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Fact Check: Kelly Loeffler – No evidence of armed patrols at Georgia voting sites

Former U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., who backed Republican Herschel Walker in his losing bid in the runoff for Georgia’s U.S. Senate seat, suggested that a group of armed Black Panthers tried to intimidate voters on Election Day.

“1 hour into voting, & armed groups of Black Panthers are now reportedly patrolling certain voting locations in GA,” Loeffler tweeted Dec. 6. “Georgians, as we look further into these reports, do NOT be intimidated by the Left’s scare tactics. Don’t let them win. Make your voice heard for @HerschelWalker.” 

The tweet has received more than 25,000 reactions. 

Loeffler’s tweet included a link to a report by WAGA-TV in Atlanta published the morning of Election Day that said the New Black Panther Party planned to send armed patrols to voting sites. The group had said at a press conference the day before that it would be monitoring for “white supremacist violence,” according to the WAGA story.

When contacted by PolitiFact for comment, a Loeffler spokesperson pointed to a Dec. 5 press release from Black Lawyers for Justice, which said “the New Black Panther Party and other Black armed self-defense groups will conduct active lawful, defense and security patrols at the most sensitive polling sites in Georgia to ensure Black mothers are able to make their vote choice and not be targeted because of their race.” The press release said the groups would patrol in Brunswick, Savannah, Atlanta and other areas.

However, the New Black Panther Party told PolitiFact it decided against armed patrols.

Ahmad Muhammad, national assistant to Malik Zulu Shabazz, the chairman of the New Black Panther Party, said the group’s members appeared at polling places in Savannah and Brunswick, but decided against carrying firearms because they didn’t want to deter voters.

“We try not to have anyone feel unsafe at the polling sites,” Muhammad said. 

County officials in multiple counties, the secretary of state’s office and voting rights groups said they received no reports of armed Black Panthers at voting sites on Election Day. We also found no news reports or video footage to support the claim.

“If they were there, they were not noteworthy,” said Christina Redden, assistant director of elections in Glynn County, which includes Brunswick. “We have deputies at every site — for the most part the deputies are outside. We definitely would have heard about it.”

The Black Panthers formed in 1966, aiming to protect residents from police brutality. The organization developed a program built around direct food and health care services in poor communities, armed self-defense and political education that challenged core concepts of capitalism. The FBI dismantled the group through a national undercover operation. 

The party dissolved in 1982. But in 1989, the New Black Panther Party formed in Dallas. 

The Southern Poverty Law Center has classified The New Black Panthers as a hate group based on its rhetoric. Muhammad disputes that label. The original Black Panthers have disavowed the New Black Panther Party, according to the SPLC.

We have fact-checked claims related to the New Black Panthers’ election-time actions for more than a decade. Days before Election Day in 2018, a few party members with semi-automatic style weapons walked around Atlanta’s West End neighborhood in what they called an “armed rally against voter suppression.” 

No reports about armed people outside polls 

Election officials told PolitiFact that they received no reports that the New Black Panthers showed up armed at voting sites. 

“We didn’t actually get any complaints that I’m aware of,” said Robert Sinners, a spokesperson for Georgia’s secretary of state.

Voting rights groups including the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, Common Cause Georgia and Fair Fight Action also said they received no reports of armed Black Panthers.

County officials in Chatham County, which includes Savannah; Glynn County, which includes Brunswick; and election officials in Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett counties also said they received no reports of armed Black Panthers at voting sites.

A video reshared on the Facebook page of the New Black Panthers Party southern region shows a woman outside of the C.C. McCray City Auditorium, a polling precinct in Ware County, speaking about rules for voting. “You will be secure, you will be guarded,” she said. But there are no firearms displayed in the video. When asked about the woman in the video, Muhammad said she was neither a party member nor affiliated with the group. 

Carlos Nelson, the Ware County elections supervisor, who was at that same precinct multiple times on Election Day, said he received no reports of any armed people or the New Black Panthers at voting sites.

“We had a quiet election — thank goodness,” Nelson said. 

Though right-leaning websites and Twitter users claimed that a photo showed a group of armed Black Panthers on Election Day, the Daily Mail newspaper tweeted that the photo was taken in July 2020 at a protest of the Stone Mountain Confederate Memorial Carving east of Atlanta. 

Georgia law bans guns near voting sites 

If armed individuals had shown up near voting sites, that wouldn’t be illegal under Georgia law unless they stood too close to voters or intimidated them.

There are multiple state and federal laws prohibiting voter intimidation or guns at voting sites in Georgia. State law prohibits anyone other than a peace officer from possessing guns within 150 feet of a polling location when elections are being held.

Other state statutes prohibit the use of guns to intimidate other people, and the federal Voting Rights Act prohibits any attempt to “intimidate, threaten, or coerce any person from voting or attempting to vote.”

Our ruling

Loeffler tweeted that on the day of the Dec. 6 runoff, “armed groups of Black Panthers” were “reportedly patrolling certain voting locations” in Georgia.

Loeffler referred to statements the group made the day before Election Day saying it planned to send armed patrols to voting sites. 

The New Black Panthers later said they showed up at voting sites in Brunswick and Savannah, but ultimately decided against armed patrols because they did not want to intimidate voters.

Officials in multiple counties, the secretary of state’s office and voting rights groups said they received no reports of armed Black Panthers at voting sites on Election Day. We also found no news reports or video footage to support the claim.

We rate this statement False. 

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PolitiFact researcher Caryn Baird and PolitiFact reporter Yacob Reyes contributed to this article.

Source: PolitiFact.