A Philly-born controversy just won't go away.
Congressman Frank Wolf wants you to know that he is not—repeat, not—using the New Black Panther Party for Self-Defense (NBPPSD) to undermine the legitimacy of Barack Obama’s presidency.
The congressman insists he does not believe that black nationalists stole the 2008 election for America’s first African-American president, and denies that he’s a hack trying to score political points for the Republican Party. He simply wants a few questions cleared up.
“This is just an injustice that should not be allowed to continue,” says Wolf, referring to the Barack Obama Scandal That Won’t Die. The saga unfolded on Election Day 2008, right here in Philly, when a pair of Panthers, dressed in their traditional paramilitary uniforms and carrying nightsticks, posted themselves outside a Fairmount polling station. The duo looked pretty menacing, but they weren’t there long to actually prevent people from voting; police quickly escorted them away. News of the incident spread quickly across the web and was a highlight of Fox News’ Election Day coverage.
Right before the Bush Administration left office it filed voter intimidation charges against the New Black Panthers. Shortly after that, the Obama Administration dropped the charges, with Justice Department officials telling PW at the time that “the facts and the law did not support pursuing the claims in this case.” But the dropped charges have become a conservative cause, with high-profile pundits like Bill O’Reilly and Michelle Malkin repeatedly suggesting that Obama’s administration is up to no good.
And the issue is not going away.
Congressman Wolf, a South Philly native who has represented Virginia in Congress for 30 years, has pestered the Justice Department for explanations and documentation of why it dropped the charges against the Panthers. The Justice Department, in turn, has clammed up—Wolf believes that is suspicious.
“Certainly, the career people at the Justice Department believe this case should’ve been pursued,” says Wolf. “There are indications—and we have to ferret this out—that political considerations played a role in this case.”
Why on earth would President Obama—hardly a black nationalist—want to be doing political favors for the New Black Panthers?
“I can’t answer that,” says Wolf. “That’s what we’re trying to find out.”
The congressman rejects suggestions that such vague talk of a quid pro quo between the Obama Administration and the New Black Panthers is designed to make it seem as though Obama owes his presidency to larcenous black nationalists.
“That’s definitely not the case,” says Wolf, but adds: “I think the right to vote and nonintimidation is [sic] very important.”
The continuing investigation, of course, keeps the issue alive for demagoguery by right-wing activists. Pundit-actor Ben Stein appeared in the American Spectator last week, decrying Attorney General Eric Holder’s failure to learn the real lessons of the civil rights movement, and hinting darkly of ideologically driven prosecutions.
“The behavior of the feds here is not just worrisome,” Stein warned. “It is something beyond that.”
What do the Panthers themselves think about all of this? It’s tough to say: They didn’t return PW ’s calls for comment.
But New Black Panther Party president Malik Zulu Shabazz gave a podcast interview last month in which he declared that the “right-wing white, red-faced, red-neck Republicans are attacking the hell out of the New Black Panther Party,” singling out Wolf in particular for criticism.
“We gearing up for a showdown with this cracker,” Shabazz said on the podcast. “He keep talking—we going to Capitol Hill, we’re just gearing up right now.”
Fox News would have a field day with that, obviously, and a scandal that until now has more or less confined itself to the more obsessive regions of conservative media might finally go mainstream—just in time, say, to undermine President Obama in his last-ditch attempts to save the health reform bill. Even if the Panthers decide to keep quiet, though, Ben Stein and Bill O’Reilly and all the rest of them will do their darndest to keep the story alive. Wolf says he will soon attempt “legislative remedies” to compel the Justice Department to explain its actions. “I’m not going to let this thing go,” says Wolf “until we get an answer.” ■
Election Day 2014: Tues., Nov. 4