The Attack That Wasn't

What on Monday morning was becoming a cause célèbre for bloggers and pundits alike was anything but by early afternoon, as a Princeton University student who is a member of a conservative campus group admitted to police that he fabricated an assault that he said had occurred Friday several miles from campus.

December 18, 2007

What on Monday morning was becoming a cause célèbre for bloggers and pundits alike was anything but by early afternoon, as a Princeton University student who is a member of a conservative campus group admitted to police that he fabricated an assault that he said had occurred Friday several miles from campus.

The alleged incident prompted flurries of comments over the weekend on political blogs and newspaper Web sites, with some suggesting that Princeton administrators and liberal students were ignoring the politically motivated violence because they didn't agree with the victim's views. News of the student's admission brought out another round of spirited posts.

No charges have been filed against Francisco Nava, the Princeton student, pending further investigation, the Princeton Township Police Department said late Monday. Nava remains enrolled at the university, and his case will likely go before a disciplinary committee made up of faculty, students and staff. Lauren Robinson-Brown, a Princeton spokeswoman, said the penalty could range from a warning to expulsion.

Nava reported Friday that two men wearing black ski caps and dark clothing pinned him against a brick wall and hit him repeatedly over the face. His injuries, which included cuts and a swollen jaw, were apparent to members of the pro-abstinence Anscombe Society, the student group to which he belongs, who visited Nava at a nearby hospital the night of the alleged attack. Nava was treated and released but returned to the campus health center the next day for further treatment, group members say.

Nava also admitted Monday to fabricating threatening e-mails sent earlier last week to himself, three other Anscombe members and Robert George, a well-known conservative professor at Princeton. Nava also told the group that he had received several other threatening letters over the past several months as he had become more involved in the group. Nava told classmates that he received hundreds of hateful e-mail after a column he penned in the Daily Princetonian, the campus newspaper, attacking condom give-away campaigns as "sponsorship of hookup sex that is fundamentally unsafe for females and ethically unconscionable for the doctors and health professionals who promote it."

George and the group's members began questioning Nava's account of the Friday attack upon hearing a report that he wrote a slur on his own door and then reported it being from someone else while enrolled at the Groton School. Nava was reportedly forced to write a letter to Princeton, which had admitted him at that point, explaining the incident. Nava told George that he was lonely at Groton and wanted to leave the school, the Daily Princetonian quoted the professor as saying.

A Groton spokesman said Nava graduated from the school but that he couldn't comment on the incident. Robinson-Brown, the Princeton spokeswoman, said only that Nava was scheduled to be in the class of 2007 but ended up in the class of 2009.

Jonathan Hwang, the vice president of Anscombe and one of the students who received the threatening e-mail, said that once he and others heard about the Groton incident late Friday, they took information to Princeton Township police. The next morning, Nava admitted fabricating the high school note, Hwang said. But he reiterated that he hadn't made up the attack or e-mailed message.

The students said they were shocked to hear Nava's confession on Monday. He could not be reached for comment.

"I've been equally disappointed all the way through," said Sherif Girgis, former president of Ambscombe and one of the students who received the threat. "I feel for everyone on campus who’s been dragged through this and what it may mean for [Nava's] personal life.”

Added Hwang: "I'm very concerned for him. I'm concerned for his health, for his future and for the impact it's going to have on his life. I'm not sure what will happen."

Neither Hwang nor Girgis reported having talked with Nava since the weekend. They said they only came to know him this semester.

"Every time he talked he seemed a nice, honest, straightforward character," Hwang said.

The students say they still don't understand what caused the injuries to Nava. The Daily Princetonian quoted Nava as saying "I accept full responsibility for my actions and agree to face criminal and/or disciplinary proceedings from the university."

By the time the Princeton Township police got involved in the case, a university investigation into threats against Nava had already begun.

“We wanted to ensure that people were feeling as safe and secure as possible," she said. “Because safety is paramount, it’s concerning that a student would fabricate such information."

Both Hwang and Girgis said the group decided to hold off on plans for a solidarity event until learning all the information. "We discouraged anyone from drawing any hard and fast conclusion or attempting to capitalize on this politically," Girgis said. "Princeton is not Duke – everyone from the top down played this one right."

Still, there remains the issue of the initial reaction.

Michael Fragoso, a Princeton graduate, commented in a New York Sun article that appeared before the admission that "There would rightly be outrage had the student been part of some other minority on campus. I have yet to see that right now, and that's rather disappointing."

He responded Monday that it was "surprising to hear that these things would happen, and equally shocking and disturbing to hear about the fabrication."

Fragoso said his concerns about the university's initial reaction are "still salient."

And even before Nava's admission, some were quick to accuse bloggers and other writers of passing judgment before hearing all the evidence.

"Don't jump to conclusions -- attack probably coincidental," one reader wrote on the New York Sun message board.

"He may have lied about it but both sides have used this tactic before, and both sides look for publicity to help the cause," another commented.


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