Calum McSwiggan, a 26-year-old, London-based YouTube personality known for his gay-themed videos, is facing criticism and charges from the Los Angeles District Attorney's office after allegedly faking his own gay bashing.
On June 28, McSwiggan posted a picture of himself from a hospital bed with visible wounds and swollen eyes to his Instagram account. In a lengthy caption, he described how he'd been attacked after leaving The Abbey, a gay nightclub in Los Angeles.
"Last night was the worst night of my life and I'm really struggling to find the words to talk about it," McSwiggan wrote. "After one of the most wonderful weekends at VidCon we went out to a gay club to celebrate, and towards the end of the evening I was separated from my friends and beaten up by three guys. The authorities should have been there to help and protect me but instead they treated me like a second class citizen."
Initially, McSwiggan's photo was met with an outpouring of sympathy from his some 33,000 Twitter followers.
But just as quickly as McSwiggan's Instagram photo went viral, Los Angeles County Police put forth a possibly insidious counter narrative: McSwiggan's injuries had been self-inflicted, the hate crime a fiction.
According to the sheriff's department, officers were, in fact, dispatched to the Abbey early Monday morning in response to McSwiggan's claim that he'd been attacked nearby. Officers at the scene were unable to confirm whether the assault had actually happened, The Los Angeles Times reported, because he had no visible injuries. The YouTuber described being punched and kicked by three men until he lost consciousness and that when he awoke, he realized that one of his teeth was broken.
That same morning, around 2:30 a.m., police arrested McSwiggan in connection with a vandalized parked car on nearby Santa Monica Boulevard, on a count of vandalism resulting in property damage in excess of $400 and held on a $20,000 bail. In his booking photo from the arrest, there are no visible signs of injury on McSwiggan's face. The gash to McSwiggan's head seen in his Instagram photo, the LAPD said in a statement to The Washington Post, was self inflicted long after he'd been arrested.
“Mr. McSwiggan was placed into a cell by himself at West Hollywood Station. Mr. McSwiggan was then observed injuring himself with the handle and receiver to a payphone inside the cell," the statement explains. "Mr. McSwiggan’s booking photo was taken prior to deputies seeing Mr. McSwiggan injuring himself.”
According to police, when officers at the jail realized how badly McSwiggan was hurting himself, he was transferred to a nearby hospital where he received six stitches to his forehead and released soon after on a citation with a set court date.
In a lengthy Facebook post written the day he was released from the hospital, McSwiggan maintains that he was attacked by three men outside the club. But he admits to having vandalized the car and later injured himself in jail in order to get transferred to a hospital where he could be discharged without requiring his father to post his bail.
"In a moment of desperation to get out of the cell, I took the pay phone off the wall and hit myself once across the forehead with it as hard as I could," McSwiggan wrote. "I knew I had to injure myself to get out of the cell and into a hospital, and it was the only solution I could find to get myself out of there. This is incredibly out of character for me and is testament to how upset I was in that moment. I do not regret doing this as I could still be in the jail cell if I didn't."
On Wednesday, the LA District Attorney's Office announced that McSwiggan had been charged with making a false police report, a crime that carries a maximum sentence of 364 days in in county jail. I've reached out to McSwiggan for comment, and will update if I hear back.
As more details about what happened that night outside of the Abbey have been revealed, many have come out against McSwiggan for what they see as the YouTuber allegedly trying to use the very real fear of violence against queer people for personal gain.
In the wake of the mass shooting at Pulse nightclub, the accusations against McSwiggan take on a different level of seriousness. Just hours after the shooting that left 49 dead and 53 injured, McSwiggan uploaded a tearful video of himself expressing his dismay at the attack.
"I just want to send my love and my prayers and everything to everyone there right now, to everyone involved, to the families of those people affected and to all LGBT people around the globe," he said. "We do not deserve this fucking treatment."
McSwiggan's story, and its disputed truth, follows that of Jordan Brown, the openly gay pastor from Austin, Texas, who claimed that a Whole Foods employee scrawled a homophobic slur on a cake that he ordered.
Like McSwiggan, Brown took to social media to express his initial shock at allegedly having been targeted for being gay. Also like McSwiggan, the veracity of Brown's claims was almost immediately challenged. When Brown insisted that he was telling the truth and threatened to sue Whole Foods, the grocery chain doubled down on its claims of innocence and threatened to countersue. The grocery chain released surveillance footage corroborating their claim.
Eventually, Brown admitted that he'd fabricated the entirety of his story, apologized to Whole Foods, and left the public wondering why he'd make something like that up. A lawsuit presented the possibility for two victories: of significant financial gain from a major corporation and coming out on the other side of the ordeal as a persecuted gay man who successfully sought justice for himself.
With McSwiggan, though, the motivation is not as clearly defined. While there's no direct monetary benefit to claiming to have been the victim of a hate crime, there is a certain unsettling symmetry about this kind of story—particularly for an LGBTQ-focused internet personality whose brand is built on his personal life.
Many of McSwiggan's videos, like "I Was Fired For Being Gay," "Giving Up Sex To Give Blood," and "My Suicide Note," touch on the sort of issues that have become emblematic of the struggles faced LGBTQ youth around the world. While McSwiggan may have dealt with those issues himself, there is an oddly logical way in which a video about surviving a gay bash would be on-brand for his YouTube channel.
Virality is the same fleeting, unpredictable catalyst that turned Chewbacca Mom into an overnight celebrity—and inspired a gay waitress from New Jersey to lie about having been discriminated against and collect thousands of dollars in sympathy donations.
It's unclear whether McSwiggan was chasing that same kind of success with his now infamous photo.