The right’s attempt to demonize and discredit Black Lives Matter comes from an old playbook

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

Bill O’Reilly is taking a page from an old playbook and falsely linking the #BlackLivesMatter movement to the New Black Panthers.

This is yet another attempt by the far right to discredit, dismiss, demonize and destroy the movement, in the way that the Bill O’Reillys of decades ago tried to delegitimize and undermine the civil rights and Black Power leaders of their day.

The Fox News host has a lot to say about the black movement because, after all, who is better qualified to speak to the aspirations of African-Americans in their struggle for justice and equality than an angry racist white man who is friends with Donald Trump?

On his show The O’Reilly Factor, the host — who says he has black friends — has called #BlackLivesMatter a hate group, and “essentially a hate America group,” that is responsible for killing Americans. He even called them “a group that often commits violent acts,” “the key group driving violence on the street” and a group that “encourages violence through irresponsible rhetoric.” O’Reilly also claimed the Black Lives Matter folks “associate with the New Black Panthers… they’re in that crew,” and that “Dr. King would not participate in a Black Lives Matter protest.” Once again, Bill O’Reilly and Fox News — the media arm of the GOP and the voice of white nationalism, the rightwing echo chamber where an all-white panel of “experts” claims to know what ails the black community — believe they are best qualified to speak to the legacy of the civil rights movement.

What Bill O’Reilly is doing is nothing new. The best way to change the subject and divert attention away from the message of racial injustice is to paint the messengers as a criminal element, as thugs or terrorists, and as violent hate groups. As Malcolm X once said: “If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”

“The controlled press inflames the white public against Negroes,” Malcolm X explained. “The police are able to use it to paint the Negro community as a criminal element. The police are able to use the press to make the white public think that 90 per cent or 99 per cent of the Negroes in the Negro community are criminals,” he added. “Once the police have convinced the white public that the so-called Negro community is a criminal element, they can go in and question, brutalize, murder unarmed, innocent Negroes and the white public is gullible enough to back them up. This makes the Negro community a police state.” Welp.

O’Reilly has learned a lot from the late FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover, who waged a decades-long war on civil rights leaders and made his bones by bringing down Marcus Garvey. Hoover called the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Congress of Racial Equality and the Nation of Islam “hate-type organizations.” He called Dr. King the “most notorious liar in the country” and considered him a threat to national security. The FBI sent a letter to the civil rights leader calling him a “colossal fraud and an evil, vicious one at that” and encouraging him to commit suicide. And Hoover referred to the Black Panthers as “the most dangerous threat to the internal security of the country.”

Through his COINTELPRO program, Hoover’s goal was to “expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit or otherwise neutralize the activities of black-nationalist, hate-type organizations and groupings, their leadership, spokesmen, membership and supporters.” He ordered his bureau to “Prevent the rise of a ‘messiah’ who could unify and electrify the militant black nationalist movement. Malcolm X might have been such a ‘messiah’…. Martin Luther King, Stokely Carmichael, and [Nation of Islam leader] Elijah Muhammed [sic] all aspire to this position…. King could be a very real contender for this position should he abandon his supposed ‘obedience’ to ‘white, liberal doctrines’ (nonviolence).” In part, undermining the movement was accomplished by spreading misinformation about black leaders and groups and planting false stories in the press.

Back in the day, reactionary forces in the government and in the media killed the Civil Rights and Black Power movements and in doing so hoped to kill the causes they championed. Go after their integrity, and neutralize their message in the process. And even if Black Lives Matter was associated with the New Black Panthers — which they are not — so what? Let us not whitewash the legacy of armed self-defense in black America’s civil rights struggles. Let’s not forget that Deacons for Defense protected civil rights workers from Ku Klux Klan violence, and the Black Panthers arose to protect the community from police brutality. Even Dr. King — a nonviolent man and a victim of gun violence himself — was protected by armed foot soldiers.

Meanwhile, in his speech at the Dallas shooting memorial service, President Obama gave legitimacy to the Black Lives Matter movement and seemed to dismiss the Bill O’Reillys of America.  “African-Americans from all walks of life, from different communities across the country, voice a growing despair over what they perceive to be unequal treatment,” he said, and a fear that something will happen to their children.

“When all this takes place, more than 50 years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, we cannot simply turn away and dismiss those in peaceful protest as troublemakers or paranoid,” the president noted, adding that it hurts “to have your experience denied like that, dismissed by those in authority.”

“That insisting we do better to root out racial bias is not an attack on cops, but an effort to live up to our highest ideals.”

Follow David A. Love on Twitter @davidalove