Why Some Whites Are Wrong to Compare Terrorist Group KKK — Responsible for Thousands of Deaths — to Black Panthers

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Beyonce halftime
Beyoncé led her beret-clad dancers during her symbolically rich Super Bowl performance on Sunday. (Harry How/Getty Images)

Beyoncé set the Internet on fire with her Super Bowl half-time performance of her new single, “Formation.” The performance featured dancers in Black Panthers-style outfits, and the video for the song  contains scenes referring to Black Lives Matter, police violence and Hurricane Katrina.

According to The New York Times, music critics raved about “Formation,” but conservatives were lining up to express their displeasure at the performance, especially the homage to the Black Panthers. FOX News host Lou Dobbs described the performance as, “nostalgic glorification of Malcolm X and Black Panther militant thuggery” and “propaganda.”

Comments by Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, a frequent guest on FOX, were even more extreme. He compared the Black Panthers to the KKK.

“Them coming out, Beyoncé in those Black Panther-type uniforms, would that be acceptable if a band, a white band, came out in hoods and white sheets in the same sort of fashion? We would be appalled and outraged. The Black Panthers are a subversive hate group in America,” said Clarke on Fox Business’ Risk and Reward.

Clarke’s comments are particularly offensive, because they come from a Black man who ought to know better. The Black Panthers were a political group that sprung up in the 1960s as a way of pushing back against acts of violence committed by the Oakland Police Department.

Although the Black Panther Party described themselves as revolutionary anti-imperialists and were the opposite of Martin Luther King’s peaceful movement, nothing in their 10-point manifesto talks about committing acts of violence specifically against white people. The Black Panthers also provided food and education programs to the community.

It’s incorrect to compare the BPP to the Ku Klux Klan, often described as America’s oldest terrorist group. The KKK was started in 1865 as a secret vigilante group made up of ex-Confederate soldiers who targeted freedmen. Over the last 150 years, the KKK has been responsible for shootings, hangings, torture and bombings directed at Black people. According to Democracy Now!, the Equal Justice Initiative estimated more than 4,000 Black men, women and children were killed by lynchings between 1870 and 1950.

During the 1960s, the Johnson administration, under pressure from Black leaders, finally cracked down on the Klan’s terrorist activities. FBI agents infiltrated the group and used paid informants to get Klan leaders to turn on each other. The group is now a shell of the organization it used to be in the 1960s.

But the Klan is still a threat; several police officers have been found to be members of the organization. There is now a myriad of violent white supremacist groups. Last June, Dylann Roof, a white supremacist who had been self-radicalized by reading hate material online, killed Black churchgoers in Charleston, S.C.

The Black Panthers eventually crumbled from internal divisions and rivalries. But they were also attacked by the FBI’s domestic intelligence program, COINTELPRO, which used paid information, assassinations and targeted prosecutions to bring down the group. (FBI agents also spied on other civil rights activists such as Martin Luther King and Malcolm X.) FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover declared the Black Panthers “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country.”

If some people think of the Black Panthers as a hate group, it’s because they confuse them with a small group who call themselves the New Black Panthers. (The Black Panthers fought a successful lawsuit forcing the new group to change its name because they had been calling themselves, the Black Panthers.)

The New Black Panthers have been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Members of the New Black Panther Party have made explicitly anti-white and anti-Semitic comments. They have also encouraged violence against police and believe that Blacks are God’s chosen people. Former Black Panther Bobby Seale described the New Black Panther Party as “a Black racist hate group,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

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