A small group from the Atlanta chapter of the New Black Panther Party carried weapons while protesting for voting rights, some of them carrying Stacey Abrams campaign signs.
The members stated that they were not acting on behalf of any political campaign, and no reports documented their approaching polling places or intimidating voters.
On the weekend leading up to the 6 November 2018 election in which Georgia voters will choose a new governor, a handful of members of the Atlanta chapter of the New Black Panther Party gathered for a small demonstration which they said was held in support of voting rights and the Second Amendment, called "Armed Rally Against Voter Suppression." They posed for photographs in which they wielded firearms; and some of them carried campaign posters for Stacey Abrams, a Democratic candidate who could potentially become the United States' first black female governor.
The Panthers posted photographs and video from the gathering to their Facebook page, which prompted some exaggerated commentary on the subject.
One Facebook user, for example, claimed the photographs were evidence that the Democratic National Committee (DNC) was enlisting the New Black Panthers as a "voter intimidation tactic" to "block" Georgians from voting for Abrams' opponent:
Another Facebook page asserted that the New Black Panthers were "roaming the streets" in an overt attempt to "intimidate" residents into voting for Abrams:
And Breitbart regurgitated some of the pictures as viral clickbait under the headline "Armed Black Panthers Lobby for Democrat Gubernatorial Candidate Stacey Abrams":
Breitbart News has obtained photographs of members of the New Black Panther Party wielding weapons and holding signs supporting Democrat gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, a leftist who hopes to be the first black female governor in Georgia.
This comes on the heels of Oprah Winfrey’s visit to the state on Abrams behalf where she said the Democrat refuses to allow the sacrifices of those who were “lynched” and “oppressed” to be “in vain.”
What none of these sources reported was that in the very same Facebook post in which these pictures appeared, the Atlanta New Black Panthers stated that they were not working with any political campaign and had organized the small rally independently in response to Georgia's "exact match" law that could potentially disenfranchise thousands of black citizens:
And relax, before you make any assumptions we are not working for & we did not plan this event with either campaign, and we have members with different political views both here in Atlanta as well as nationwide and even right here in this post. We did this on our own accord in response to the voter registration issue we're still dealing with here in Georgia in 2018 (53 thousand registered voters voices won't be heard this election).
The New Black Panthers also hinted at more tepid support for Abrams than these sources suggested, differing with her over her positions on issues such as gun legislation (the New Black Panthers are Second Amendment enthusiasts, while Abrams supports policies such as universal background checks):
Look, I'll admit the 2nd Amendment issue is obviously a major issue for us too and as large as we are and based on our beliefs obviously we are not a monolithic voting block either locally or nationally. But let's be honest, the most a Democrat Governor in Georgia could do if elected here is veto new Pro Gun Bills that come to her desk which Republicans have been avoiding as well because of all the negative press it would bring them due to the new March for Our Lives Movement.
She can't Confiscate our Weapons we already own or take away our Current 2nd Amendment Rights we have in a state that's obviously gonna maintain it's Republican Controlled Legislature which she would realistically need to be majority Democrat in order to actually attack the 2nd Amendment Rights we're proud to have here in Georgia. A lot of times politicians have to say certain things to win their party's nomination, you all know that.
In other accounts, the group's chairman voiced more open support for Abrams:
Hashim Nzinga, national chairman of the New Black Panther Party, knows that people are talking about those pictures of members campaigning for Stacey Abrams while carrying long guns.
And Nzinga understands it may look weird for an organization like his, which encourages members to arm themselves and carry weapons openly, to support a candidate who has advocated for gun control.
But that is exactly what happened, he said. Those pictures were taken in Southwest Atlanta and reflect the New Black Panthers exercising their right to participate in the political process, he said.
“We were doing what everybody is doing in November,” Nzinga said. “We were campaigning for the candidate that we feel is best to represent our community. And the pictures were taken where we work the best: in our community.”
Members decided to support Abrams after reading her platform, he said. Plus they believe Kemp’s alliance with President Donald Trump makes him an unacceptable candidate.
But that doesn’t mean they agree with Abrams on everything, especially the firearm issue.
“Even when she is going against gun laws, which is a foundation of the Panther Party, we still think she is a better candidate than this Trump sympathizer who is openly attacking our community,” Nzinga said.
We found no accounts from Atlanta reporting that this New Black Panthers group had shown up at polling places (or anywhere else) or had overtly attempted to coerce or intimidate voters into casting ballots for Stacey Abrams. Similarly, Wired noted of such claims that:
The [Breitbart] article compares that rally, which appeared to have no more than five Black Panthers in attendance based on a review of 22 photos the group put on Facebook, to the thousand-person-plus rally Trump held for Kemp that same night.
Kemp’s supporters are using the same images to claim that Black Panthers are intimidating voters at the polls ... it is clear that these images have been taken by Kemp’s supporters out of context -- they do not show armed individuals at the polls in Georgia, but rather a small gathering that happened on Saturday on a street corner in Atlanta.
The Breitbart article included no indication that the Abrams campaign condoned, or was even aware of, this activity of the part of the New Black Panther Party, nor any indication that Breitbart had made any attempt to ascertain that information. Instead, the article offered only a critical statement from the campaign of Abrams' Republican opponent.
We reached out to Breitbart with a set of questions about the story, but political editor Matt Boyle declined to comment. We also reached out to the New Black Panther Party and did not receive a response. A spokesperson for the Abrams campaign responded to our query but didn't address the issue directly, saying via email that:
Brian Kemp is the only candidate in this race who has posed for pictures with supporters wearing racist, hate-filled t-shirts and refused to denounce them, while Abrams continues to condemn any racist, anti-Semitic, or otherwise discriminatory words and actions.
The New Black Panther Party, which takes their name from an older and defunct political organization which originated during the Civil Rights Era, is categorized as an extremist hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) because of anti-Semitic and violent rhetoric.
The Georgia gubernatorial election has been a heated close call and beset with racial strife. Abrams' opponent, Georgia secretary of state Brian Kemp, has been accused of disenfranchising tens of thousands of black voters, leading to accusations of conflict of interest.
Although Kemp denounced a white supremacist group's racist robocall attacking Abrams, Abrams' camp has blasted Kemp for posing in a photograph with a supporter wearing a t-shirt bearing an anti-Islam message:
[I]t was reported that racist robocalls bankrolled by white supremacists were targeting Abrams and Oprah Winfrey, who has campaigned in the state. Kemp said the calls were “vile” but Abrams criticized his response.
“I think it’s a little late for him to repudiate racist remarks, given that he stood with someone wearing an anti-Islam T-shirt, he refused to denounce the same man earlier,” Abrams said, referring to a photo that showed Kemp standing with a man wearing a T-shirt claiming “Allah is not God”.
Donald Trump, who has used incendiary language in his campaign appearances over the past few weeks, appeared with Kemp in Georgia, at a rally which Kemp pulled out of a scheduled debate with Abrams to attend.
As the election cycle wound down to the wire, Kemp opened a hacking investigation into his Democratic foes without citing evidence of their culpability.