The Right’s Newest Wild Trayvon Martin Race-Baiting Theory

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
July 11 2013 6:55 PM

The Newest Trayvon Martin Race-Baiting Theory from the Right

The Justice Department organized the rallies against George Zimmerman.

Members of the New York City Council wear "hoodie" sweatshirts as they stand together on the steps of City Hall in New York, March 28, 2012 to call for justice in the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
Members of the New York City Council wear hoodies on the steps of New York City Hall on March 28, 2012—and accomplished this all by themselves, without the help of the Justice Department.

Photo by Mike Segar/Reuters

If last night you failed to watch the Fox News family of cable channels, you missed one hell of a scoop. Sean Hannity informed his audience of a story that was broken hours earlier by the legal watchdogs/gadflies (depending on your politics) at Judicial Watch. “A little-known unit of the Department of Justice (DOJ), the Community Relations Service (CRS), was deployed to Sanford, FL, following the Trayvon Martin shooting,” reported Judicial Watch. Its mission: “to help organize and manage rallies and protests against George Zimmerman.”

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

Hannity was shocked. “We learned today that [President Obama’s] Justice Department got involved in this case through their own Community Relations Service,” he told Pat Buchanan. “What does that say about the administration? Should they have been involved?”

“They should not,” pronounced Buchanan.

Over on the Fox Business Channel, another sage of interracial politics was fulminating about this “little-known unit” and its meddling.

“Instead of following their stated mission of preventing racial and ethnic tensions,” said Lou Dobbs, “they allegedly helped to organize anti-Zimmerman demonstrations. We have talked and reported to you a great deal on this broadcast about the politicization of the Justice Department, but I don't think anyone covering this story anticipated such a thing as what we have just reported to you.”

Advertisement

How did Dobbs know that the Justice Department had betrayed its mission? Well, he didn’t, and so far no one speculating about what the “little-known unit” did seems to possess much expertise about it. That’s almost immaterial. We’re one day out from jury deliberations in George Zimmerman’s case, and there’s considerable, reality-based worry that a “not guilty” verdict would spark violence in Sanford or Miami. That’s inspired conservatives to look back at how this became a national story in the first place—an inquest that leads them to Eric Holder’s doorstep.

Let’s fix the “little-known” problem first. The Community Relations Service was created 49 years ago, by the Civil Rights Act, at a time of steady conflict between the government and local law enforcement and white citizens groups. Its original mission was to swoop in and mediate when communities start roiling over “actions, policies, and practices that are perceived to be based on race, ethnicity, or national origin.”

This has only occasionally been controversial. The CRS’s budget request for 2013 was only $12,036,000, and no politician from either party made hay about cutting it. And that request was made after this “organizing anti-Zimmerman demonstrations” story was broken in conservative media, mostly by Breitbart.com’s Lee Stranahan and TheBlaze.com’s Erica Ritz. On April 17, 2012, Ritz reported that “a little-known” (that phrase again!) Justice Department outlet “has apparently been helping protesters angry over the Trayvon Martin shooting.”

Ritz’s revelation came after reading the Orlando Sentinel, which during that churn of daily Martin stories had profiled the “league of secretive peacemakers” working in Sanford and Miami. “In their Navy blue windbreakers, polo shirts and dark sunglasses, they look like federal agents,” reported Arelis Hernandez. The agents, according to local civil rights leaders, “helped set up a meeting between the local NAACP and elected officials that led to the temporary resignation of [Sanford] police Chief Bill Lee.”

In the Sentinel, this was a human interest story; online, it looked like a smoking gun. How could one branch of the Justice Department be investigating the case while another branch was shuttling activists to rallies? “Is the DOJ’s presence, seemingly in a supportive role of the protesters, working to undercut the very mission of the organization?” asked Ritz. The question answered itself.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore

And schools are getting worried.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

The XX Factor

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Why a Sketch of Chelsea Manning Is Stirring Up Controversy

How Worried Should Poland, the Baltic States, and Georgia Be About a Russian Invasion?

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
  Life
Quora
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 20 2014 3:21 PM “The More You Know (About Black People)” Uses Very Funny PSAs to Condemn Black Stereotypes
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 20 2014 7:00 AM The Shaggy Sun
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.