Victimhood is profitable. On the internet, it can get you thousands of dollars in crowdfunding donations. In the media, it can win you national prominence and a cooing audience of credulous sycophants. On campus, it can get you attention and plaudits from fellow grievance-mongers.
Convince enough people you’re a victim, and everyone from presidential candidates to celebrities will come rushing to support you.
So it’s little wonder that charlatans and opportunists regularly seek to take advantage of our species’ natural instinct for empathy. False flags, in which people deliberately stage attacks on themselves to win the support of society, are as old as history itself.
That isn’t an exaggeration, by the way. They’re really as old as history itself. The ancient Greek historian Herodotus once recalled how Peisistratos, a man who would become the dictator of Athens, staged a fake attack on himself to gain the support of the city:
Wounding himself and his mules, he drove his wagon into the marketplace, with a story that he had escaped from his enemies, who would have killed him (so he said) as he was driving into the country. So he implored the people to give him a guard. Taken in, the Athenian people gave him a guard of chosen citizens … These rose with Peisistratos and took the Acropolis; and Peisistratos ruled the Athenians.
Faking assassination attempts are risky these days, and the benefits are questionable. A failed murder attempt might make the local…