The right-wing media response to the killing of black teenager Trayvon Martin has veered into even uglier territory. Following initial silence on the story, conservative media began to weigh in when President Obama addressed Martin's shooting by saying that if he'd “had a son, he'd look like Trayvon.” It was their perfect opportunity to wade into the conversation -- not by focusing on the issues raised by the incident, but by smearing Martin and attacking the president, while ignoring the inconvenient fact that the man who killed Martin has so far avoided arrest.
Lurking in the background of this conversation has been the right's fixation with the New Black Panther Party, a hate group “whose leaders have encouraged violence against whites, Jews and law enforcement officers,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. The conservative Daily Caller and Glenn Beck's website The Blaze have lavished attention on this fringe group in their coverage of the Martin tragedy. Today, CNN's Dana Loesch tried to paint them as a mainstream "progressive" group, while Rush Limbaugh tried to link Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL), a former Black Panther, to these extremists.
Today, Rush donned a hoodie on the House floor, in violation of its dress code, to demonstrate that “just because someone wears a hoodie does not make them a hoodlum.” (Martin was wearing a hooded sweatshirt the night he was killed.) Discussing the incident, Limbaugh stated:
LIMBAUGH: He showed up wearing a hoodie. Well, he got what he wanted. He got all the attention. And tried to make a case now the hoodie is a fashion statement. Now, Bobby Rush is a former Black Panther. You should know that. He's a former Black Panther.
Limbaugh then transitioned to talking about an appearance on Fox News by J. Christian Adams, of whom he stated: “J. Christian Adams worked in the Obama Justice Department. He was handling the case against the New Black Panther Party for voter intimidation in Philadelphia, when Eric Holder basically shut down the case.” He added that Adams “wrote a book and explained what was going on. And he basically said that the Obama Justice Department had determined they were not going to pursue black defendants. Just weren't gonna do it. It was payback time now.” (No, that's not what happened at all.)
But throughout his subsequent discussion of Adams' appearance on Fox & Friends, Limbaugh never once made the distinction that Rush's Black Panthers are not the same as and are in no way connected to the so-called New Black Panther Party.
In its profile of the “anti-Semitic” and “racist” New Black Panther Party, the Anti-Defamation League explained:
The NBPP's divisive positions have been condemned by members of the original Black Panthers. Co-founder Bobby Seale believes that the NBPP has “hijacked our name and are hijacking our history.” David Hilliard, a former Panther and executive director of the Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation, has said that the racism that the group “espouse(s) flies directly in the face of the Black Panthers' multicultural ideology and purpose.” The NBPP continues to use the Panther name and logo in spite of a permanent injunction prohibiting them from using either, which the original Panthers obtained in May 1997.
The League has further stated that the “group's demonstrations, conferences, and other events often blend inflammatory bigotry with calls for violence, tarnishing its efforts to promote black pride and consciousness.”
The Newton Foundation also issued a public statement condemning the organization for exploiting the Black Panther Party's “name and history”:
Firstly, the people in the New Black Panthers were never members of the Black Panther Party and have no legitimate claim on the Party's name. On the contrary, they would steal the names and pretend to walk in the footsteps of the Party's true heroes, such as Black Panther founder Huey P. Newton, George Jackson and Jonathan Jackson, Bunchy Carter, John Huggins, Fred Hampton, Mark Cark, and so many others who gave their very lives to the black liberation struggle under the Party's banner.
Secondly, they denigrate the Party's name by promoting concepts absolutely counter to the revolutionary principles on which the Party was founded. Their alleged media assault on the Ku Klux Klan serves to incite hatred rather than resolve it.
The Black Panthers were never a group of angry young militants full of fury toward the “white establishment.” The Party operated on love for black people, not hatred of white people.
As Eric Boehlert explained, right-wing media have responded to the Martin killing by studiously sticking to their preferred narrative of white America as the oppressed in a “race war” being perpetrated thanks to a Barack Obama presidency. This is the storyline Limbaugh has been pushing for close to three years -- and it's the one he continues to return to. Today, he even went so far as to advance the spurious smear that Obama is a “supporter of the New Black Panther Party.”