Fault Lines
12 August 2017

Why Donna Hylton’s Past Does & Doesn’t Matter

January 27, 2017 (Fault Lines) — The American Spectator isn’t exactly the finest or most impartial source for news and opinion, but a blog post entitled, “The Women Movement’s Embrace of Rape-Torturer Psychopath Donna Hylton” both lowers the bar for discussing the Women’s March and the issues at its heart, and highlights the problematic approach many people take when arguing against things they oppose.

The post begins with this:

Via Twitter, on a Reddit forum, I stumbled over this horrifying story: Donna Hylton, a woman who spent time in prison for participating in the kidnapping, rape, murder, and ransoming of a gay man, spoke at the Women’s March as an advocate for women of color.

The story of what Hylton did in her youth is without a doubt horrifying, and both the blog post and the Psychology Today article it cites discuss her crime in excruciating detail. There’s no doubt about it; Hylton and others did the unthinkable. They tortured a man to death. Hylton also went to prison for it for a long time. The post doesn’t emphasize that nearly as much, of course.

The principles behind the Women’s March, things like equal rights and ending violence against women, don’t just matter to women. Women aren’t the only people capable of speaking on the subject, but Hylton brings something very interesting to the table. As Hylton very clearly explains on her website, she’s a women’s rights activist and criminal justice reform advocate. She is a woman. She is black. She was also the victim of abuse as a child and spent a long time in prison after committing a heinous crime.

Hylton’s life experiences are relevant to her causes. A white guy who’s never been to prison might be able to give a great talk about violence against women and inequality, but there’s an understandable draw to hearing about violence and discrimination against women from someone who’s experienced both. There’s an understandable draw to hearing about what happens to black women in the criminal justice system from a black woman who’s been through the criminal justice system. Hylton’s background doesn’t make her positions are any more valid, but even if her conclusions based on her life experiences are dead wrong, her perspective is colored by a very unique and very germane set of life experiences. Her views are worth hearing.

The reasoning in the blog post is dangerous for numerous reasons. Attacking something as huge and diverse as feminism in general or some imagined “Women’s Movement” represented by a single march because of the background of one person involved is the sort of thing that only succeeds with the stupidest among us. To say that such a movement is embracing someone simply by having her speak is misleading.

If it wasn’t obvious enough that the post is really just a flawed attack on something the author dislikes, this made it abundantly clear:

At the Women’s March, there was no mention of the man who lost his life because of her actions. There was no humility–only defiance. Donna Hylton presented herself as a victim but did not mention her role as victimizer.

There are also no prayers for victims of police brutality at funerals for officers shot in the line of duty, though the post’s author would surely bristle at the mere thought such a thing should be expected at an occasion so completely unrelated. In reality, the article is just one appeal after another to the worst in people:

Hylton has written a memoir and Rosario Dawson wants to play her.

So, fairytales really do come true for psychopathic torturers–at least they have for Women’s March poster child Donna Hylton.

Hylton apparently jumped from being embraced by a movement that isn’t really a single organized entity in the first place, a dubious enough claim on its own, to being the movement’s poster child. Even worse, saying someone who was the victim of violence and discrimination had her fairytale come true by getting to advocate for eliminating those things is ridiculous. Even if she is pure evil, Hylton would still surely prefer that she’d never been abused, discriminated against, or sent to prison. That’s probably true even if Rosario Dawson ends up playing her in the movie.

Not all women are good people. Many victims of violence have done bad things themselves. People who are victims of discrimination in the justice system have often done things that rightfully led to their involvement with the justice system in the first place. In fact, the argument is usually that the sentence was too harsh, not that there shouldn’t have been a sentence at all.

If you think that people who’ve done bad things should never again have a say in anything, then at least you’re somewhat consistent. If you’re going to want to hear about the problems with the justice system from people who’ve experienced them first hand, then don’t be surprised when those people bring a lot of ugly baggage to the table. It’s often a necessary byproduct of the very reason why we want to hear from them.

In attacking things they don’t like, many people seem to be competing in a mad dash to the bottom these days. Desperately seeking agreement and taking a scorched earth approach to opponents themselves as well as their ideas, droves of otherwise reasonable, intelligent people aren’t arguing their positions on their merits, but rather trying to win anyway they can. Ad hominem seems to reign supreme with that approach, sadly, and the Spectator article about Hylton is a clear testament to that.

Let’s say Donna Hylton really is the worst human being on the face of the earth, a monstrous psychopath capable of unspeakable evil. Whether she’s Satan herself or not, the existence of many of the problems she and the Women’s March are trying to address seem to be undisputed. So do we just disregard the whole cause because the wrong person has become a visible part of it?

We can’t give in to the sorts of arguments contained in that post. They may be effective at demonizing causes that should be demonized from time to time, but they get the right result for the wrong reason. Donna Hylton’s past is a red herring. Her messages should resonate or not based on their own merits, not because we don’t like the messenger.

42 Comments on this post.

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  • Mark Peterson
    27 January 2017 at 9:16 am - Reply

    While good points are made in this article, missing is any explanation of how Hylton’s life experience lead to her to treat another human being so horrifically. Nor does it explain how her life was redeemed. These are the two most important reasons to justify her presence in the event. Constructive messages of the Women’s March are totally lost on the political rhetoric. Fail.

  • Stu
    27 January 2017 at 12:24 pm - Reply

    I wonder how the author of THIS article feels about Donald Trump’s past or the past of ANY conservative politician or political activist for that matter. I would venture to guess that when the shoe is on the other foot, the author doesn’t keep the same standards. Just conjecture on my part, however.

    • Amagi
      28 January 2017 at 11:25 am - Reply

      I don’t think it is conjecture all. It is fact. I dare say if this crime were perpetrated by someone other than a protected victim class, the response would be totally different.

  • Joseph
    27 January 2017 at 1:54 pm - Reply

    She did the crime, she did the time, and now that her debt to society is paid off in full she’s a citizen in good standing just like the rest of us… but even with all the mitigating circumstances in the world, people don’t think of sadistic crimes that way and they never will.

  • NavymanBill
    27 January 2017 at 1:59 pm - Reply

    As Mark Peterson, and Stu both put it correctly, this is in effect a WHITEWASH! The woman was abused. Got it. She did a horrific torture to another human-okay-a man-a john, but it ended in his DEATH!! (Make her a man-doing that to a woman. Can you hear the howls of protest? ) And now she’s a Poster Girl? And Rosario Dawson-who I never had a problem with-thinks she’s something special? Not bad if you don’t mind convicted murders-true. And the howls that we hear about Trumps locker room talk? Such talk is just that-TALK. It is a FAR CRY from what this torturer did. And as Mark said, the article doesn’t say anything about how this woman’s life was redeemed, except as to be a spokesperson for violence against women. NOT GOOD ENOUGH.

    • Suzanne
      30 January 2017 at 12:40 am - Reply

      Uhm, yeah, you’re right, the crime an ex-con who did 27 years in prison for WAS much worse than what Donald Trump did. Only one of them holds the nation’s and maybe world’s highest elected office.

      I actually don’t like that she got to speak and wish they would’ve chosen someone else – yes almost every ex-con has done something pretty awful, but her crime is way out of the norm in callousness. But I can’t get over that you’re comparing the president to this person as if it should make people go easier on him lol. Yes she got to give a speech about an issue she knows well at a big public event – he’s the PRESIDENT OF AMERICA. Maybe consider if you should have higher standards for one of these two roles?

  • karen h.
    27 January 2017 at 2:25 pm - Reply

    For some crimes there is NO restitution, this is such a crime. I imagine her victims family’s grief will never stop.
    This woman is an animal, she should be spending her time working anonymously with the youth in poverty ridden cities. She has lost her right to speak publicly.

  • Carrmela
    27 January 2017 at 2:38 pm - Reply

    Remember what happened to Paula Dean? She lost endorsement deals and a TV show because she used the “N” word 30 years before. Who came to her defense saying it shouldn’t matter because it was a long time ago and she has now changed?

  • Lamia
    27 January 2017 at 2:39 pm - Reply

    Callous, sophistic bullshit, trying to defend the indefensible. But then, perhaps one should not expect any better from a law site.

    Hylton should not have been asked to speak at that March and if she had a shred of human decency she would not have accepted.

    @ Joseph

    “now that her debt to society is paid off in full”

    Hylton did not owe ‘a debt to society’, she owed it to the human being she tortured, raped and murdered. ‘Society’ wasn’t murdered and has no business ‘forgiving’ her. How on earth can you say she has paid the debt in full? Did she bring her victim back to life?

  • Bonnie Knoppe
    27 January 2017 at 4:09 pm - Reply

    My thoughts exactly.

  • Hugh
    27 January 2017 at 4:34 pm - Reply

    Heinous crimes of that nature should have gotten the death penalty. Completion of a prison sentence does not remove.the fact that she is guilty of horrible deeds. Torture is never OK.

  • marymorstan
    27 January 2017 at 6:22 pm - Reply

    Grostesque and immoral rationalizing of a truly horrific crime, a crime committed with premeditation, malice, and savagery. No one has said to disregard the Women’s March because of Hylton; what they’ve said is, “Out of all the people who could have spoken, why, with her background of cruelty, was she selected?” Can you imagine Martin Luther King, Jr choosing her to speak at the Civil Rights March because she represented another aspect of experience? This is a dreadful opinion from a writer who seems to have no moral standards.

  • M. Hamilton
    27 January 2017 at 7:36 pm - Reply

    Matt Brown: Kidnapping, torture, and murder. She should have never seen freedom. PEROID!

  • Alemayehu Solomon
    28 January 2017 at 4:33 am - Reply

    Hylton is a scumbag that was found guilty of murdering, raping, and ransoming the corpse of a homosexual man. Did she serve her time? Yes she did. Was it long enough? No it was not. And should she be giving any other human being on this planet advice on how to be a “good person” or how to live there life? Hahaha please.

    27 years behind bars? The only thing she knows how to do is fight for her life and survive behind bars. That is literally the lifetime of a younger person, spent in prison for taking a life. What “perspective” can she bring? Does she know about the DNC’s betrayal of their base? Does she know how the corporations have bought both major parties, and change will not come unless money is removed from politics? Does she know that people like Debbie Schultz and Donna Brazile and other failures on the left basically supported the worst candidate of all time (HRC), cheated Bernie, and got wrecked by Donald Trump?

    “She is a woman. She is black. She was also the victim of abuse as a child and spent a long time in prison after committing a heinous crime.

    Hylton’s life experiences are relevant to her causes. A white guy…”

    Don’t bring RACE into this. It is because of identity politics that this country is being torn apart. She is a PERSON who killed another PERSON, and got out early somehow. That is it.

    Moreover, don’t ever quote a Reddit post if you want to be taken seriously within academia, holy moly that is embarrassing.

  • Raz
    28 January 2017 at 5:57 am - Reply

    Trying to imagine how this would be if it was a bunch of men gang raping and torturing a woman to death, or a former religious extremist, or for that matter a former anything evil being an advocate for this.

    My question is, why HER?

  • Pragmatic43
    28 January 2017 at 8:52 am - Reply

    Because she fits the narrative. That’s all that matters. The left knows nothing of human decency.

  • The Donna Hylton Dilemma | Simple Justice
    28 January 2017 at 8:53 am - Reply

    […] Hylton a wise choice for a person to speak to hundreds of thousands of women at their march?  At Fault Lines, Matt Brown tries to thread the needle of what someone like Hylton has to offer despite what she […]

  • Katie
    28 January 2017 at 9:03 am - Reply

    Did she ever express regret for what she did?

  • Tim
    28 January 2017 at 9:32 am - Reply

    No her debt to society isn’t paid for! She murdered someone took their life. They will never come back. What comes out of this persons life doesn’t have any value because she doesn’t value life.
    Murder rape molestion you damged someone for life. That debt will never be paid.

  • Donald Miller
    28 January 2017 at 10:57 am - Reply

    The stats tell us that most people who’ve been abused don’t become kidnappers and killers. “She is a woman. She is black.” There it is right there. The soft bigotry of low expectations. It’s the kind of racism that can be summed up in four words, “Oh, you poor thing.” The man she helped kidnap, torture, and murder is still in his grave. Her debt to society will be paid when she is in hers.

  • Linda
    28 January 2017 at 11:19 am - Reply

    Her debt to society is paid for? What??? Sounds like a lenient judge.

  • Dale
    28 January 2017 at 11:55 am - Reply

    Wait…. what? Gay men are as oppressed if not more than women! She didn’t commit her crimes against John Q White guy… she sodomized another oppressed minority!! And now she’s being praised?

    Calling Bullshit on this one…

    • Jollee
      28 January 2017 at 2:08 pm - Reply

      I agree, heads up Gay community your expendable according to the left…

  • David Meyer Lindenberg
    28 January 2017 at 12:06 pm - Reply

    Looking over the comments, there’s two things people should probably keep in mind:

    1) There’s no proof Hylton was molested as a child. She says she was, but as the Psychology Today article makes clear, there’s excellent reason to doubt her honesty.

    2) There’s also no proof her victim was gay. That claim seems to come from this part of the article:

    Even 10 years later, Spurling could recall [Hylton’s accomplice] Rita’s chilling response when they questioned her about shoving a three-foot metal bar up Vigliarole’s rear: “He was a homo anyway.” How did she know? “When I stuck the bar up his rectum he wiggled.”

    • Sha Hyl
      30 January 2017 at 11:05 am - Reply

      Thank you for your post! SHE WAS NEVER SEXUALLY MOLESTED AS A CHILD
      Every thing she did was of her own accord and her warped sense of what is wrong or right.
      She has not shown any remorse for participating in the heinous crime
      She is a Sociopath and a pathological liar
      She is victimizing her victims again and again.
      Don’t be fooled by her outward appearance her heart and soul are EVIL.
      I KNOW I AM HER SISTER. I SPEAK FOR MY DAD AND MY DEAD MOTHER WHO SHE CLAIMS SOLD HER WHEN SHE WAS CHILD…LYING PIECE OF CRAP.

  • Justin Beverly
    28 January 2017 at 12:28 pm - Reply

    She’s a “citizen in good standing”? That is an insane statement! You wouldn’t say a child molester or rapist is in “good standing” after serving time. Some crimes are worse than others, and her crime is as bad as they get. We don’t just assume the person is mentally stable after serving time in prison. Actually evidence would suggest the exact opposite. She tortured and murdered another human being.

  • Jollee
    28 January 2017 at 1:40 pm - Reply

    It doesn’t matter that she went to prison for this already, what matters is this person committed a horrific inhuman act upon an individual Gay or not, in my book a person who can commit an act of this nature and not be lifetime apologetic for it is a sociopath! But instead she is rewarded and representing the women’s movement, this is sick people…

  • RogerCA
    28 January 2017 at 2:40 pm - Reply

    The woman is a murdering sadist who, in participated in brutally torturing a man for three weeks and left him to suffocate in a storage trunk, but awwwww…she has a story. FAIL!

  • Ryan
    28 January 2017 at 4:52 pm - Reply

    It’s not about disregarding the whole cause; it’s about her horrific actions disqualifying her from being anything other than a distraction. She does not deserve praise nor dignity being assigned to her story. She is free from prison now; she should live quietly and repentently. I do not grant her forgiveness for her actions, nor do many others.

  • Joseph
    28 January 2017 at 7:12 pm - Reply

    Regarding some of the replies to my first comment here regarding to the “debt to society”, I was in part putting up a strawman so I could pull the rug out from under it. It was a poor stunt, targeted at an audience that doesn’t exist. Nevertheless, according to some theories of justice, that’s how the justice system actually works.

  • Scott
    28 January 2017 at 10:19 pm - Reply

    She lacks the moral authority to speak for anything. Her crime was heinous and while the judicial system may have sentenced her to 25 years, the court of public opinion is fully entitled to give her a “life” sentence.

  • Elsa
    28 January 2017 at 11:11 pm - Reply

    Plenty of people suffer horrific abuse, whether as a child or adult. And MANY of them do not commit crimes, let alone participate in kidnapping/torturing someone to death. And there are PLENTY of women out there who have done lengthy terms in prisons, for committing much less heinous acts. So this piece of human garbage is profiting from her criminal actions. Using her noteriety as a CRIMINAL, not an abuse survivor, to gain a following, glean attention, and more than likely make a profit. Way to go woman’s march. You are the only entity to ever make me feel embarrassed to be a woman. And the fact that these ignorant half-wits gain national attention make me embarrassed for our country as a whole.

  • Laurie Wilhelm
    28 January 2017 at 11:24 pm - Reply

    A criminal justice reform advocate? Trying to shed light on the horrific conditions facing incarcerated women and girls? I can do that in one sentence. DON’T COMMIT CRIMES, AND YOU WON’T HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT GOING TO PRISON.

  • Michelle
    28 January 2017 at 11:31 pm - Reply

    You are so correct!

  • Donald
    29 January 2017 at 1:02 am - Reply

    While I’m personally of the opinion that she did the crime, she paid the time, and I don’t blame her for taking the money/prestige for speaking at this event, I do think less of the people who have put her on this pedestal, both the organizers and the membership that praises her as a civil rights hero. The subject is just so bizarre, I can’t even think of an analogy. But just imagine a convicted rapist getting on stage and tons of men cheering, high fiving, and fist pumping about their speech about how women get lighter sentences and are a privileged class, it would just be totally ludicrous and in very poor taste. I have to imagine there would at least be a similar response, probably far worse.

  • George
    29 January 2017 at 8:03 am - Reply

    One of the most morally bankrupt articles I have read in a long time.

  • S. Dix
    29 January 2017 at 10:09 am - Reply

    This woman directly participated in the kidnaping of a man, tortured him for a minimum of 15 days, then murderer him and left him to rot. This is the literal truth of what she did. She has never shown a single ounce of remorse for her crime. This article is completely apologist and literally tries to dance around the fact that she has zero remorse or empathy for the crime she committed or for the man she made a victim. She has tainted your message and tainted everyone at that march rather you want to believe that or not. She weakened your cause not strengthened it. And yes, her past does matter. Give me one single reason a known torturer and murdurer whom has been a proven exceptional liar should be credible.

  • Dana
    30 January 2017 at 1:10 pm - Reply

    In the Psychology Today article that I read and was referenced in the other blog, she stated she was told she’d be paid to witness a rape. This is a woman who says she was a victim of numerous sexual abuses – why would she feel comfortable or okay with witnessing a rape? She said the money was going to pay for her modeling portfolio… greed. She was greedy and she has proven herself to be a liar. What this woman seems to lack is accountability for her actions and decisions.

  • Cody
    30 January 2017 at 1:43 pm - Reply

    No mention of how the LGBT community might feel about this evil woman speaking at a march for progress? She took part in a hate crime related murder of a gay man, which included raping him with objects and using a pair of pliers on his testicles. Jamaica is the most notoriously antigay country in the Western Hemisphere. And this woman SHOULD NEVER have a seat at the table when it comes to progressive causes after what was done. Point blank period.

  • Steve
    31 January 2017 at 10:03 am - Reply

    There is a higher standard. We fully expect the president to not sodomize anyone with a pipe, hold him for ransom, and murder him. No matter what standard you hold this disgusting woman to, she falls short.

  • Peter George Stewartq
    4 February 2017 at 5:54 am - Reply

    This is complete and utter twaddle. The woman shows not the slightest hint of remorse (as evidenced by her apparently upfront but actually weasel-worded admission of her crime), and has the audacity to claim that she is in some sense a victim, while she’s lionized by a bunch of idiots who are so wrapped up in their ideology that they’ve entirely replaced thought with doublethink and rationalization.

    What led up to her crime is irrelevant except to her own personal redemption and those who love her and are close to her. Whether and to what extent it’s possible to draw valuable lessons from her experiences or the problems she’s highlighting is also irrelevant. What’s relevant is that a sadistic psychopath is lionized by the Feminist movement, when the gender-switched equivalent would be absolutely, completely, totally socially unacceptable, without a great deal of obvious contrition, regardless of whether she’d “done her time”. The fact that she’s “done her time” allows her to walk freely amongst normal, non-psychopathic human beings. It doesn’t give her licence to thrust herself into the public eye and be treated as some kind of hero.

  • Steven Langston
    7 February 2017 at 11:21 am - Reply

    They don’t even mentioned that she kidnapped a gay man, tortured him in the a span of 15-20 days then death overcame him. She beat him, sexually assaulted him, and tortured him. I love how these other liberal news outlets play her down like she was an “accessory” to murder. That’s bs! She claims to be a feminist which makes her liberal by default yet she kills a man who was gay like that makes any sense!