Posted on July 15, 2010

The New Black Panther Party Is the New ACORN

David A. Graham, Reader Supported News, July 14, 2010

As voter-intimidation exercises go, it wasn’t much. In 2008, a lone white voter reported he had encountered two black men dressed all in black, one carrying a nightstick, at his Philadelphia polling place in a predominantly black neighborhood. The armed man was escorted away by police, and no one reported the incident to the local district attorney. {snip}


So how did the incident become a replay of the ACORN scandal? There’s some resemblance between the two: an organization with unacceptable practices and a vague connection to the Obama administration (through voter registration drives in the ACORN case and Justice Department litigation in the Panther case) becomes a tool for critics of the White House to attack it as corrupt and illegitimate. But as in the ACORN case, the scandal is minimal (much of the ACORN hit has been discredited)–and the allegations against Obama flimsy.


The group [the New Black Panther Party] typically gets attention every few years when it successfully manages to bait the national media with some nutty stand. In 2006, for example, the NBPP announced it was going to Durham, N.C., to investigate the Duke lacrosse case. Fox News, in particular, loves it: after the Duke charges were dropped in 2007, Bill O’Reilly had Shabazz on the program, where he called syndicated conservative columnist Michelle Malkin a “whore.”


{snip} The Washington Times–began digging into the [voter-intimidation] case, suggesting that because a top Obama appointee had signed off on the decision to drop charges, a move allegedly opposed by career lawyers, it provided proof that Holder’s Justice Department was a bastion of political favoritism (and, by implication, racism, given that both Holder and Obama are black).

Although that story didn’t go mainstream, it did cause the Commission on Civil Rights, an independent body, to take up the case. As Dave Weigel reported, there was more to that decision than met the eye: after eight years of George W. Bush appointments, the commission tilted definitively right. In addition, the star witness in the case against the NBPP, Bartle Bull, wasn’t exactly impartial. The white former Robert F. Kennedy aide, who called the incident “the most blatant form of voter intimidation I have encountered in my political campaigns in many states, even going back to the work I did in Mississippi in the 1960s,” had been an outspoken critic of Obama for some time.

The commission has met several times to examine the case, but things really blew open on July 6, when Bush Justice official J. Christian Adams, who is white, suggested that Justice’s voting division avoided bringing cases where defendants were black and plaintiffs were white. Adams’s testimony is questionable; there are doubts about whether he was actually present for the incidents he described, and he’s refused to offer details on key questions. Critics see other credibility problems for Adams: he was, for instance, hired when Bush’s Justice Department was systematically weakening the civil-rights division by forcing out career lawyers and replacing them with attorneys who had strong conservative credentials but little in the way of civil-rights experience.

This week’s resolution by the NAACP blasting “racism” in the Tea Party has further fanned the flame. At its 101st annual convention in St. Louis, the nation’s oldest civil-rights organization condemned the party’s “continued tolerance for bigotry.” Tea Party leaders heatedly rejected the criticism, and Palin dismissed it as “a diversionary tactic.” To some commentators on the right, the NAACP action is rank hypocrisy, given that the group hasn’t condemned the racism they see festering over at Justice.

{snip} While there’s little doubt that the NBPP is a fringe group, critics of the decision to drop the suit have a tough case to make. The problem is that although it may look like voter intimidation, there aren’t actually any voters who filed an official complaint claiming to have been intimidated. As Adam Serwer writes, a polling station in a predominantly black neighborhood isn’t the best place to go if you’re trying to scare white voters off: “I imagine that the New Black Panthers thought they were protecting black voters from some phantom white-supremacist conspiracy (their public statements say as much).” {snip}


Get a grip, folks. The New Black Panther Party is a lunatic fringe group that is clearly into racial theater of minor importance. . . . This case is a one-off. There are plenty of grounds on which to sharply criticize the attorney general–his handling of terrorism questions, just for starters–but this particular overblown attack threatens to undermine the credibility of his conservative critics.