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On voter-intimidation fears, the GOP line becomes unrecognizable

Twelve years after a Republican freak-out over two members of the New Black Panther Party, the right has a new perspective on voter-intimidation concerns.


As early voting got underway in Arizona, locals were invited to take advantage of ballot drop boxes for their convenience. In theory, this wouldn’t be especially notable.

But in practice, the circumstances quickly became more unsettling. Far-right conspiracy theorists, fueled by weird lies, have begun monitoring the drop boxes, accusing random voters of suspected crimes for no reason, and photographing people and license plates. In one incident last week, police were called when two armed individuals were seen dressed in tactical gear outside a Mesa ballot drop box.

All of this, of course, is wildly unnecessary. As we’ve discussed, there’s no evidence of meaningful voter fraud in Arizona in 2020 or any other recent election cycle; there’s nothing wrong with voting by way of ballot drop boxes; and there’s no need for vigilantes, fueled by discredited nonsense, to intimidate and harass law-abiding Americans engaged in the most basic of civic duties.

There’s also a legal dimension to all of this: State officials have now made multiple criminal referrals, seeking prosecutions of those accused of voter intimidation, and voting rights advocates are seeking intervention from the federal courts.

It was against this backdrop that Steve Bannon shared some thoughts on the subject yesterday, and as the Media Matters transcript showed, the Republican operative/podcaster seemed eager to encourage the Arizonans monitoring the drop boxes.

“They don’t like the way some people are dressed, they don’t like them in cammies, they don’t like them. You know, in Arizona law you can have the open carry, they don’t like that. They’re running around. It’s not gonna change, you can run, and do anything you want. The camera and people are going to be there watching. We’re not going to have this stolen. You’re not going to have a ‘2,000 Mules’ situation in these boxes.”

Bannon added, “It’s not intimidation to put a set of eyeballs on these things.”

First, the reference to “2,000 Mules” was about a conspiratorial movie that’s been thoroughly discredited. Bill Barr, Donald Trump’s former attorney general, dismissed it as literally laughable.

Second, the Republican operatives allegedly harassing voters appear to be doing more than just putting “a set of eyeballs” on ballot drop boxes.

And third, it remains fascinating to see just how far the right has shifted when it comes to voter-intimidation concerns. In fact, now seems like a good time for a stroll down memory lane.

It was nearly 14 years ago, on Election Day 2008, when two members of the New Black Panther Party were seen outside a polling precinct in Philadelphia. One of the two men was seen carrying what appeared to be some kind of nightstick.

There was no evidence that these guys actually did anything wrong. They weren’t accused of trying to harass or intimidate anyone. They made no threats. There were no reported confrontations. There was footage of one of the guys opening a door for someone, but that was about it.

Nevertheless, for much of the right, this story was nevertheless an extraordinarily big deal. Two Black men, one of whom appeared to have braids in his beard, loitered outside a polling station in Philadelphia — which was seen as evidence of an intolerable voter-intimidation campaign.

The Bush/Cheney Justice Department filed a civil case against the New Black Panther Party, and Fox News obsessed over the “controversy” — I’m using the word loosely — to a hysterical degree.

Twelve years later, far-right volunteers are going to bizarre lengths to harass and intimidate Arizona voters, and prominent voices on the right are content to shrug their shoulders. Image that.