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More surrealism at the New Black Panther hearing

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There is far more heat than light at Friday's U.S. Commission on Civil Rights hearing on the New Black Panther Party's actions during Election Day 2008. (The picture above is of Hans von Spakovsky, a former Bush administration lawyer at the FEC, taking notes as party members sit placidly around him.)

The issue, as Republican members of the commission reminded us, was not whether the NBPP posed a threat to American voting rights; rather it was why the Department of Justice declined to throw the book at them. And yet after opening statements, the commission showed 15 minutes of video on the 2008 incident and on the general weirdness of the NBPP.

A documentary that made up most of the video presentation featured matter-of-fact interviews with members of the party -- including King Samir Shabazz, one of the men who would later appear outside of the polling place brandishing a nightstick. His clownish antics (including yelling at non-black attendees of an African culture festival) were coupled with a map of reported New Black Panther cells across America ... which was quickly undercut by expert testimony from a spokesman for the Anti-Defamation League, who assured viewers that the party was smaller than it claimed.

The next video: the YouTube clips of the NBPP on Election Day. After that, video of the NBPP's Malik Shabazz telling Fox News that King Samir had been reacting to reports of "Aryan Nation" activity at the polling place.

Then it was on to questions. The UCCR's counsel interrogated the three Republican poll watchers whose account of the incident had kept the story churning in the conservative press. Their story was less than harrowing. Had poll-watcher Michael Mauro seen Samir threatening anyone with his nightstick?

"I don't particularly recall him pointing it," said Mauro.

Had Mauro heard racial slurs?

"I believe the term 'white devil' was used at some point," said Mauro.

Chris Hill, another poll watcher, was quicker with his responses, but his story was similarly milquetoast. There was no evidence that voters had been prevented from casting ballots in Philadelphia. There was evidence, really, that King Samir was a loudmouth.

"He said I'd have to get used to being under his boot," said Hill, "and similar things to that."

Commissioner Michael Yaki leaned back in his chair, all but rolling his eyes -- a reaction that became more pronounced when the third poll watcher, Democrat-turned-Republican Bartle Bull, compared the Panthers' antics to the voter intimidation he'd seen in the Jim Crow South.

Photo by David Weigel

By David Weigel  |  April 23, 2010; 11:43 AM ET
Categories:  Fringe , Race  
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