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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Central eyewitness testimony in last years’ New Black Panthers voter intimidation case is literally terrifying and appalling – but not for the reasons you might think.

By July 16th of last year, Fox News had run 95 different reports about the “intimidation” of voters by the New Black Panther Party, all of them featuring videotape of two individuals in front of a polling station. The intense coverage of the event not only convinced literally millions of Fox viewers that this was just the “tip of the iceberg” of a pattern of widespread voter intimidation but also provided “proof” that the Obama Justice Department had ignored a “slam-dunk case” of voter intimidation.
Despite an intense search, however, investigators could not find any voters at the precinct to assert that they had actually been intimidated. On April 23, Civil Rights Commissioner Arlen Melendez stated “no citizen has even alleged that he or she was intimidated from voting at the Fairmount Avenue Polling Station in 2008.”
In today’s Washington Post Plum Line Adam Serwer describes what happened next:

“Having been unable to find any actual voters who were intimidated, [Commissioner] Adams and his colleagues settle on the witness accounts of Republican poll watchers.
The J memo (or justification memo) arguing that the case should be brought forward states that two Republican poll watchers, Larry and Angela Counts, were so intimidated by the two New Black Panther Party individuals that they were afraid to go outside, that they had their lunch brought to them as a result, and that Angela Counts had expressed the fear that someone might “bomb” the polling place.”

You can read the official transcript of what the two poll watchers testified to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission here and here.
The following are the key passages from Larry Counts testimony:
Q. So did you actually ever see the Black Panthers?
A. No I never seen them…
Q. Did you ever become aware – and I know I asked you this but let me run through it – did you become aware that members of the New Black Panther Party were outside?
A. No….
Q. did anybody from the Republican Party come in and speak to you during election day?
A. No.
Q. Let me be specific. There is a tall gentleman who was wearing a white shirt and blue jeans. His name is Chris Hill. Did he come in and speak to you?
A. Not that I recall, no.
Q. I’ll be explicit. If Mr. Hill is on videotape saying that he spoke to you and you indicated that you were afraid, you don’t recall any statement like that to Mr. Hill.
A. No. I had no reason to be afraid.
Q. And you never heard anybody inside the election room say that there are two members of the Black Panther Party outside?
A. No. Nobody was, you know. Communicating or talking about no Black Panthers on the inside.
Q. Mr. Counts I only want you to refer to the photo at the bottom of the scene.
A. I ain’t never seen those two guys.
Q. OK just to be explicit so it’s in our written record, there appear to be two members of the – – I won’t even say that they are members of the New Black Panther Party — but the two gentlemen there in dark black uniforms and one of them has a nightstick. You don’t recall seeing either one of those gentlemen on election day. Is that right?
A. No…
Q. did you see any voters turned away at the polling site?
A. No.
Q. Did anybody who came in to vote indicate that they were concerned or worried about their safety?
A. No.
The account given by Angela Counts is largely similar in its lack of any testimony about “intimidation”.
The supposed “intimidation” of the Counts was a central part of the “Justification Memo” that has subsequently been used to convince vast numbers of Americans to distrust the American political system and believe in a conspiracy within the Justice Department to allow the intimidation of white voters to occur unmolested. Yet the actual testimony directly contradicts what the memo asserts.
In one important respect, however, it must be admitted that the promulgators of the “intimidation” story are entirely correct.
The actions of some people within the Justice Department are indeed appalling and terrifying.

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