Even in the wake of the Orlando mass shooting, Calum McSwiggan says he never believed he’d be attacked outside a gay club.
The 26-year-old YouTuber said he was in Washington, D.C., when he got the news about the horrific massacre at the Pulse nightclub. “I was out at a gay nightclub, and it was coming home from that night that I found out what happened, and I’d never been so devastated in my life,” McSwiggan said while sitting on a bench in front of the doors to a Los Angeles courtroom.
He was formally charged Wednesday in that courtroom. Police say he filed a false report of a criminal offense, and the internet is outraged that someone would fabricate a story of an attack, as McSwiggan is accused of doing. He is accused of making up an attack by three men in a hate crime when the Orlando massacre just left 49 people dead and 53 injured weeks earlier.
The YouTuber pleaded not guilty to the charge through his public defender, who advised him not to do interviews with the media, and is due back in court July 19. If convicted, he faces up to 364 days in jail.
McSwiggan said he feels “honestly really, really shocked and upset and honestly appalled that I now have a criminal charge against me for calling police in a time of need.”
“I think if somebody is a victim of a crime, that person should be given the benefit of the doubt and believed,” said McSwiggan. “Just because there are no physical markings on my face other than the broken teeth, that doesn’t mean I wasn’t assaulted, and that is why the police think I wasn’t assaulted.”
The British lifestyle vlogger was in town for VidCon, a conference for YouTubers. Riding high off the positive experience, he and his friends headed to the Abbey to celebrate, he said. It was outside the Abbey, a bar in the epicenter of West Hollywood, that McSwiggan claims three men attacked him in a hate crime. “Security at VidCon was absolutely incredible in the wake of a YouTuber who was shot in Florida and the Orlando shootings,” McSwiggan said from the Airport Courthouse. “We felt so safe there. We literally left VidCon and that security, went to a gay club, and I got hit and kicked.”
When reached for comment from The Advocate, a spokesperson for the Abbey said, “We are deferring all inquiries for this story to the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Department.” Police said they couldn’t verify any attack, and instead they arrested McSwiggan when he admitted vandalizing a car.
“I went to the police and now apparently I’m a criminal,” he said.
McSwiggan said the backlash on social media is “ruining my reputation.” Many on Twitter questioned his story after the police released a statement that he was seen injuring himself with a payphone in a holding cell in West Hollywood. Police confirmed to The Advocate that there is video of McSwiggan harming himself, but they haven’t released the footage because it will be evidence. McSwiggan hadn’t mentioned that he’d caused the stitches on his forehead when posting an Instagram selfie from a hospital bed, where police had taken him.
“The response on social media is ruining my reputation. People are saying that I’m making this up, which is just heartbreaking,” said McSwiggan, who was joined in court Wednesday with two of his friends, Melanie Murphy and Riyahd Khalaf, who are also YouTubers. They were both with McSwiggan at the Abbey on the night of the alleged attack. But McSwiggan said the attack happened when he got separated from his group of friends.
Murphy posted her account of the story on Facebook. Khalaf had originally posted his account of the night via a series of tweets, but those tweets have since been deleted.
“My whole adult life I’ve done everything I can for this community and I’ve always dedicated myself to LGBT+ issues, so now my entire reputation is being discredited because the police simply didn’t believe I did this and I have said that that’s not the police’s fault,” McSwiggan said Wednesday.
“They were doing their job and I think that the police probably didn’t believe this happened to me, but it did happen to me,” he said, “and just because they can’t see that, there needs to be something in place to protect people and victims of hate crimes.”
Damien Nichols claims to be one of the three men that McSwiggan has accused of attacking him outside the Abbey. He’s popped up on social media and in several stories about the incident. Nichols spoke to The Advocate over the phone Wednesday and said, “He’s abusing this ‘hate crime law,’ he’s just insane — complete madness, he was completely drunk and obliterated, acting a fool, acting crazy.” Nichols said he was shocked to hear McSwiggan’s version of events. “The next morning I come to find out that he said it was a hate crime and that the person who owned the car bashed him.”
At the courthouse Wednesday, when asked about Nichols, McSwiggan said, “I don’t know that name.”
On Tuesday, the day McSwiggan posted that hospital bed selfie on Facebook and Instagram, alleging he was the victim of a hate crime, Nichols responded to the post with this comment:
“WTF MAN! you were smashing peoples cars, you keyed my friends car! you stole a fucking bottle from the abbey. No one beat you up! you were the one acting crazy! You need to apologize for this, honestly we have gay bashing all over this world, every day. Young men and women are killed, for being gay. Don’t cry wolf!”
Nichols, who is gay, says two other friends who were with him that night, one gay and the other straight, ran into McSwiggan outside the Abbey. Nichols claims McSwiggan had stolen a bottle of liquor from the club, and that his two friends and McSwiggan ended up back in their friend’s car.
McSwiggan said this is where one of the men punched him in the mouth. “I blacked out quickly after this but remember being kicked in the body multiple times, I believe by all three men,” McSwiggan wrote on Facebook.
In a Facebook post where he tells his side of the events that happened on Monday night, McSwiggan wrote about coming to after blacking out during the attack, then damaging the car in a moment of vengeance. “In a moment of devastation, anger and blind rage I kicked the wing mirror of the attacker’s car until it broke and then ripped it off with my hands. I also scratched the front of the car with the broken wing mirror before returning back to The Abbey for help.”
Murphy, McSwiggan’s friend who was with him that night, wrote about the car incident, noting that McSwiggan said it was a “white car.” The full quote from her is below:
“After the attack, Calum states that he was left slumped by a white car that Calum believes to have been the attacker’s car (he has faint memories of one or more of the three men entering and exiting this vehicle). Calum said he got up and in a blind rage of fear and anger he ripped the wing mirror off the car and brought it with him back to The Abbey where we found him, he was waving it about and crying when I first spotted him. Riyadh then called 911 (again a record of this call exists), Calum was happy to show the police what he’d done to the car as he knew he had to report the attack. I snapchatted in a tipsy and very upset state about this too and I have these videos saved.”
Nichols said he and his friends were never contacted by the police, but that he told his friend whose car was damaged that he should contact a detective because “he needs to pay your car, he needs to pay to fix that because it’s outrageous if he thinks he’s just going to get away with damaging somebody’s car.”
In Murphy’s post, she said McSwiggan chose not to press charges against the three men “out of fear” and because the cops told them that even if the officers found the alleged attackers, “they’d likely only get a couple of weeks in jail, and they said stuff like this happens every night of the week.”