Posted on December 6, 2019

Hate Crime Hoax: Nathan Stang Vandalized His Indiana Church with ‘Heil Trump’

Peter Jamison, Washington Post, December 5, 2019

The knock on Nathan Stang’s door came just after 1 p.m. Stang, a doctoral student in music at Indiana University, answered the soft rapping that Friday wearing a blue bathrobe. Standing outside his apartment was a clean-shaven man dressed in beige slacks and a pink, checked shirt.

“Hi, Nathan,” said Brian Shrader, a deputy with the Brown County Sheriff’s Department. “Remember me?”

“Yeah,” Stang replied. It was Shrader who had interviewed him after an appalling act of vandalism at St. David’s Episcopal Church, where Stang played the organ and directed the choir. On the Sunday morning after the 2016 election, Stang had discovered the church’s walls defaced with black spray paint: a swastika, along with the words “Heil Trump” and “Fag Church.”

The graffiti in rural Indiana became a national sensation, part of a string of high-profile hate crime reports in the wake of Donald Trump’s victory. Late-night television host Stephen Colbert featured an image of one of the tagged walls during a monologue. The church’s priest, the Rev. Kelsey Hutto, appeared on CNN to champion the values of St. David’s, an island of liberalism in conservative Brown County.


The church purposely left the graffiti untouched for more than two weeks to send a message that it would not be cowed. Stang played music as the spray paint was finally scrubbed off at a ceremony of healing attended by more than 200 people. But the hatred and distrust behind the markings could not be washed away so easily — either for the congregation or for its 26-year-old organist.

As a gay man, Stang had dreaded the unexpected triumph of Trump and his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, an ardent opponent of same-sex marriage and other LGBTQ rights. Stang’s boyfriend, a professional flutist, had wept after the election results were finalized.

When Shrader appeared on his doorstep five months later, in April 2017, Stang was struggling with major depression. Over the winter, he had contemplated suicide. His face — fine-featured and quick to come alive when he sat at the keyboard or stood before a classroom of undergraduates — was covered in dark stubble.

“Do you have like 5, 10 minutes you could walk out to my car?” Shrader asked. “Have a seat with me, chat for a few minutes?”

“Sure I could,” Stang replied. “Do you mind if I put on some clothes?”

A few minutes later the doors of Shrader’s unmarked Ford SUV, streaked with rain from the day’s intermittent storms, swung shut.

“Alright,” Shrader said, shifting in his seat. “So, again. Here for the church case.”

Stang, expressionless, watched the 30-year-old detective’s face. There had been no arrests for the vandalism, and no outward signs that investigators were making progress. But the case had reached a critical juncture, and though Stang didn’t know it, Shrader was surreptitiously recording their conversation. A copy of the video was later provided to The Washington Post.

“I’ve spent six months on this case, okay? A long time,” Shrader said slowly. He took a breath and placed his right hand, palm down, on the armrest console that separated them.

“Based on what I’ve found in this investigation,” he told the organist, “you’re responsible for this.”


{snip} The sheriff’s office subpoenaed records from a cellular tower near the church, and Shrader painstakingly sifted through the numbers of those whose phones had sent or received data in the area on Saturday night and Sunday morning.

Checking those records against the phone numbers of people connected to the congregation, Shrader found a match.

Nathan Stang wasn’t a longtime member of St. David’s. He didn’t even believe in God. He was the church’s paid organist, a job he’d held for less than a year. Church leaders admired his mastery of sacred music, and the young composer had become a favorite among members of the choir.

On the morning he found the graffiti, the organist said nothing to Shrader about being in Bean Blossom the previous night. About a month after Trump’s inauguration on Jan. 20, 2017, the detective briefly questioned Stang again, disguising the interview as a routine follow-up.

When Stang denied being in Brown County on Saturday, he became Shrader’s prime suspect. The detective now believed the gay organist had desecrated his own church with homophobic graffiti.


[Editor’s Note: The full article is available at the original article link below. It’s an in-depth account of the hoaxer and his crime.]