Never a bad time for a good scandal! Judicial Watch trumpets the claim that the DOJ "organized" the protests in Florida over the Trayvon Martin murder and Stand Your Ground laws. Except they didn't.
July 12, 2013

If anyone were to believe Tom Fitton's organization Judicial Watch, you would think the Obama administration sent secret operatives down to Florida to stir up unrest after Trayvon Martin's murder just so George Zimmerman could face charges.

No, seriously, that's what they and their mouthpiece Breitbart News are trying to flog as an actual story, with a little help from Fox News, too.


The conservative group Judicial Watch published records that show the Community Relations Service, a civil rights unit of the DOJ, helped with security for the rallies. Conservative groups have interpreted those records to mean there was wrongdoing;the Heritage Foundation has gone so far as to demand an oversight hearing for the Community Relations Service’s “potentially unethical involvement.” Fox News, Daily Caller, and other conservative media have taken up the same spin. CNN picked up the report, as well.

But the same documents show nothing inflammatory about the DOJ involvement, which was limited to ensuring security for the protests.

They really had to twist the English language to come up with this scenario. Here's how Judicial Watch describes the document contents:

Judicial Watch announced today that it has obtained documents in response to local, state, and federal records requests revealing that 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 to help organize and manage rallies and protests against George Zimmerman.

But later in the very same press release, the bullet points describe something entirely different:

  • March 25 – 27, 2012, CRS spent $674.14 upon being “deployed to Sanford, FL, to work marches, demonstrations, and rallies related to the shooting and death of an African-American teen by a neighborhood watch captain.”
  • March 25 – 28, 2012, CRS spent $1,142.84 “in Sanford, FL to work marches, demonstrations, and rallies related to the shooting and death of an African-American teen by a neighborhood watch captain.
  • March 30 – April 1, 2012, CRS spent $892.55 in Sanford, FL “to provide support for protest deployment in Florida.”
  • March 30 – April 1, 2012, CRS spent an additional $751.60 in Sanford, FL “to provide technical assistance to the City of Sanford, event organizers, and law enforcement agencies for the march and rally on March 31.”
  • April 3 – 12, 2012, CRS spent $1,307.40 in Sanford, FL “to provide technical assistance, conciliation, and onsite mediation during demonstrations planned in Sanford.”
  • April 11 – 12, 2012, CRS spent $552.35 in Sanford, FL “to provide technical assistance for the preparation of possible marches and rallies related to the fatal shooting of a 17 year old African American male.”

Technical assistance, conciliation and onsite mediation somehow got twisted into "organize and manage" rallies?

Sanford, as you may recall, didn't have much in the way of police resources and the ones they had weren't exactly the brightest bulbs in the bunch. The dates mentioned in those bullet points were at a point where protests were being held across the entire country over the notion that a black kid with no weapons but Skittles and iced tea was dead at the hands of a white neighborhood watch captain, and that captain was not going to face charges.

Because of the clear racial implications of the Trayvon Martin case, the DOJ deployed the unit which was createdto ease racial tensions in communities and support peaceful demonstrations. None of this was secret. The Orlando Sentinel reported on it back in 2012.

ThinkProgress explains:

DOJ sent staff at the height of community tensions over police mishandling of the case, when large-scale protests demanded justice for Martin. The same article described how DOJ staff simply taught civil rights organizers how to peacefully manage large crowds and ensured the safety for people expressing their First Amendment rights. Because of the DOJ, a Church pastor said “we felt protected.”

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 established the Community Relations Service as the only federal agency charged with “preventing and resolving racial and ethnic tensions, incidents, and civil disorders, and in restoring racial stability and harmony.” And as CNN reports, DOJ conciliators are frequently involved in a range of protests, “including those that occur every four years at the Democratic and Republican political conventions.”

More from Huffington Post:

If CRS officials are guilty of showing bias in favor of a group simply by being present at that group's rallies -- as some conservatives seem to believe -- the agency would appear to have very diverse political views. Last year, CRS personnel were present at protests, led by African-American activists, calling for Zimmerman's prosecution. Back in 2000, they provided this same type of "support" for a Ku Klux Klan rally. And on the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, they were in place at a rally held by the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church and an anti-Muslim rally featuring blogger Pamela Geller and Quran-burning pastor Terry Jones.

I lived in Los Angeles during the Rodney King riots. My sympathies were with the rioters, but it was a very scary thing. I wish there had been some kind of intervention and mediation before it went out of control. The Trayvon Martin protests were peaceful and remained peaceful, despite the simmering anger over how the case was handled.

Judicial Watch has been tilting at government for years with a severe right-wing bent. They're at the center of the IRS non-scandal, the Benghazi non-scandal, and now this. Before the White House was occupied by a black guy, Larry Klayman was in charge and filing suits against the Clintons and even Dick Cheney.

With current director Tom Fitton in charge, they present themselves as government watchdogs, albeit watchdogs who can't seem to read plain English.

Fitton's intentional misreading of the documents he requested is bad enough. But Breitbart and Fox jumped on the bandwagon without actually reading them, it seems, which proves their motives are less about news, and more about agendas.

Can you help us out?

For nearly 20 years we have been exposing Washington lies and untangling media deceit, but now Facebook is drowning us in an ocean of right wing lies. Please give a one-time or recurring donation, or buy a year's subscription for an ad-free experience. Thank you.


We welcome relevant, respectful comments. Any comments that are sexist or in any other way deemed hateful by our staff will be deleted and constitute grounds for a ban from posting on the site. Please refer to our Terms of Service for information on our posting policy.