Fewer than 24 hours after it was posted on the Coeur d'Alene Press website, the story of Rachel Dolezal had gone viral. By Friday morning, it was the top trending item on Twitter and had been rehashed everywhere from Buzzfeed and Vice to the Washington Post and National Public Radio.
Dolezal, the 37-year-old president of the Spokane, Wash., branch of the NAACP, was accused by her estranged parents of misrepresenting her ethnicity. She claims to be black, but her parents say she's not.
"She is fabricating a very false and malicious lie," Dolezal's mother, Ruthanne, told the Press from her home in Troy, Mont.
Dolezal has not responded to requests from multiple media outlets, though she sat down with Spokane-based TV station KREM 2 for a wide-ranging interview in which she said, "If I was asked I would definitely say that yes, I do consider myself to be black" and explained that she does not acknowledge her biological family.
The bizarre story unfolded at the same time as an investigation into alleged hate crimes perpetrated against Dolezal cast doubts on her claims. According to the Spokesman-Review, Dolezal reported a suspicious package left in her post office box, but lacking a stamp or bar code, postal workers told police that the only way the package could have been placed in the P.O. box was if someone with a key had put it there. Previous reports by Dolezal of hate crimes have also come under scrutiny.
"None of them passed the smell test," Kurt Neumaier, a former board member of the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations told the Spokesman. Dolezal previously worked for the task force in its Human Rights Education Institute.
In addition to her claims of ethnicity and hate crimes, numerous other statements Dolezal has made in recent years have been challenged. In a 2014 interview with the Easterner, the campus publication of Eastern Washington University, where Dolezal has been an adjunct professor of Africana Studies since 2007, she claimed to have lived in South Africa, directed the Human Rights Education Institute and alleged systematic abuse by her family.
According to the Coeur d'Alene Press report, Dolezal was never director of the institute and her family denied that she ever lived in South Africa or was subject to abuse. What's more, she has claimed that her father, Larry Dolezal, is not actually her biological father. On Facebook she named Albert Wilkerson, a black man who volunteered with the Human Rights Education Institute, as her dad.
The Dolezals refute their daughter's claims with a birth certificate, issued in 1977 in Lincoln County, Montana, naming them as her parents.
In the meantime, calls have been made for her to step down from the Spokane NAACP and the city of Spokane is reviewing her application to serve on the police ombudsman's board to determine whether any policies were violated. The national office of the NAACP released a statement this morning standing behind Dolezal's record of advocacy.
"One’s racial identity is not a qualifying criteria or disqualifying standard for NAACP leadership," stated the Baltimore, M.D.-based organization.
In addition to her high-profile civil rights work in north Idaho and Spokane, Dolezal was a monthly opinion columnist at the Pacific Northwest Inlander, where she frequently wrote about race, gender and police issues.