agenda for the Left. It always is for those who spread evil.

  • Shmalkandik

    I don’t believe in euqality when all things are not equal.
    I’m not willing to subsidize homosexualism; here’s why:

    I am willing to subsidize traditional marriage becuase the social ROI is provably and sustainably high.
    We can live without homosexul marriage.
    We will not survive without tradtional marriage.
    Who and what you fornicate with, or leave your fortune, or sign your DNR, is a separate matter.

    • Ben

      “homosexualism” Haha

  • Tan

    Very interesting. I have heard before that there was another side to the story of Matt Shepard, but I didn’t know all of the details. It doesn’t surprise me that the Left wouldn’t be open to the other side of his murder in order to exploit a political cause. The Left has a history of “the ends justify the means.” Adolf Hitler used the large building he had burned down as a pretext to justify killing the German Communists and others in Germany. Roman Dictator Nero used the fire incident as a pretext to justify slaughtering Christians. The Communists use the suppose “evil” of the rich as a pretext to justify killing the Christians, Jews, and other “bourgeoisie.” Today, those same Leftists use the Sandy Hook massacre or other school shootings as justification to make threats against the NRA and law-abiding gun owners. For the Left, whether a incident that happened has the real story or not to aid their cause makes no difference to them. It’s all a means to an end. We live in scary times.

  • solidspine

    Glad I don’t like that Meth,

  • roccolore

    Meanwhile, actual hate crimes are all but ignored. Who remembers the murders of Jeffrey Curley and Jesse Dirkhising?

  • Scott

    Jimenez’ basic premise is completely at odds with what is believed by virtually everyone involved in the case, including even Aaron McKinney, who was convicted for his role in the murder and deemed the most responsible for what happened that night (Henderson appears to have been mostly along for the ride, though he did briefly partake in Shepard’s assault). As recently as 2009, McKinney was unabashed in stating that Shepard’s homosexuality was one of the motives behind the murder:

    “Matt Shepard needed killing,” Aaron McKinney bluntly told Tectonic company member Greg Pierotti for the epilogue, which includes the first interviews with McKinney and Russell Henderson since 2004.

    “As far as Matt is concerned, I don’t have any remorse,” McKinney said during nine hours of talks with Pierotti. “The night I did it, I did have hatred for homosexuals.”

    McKinney’s initial motive was robbery. But he targeted Shepard, he said, because “he was obviously gay. That played a part. His weakness. His frailty.”

    Jimenez seems primarily motivated in telling an alternate, scandalous version of events so that he can be the journalist who breaks a big story. Unfortunately for readers, however, in his zeal to accomplish that feat, he went from “chasing” the story to actually “making” the story. The fact that so many of his sources are anonymous and that there’s an absolute dearth of any demonstrable evidence that validates his theory makes the whole thing extraordinarily dubious. We’re simply obliged to take him at his word. The zealous, anti-gay rights crowd will no doubt use this alternate reality version of events as a way of delegitimizing the cause of LGBT equality (as is evidenced by the above review and the comments that follow below), but the truth isn’t too terrible difficult to flesh out in this case. You just can’t let your biases get in the way of the facts. McKinney’s words speak volumes more than Jimenez’ anonymous sources and his desire for 15 minutes of journalistic fame.