The Right’s coverage of the New Black Panther Party voter intimidation scandal has been as absurd as one might expect. Wild allegations by former Justice Department official J. Christian Adams—that the DoJ under Obama has become racist toward whites—is stoking flames that have been burning at places like Fox News for months now, at least since when Glenn Beck outright called the president a racist. That Obama and Eric Holder, literal partners in crime, might be out to destroy white America is a Tea Party placard mainstay, and conspiracy-mongers are champing at the bit to help spread the madness.
Never mind that Adams, a noted conservative, was hired to Justice’s Civil Rights Division under questionable circumstances during the Bush era, making it very difficult to believe him when he says the DoJ has become “lawless.” Also difficult to believe is that the right wing, whose main objective for decades has been a small, inexpensive government, actually thinks that a wise use of the DoJ’s limited resources is a lengthy investigation into the actions of a couple cartoonish Black Nationalists. Fact is, there remains simply no evidence that the New Black Panther Party initiated the kind of systematic campaign to suppress white voters that would demand a protracted Justice investigation. As is often the case, though, just because the conservatives are wrong doesn’t make the liberals right.
Looking over Adam Serwer’s primer on the NBPP case over at the Prospect, I noticed something that gave me pause: just as media on the right is using the stupidity of two rogues to malign the entire Justice Department, so too is media on the left using the story to attack practically everyone but the New Black Panthers in question. See for yourself:
From yesterday, here's my post on the relationship between conservative activist J. Christian Adams and the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, and a reminder of the racially hostile atmosphere inside the Civil Rights Division during the Bush era.
Dave Weigel's piece on how the NBPP case became a cause in the conservative media. Weigel also got a memorable quote from former Civil Rights Commission member Mary Frances Berry, whom the head of the Voting Rights Section during the Bush years referred to as "black and bitter."
Charlie Savage on the decline in enforcement of civil- and voting-rights protections under Bush. Going way back, here's a very detailed old Savage piece on how hiring practices under Bush were politicized.
If the links above are to be believed, the real NBPP voter-suppression story has nothing to do with the Panthers themselves, but instead: how racist and partisan the Bush administration was, how susceptible to fanaticism the conservative media is, and how unfit for DoJ work J. Christian Adams had been.
This is the sort of sleight-of-hand I despise in news outlets, regardless of their political bent. At best, it seems intellectually dishonest to attack the Bush administration for its prejudice while simultaneously ignoring the reprehensible actions of the New Black Panthers, who paced in front of a polling place in paramilitary gear while brandishing a weapon and, according to sworn affidavits, using racial slurs; at worst it’s intentionally negligent. Some DoJ proponents have even been plain illogical, saying things like, “There’s not been a single voter from that polling place who’s come forward to testify that they were intimidated.” Well, isn’t that the entire point of intimidation, guys?
If anything, it’s a liberal’s job to try and protect and progress an egalitarian agenda rather than seek revenge against foes whenever the opportunity presents itself. To that end, it is in everyone’s best interests to get to the bottom of why, after having a blackjack directly outside of a polling place and allegedly telling “crackers” they were about to be “ruled by the black man,” the DoJ’s sole movement against King Samir Shabazz was an injunction barring him from having a weapon within 100 feet of a polling place until 2012. It’s already illegal to wield a weapon that close to polling places, meaning Shabazz’ slap on the wrist amounts to even less than that.
Why didn’t Justice throw the book at these clowns? It’s certainly wasn’t a case that required the time, energy and finances of the entire Civil Rights Division, but was it really a case that should have resulted in little more than a warning to not be a bad boy again?
You’d have to be a bit crazy to actually believe that seasoned attorney Barack Obama is using the Justice Department, one of his most powerful and sacred tools as chief executive, to settle scores against “The White Man.” But, as I’ve said before, I also think you’d have to be naïve to assume that things in Justice would have played out the same way had it been white men carrying clubs and threatening “niggers” with “the white man’s reign.”
-Cord Jefferson is a staff writer at The Root. Follow him on Twitter.