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Posted at 10:56 AM ET, 03/30/2011

Surprise! The right’s New Black Panther obsession turns out to be a joke

Yesterday, the Justice Department released the long-awaited results of its inquiry into its own handling of the New Black Panther voter intimidation case, and the verdict is in: This whole tale has been complete nonsense from the very beginning. The right has been obsessing over this case for years, insisting that Justice’s decision to dismiss the case against three of four defendents accused of voter intimidation at a Philadelphia polling station in 2008 proves that the Obama administration is riddled with anti-white racists.

It should come as a shock to no one that the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility has “found no evidence that the decision to dismiss the case against three of the four defendants was predicated on political considerations” or that there was “improper political interference or influence from within or outside the Department in connection with the decision in the case.” As Ryan J. Reilly reports, this comes after OPR interviewed numerous staffers and sifted through “thousands of pages of internal Department e-mails, memoranda, and notes.”

To sum up: The New Black Panther tale — a years-long journey into the fevered right-wing imagination that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and led to no shortage of scurrilous accusations of racism against the first black president and attorney general — was a colossal waste of time and taxpayer resources.

In the past, the OPR has not hesitated to excoriate the Justice Department. In 2008, it found that the Justice Department’s political leadership had broken civil service laws by prioritizing partisan affiliation in its hiring practices. OPR also determined in 2009 that the political leadership of the Civil Rights Division under Bush had done the same.

Of course, it was those very same disgruntled Bush partisans, hired during an era of politicization at the Department, when the leadership exchanged racist emails and talked openly about purging liberals from the division who provided the fuel for the baseless accusations of anti-white racism that have dominated the conservative media for the past two years. After the Justice Department changed hands, the cause was picked up by the conservative dominated U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Like the civil rights division itself, under Bush the agency that once laid the groundwork for the civil rights legislation of the 1960s became a corrupted partisan instrument, narrowly focused on “toppling” the Obama administration with a flawed voter intimidation case framed in conjunction with a Republican political operative.

Republicans seized on this case for one reason, and one reason only. Despite the absence of any actual intimidated voters, and the hasty, weak nature of the original case, the GOP sought an opportunity to inflame white resentment by leveling charges that President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder are racist against white people. Though the staffers who filed the case have also been cleared, conservative media seized on the case to support a narrative of white racial victimhood, where virtually every single policy of the administration is attributed to a covert hatred for white people.

Of course, we should be under no illusion that the OPR’s findings will put an end to this false controversy. The most likely outcome is that the conservatives who have spent the last two years flogging this case will now go after OPR head Robin C. Ashton, accusing her of whitewashing the case. Even before the results of the OPR investigation were known, conservatives had already begun smearing her as a political hack.

For today’s conservatives, the absence of evidence of a conspiracy merely serves as more evidence of a conspiracy.

By Adam Serwer  |  10:56 AM ET, 03/30/2011

 
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