PUTTING AN END TO A RIGHT-WING ‘FANTASY’…. If you haven’t heard much hyperventilating about the New Black Panther Party lately, then you haven’t been watching Fox News.

The “story,” such as it is, hardly seems worth a fuss. On Election Day 2008, two men were recorded standing in front of a polling station in Philadelphia. They were reportedly members of the New Black Panther Party, which didn’t necessarily support Barack Obama anyway, and one of the two was holding a nightstick.

No voters complained, but a few Republican poll monitors accused the pair of criminally trying to intimidate voters. Officials in Bush’s Justice Department looked into it and concluded it wasn’t worth pursuing.

That should be the end of it, but in some Republican circles, this exceedingly dull story is being treated as a major scandal (at least, they’re pretending to consider it a scandal, in the hopes of generating racial tensions before the midterm elections). In just the last few weeks, Fox News has aired 95 segments — that’s not a typo — about the issue. Megyn Kelly, the hyper-partisan activist/anchor, not only aired 45 segments in 15 days, she lashed out at a conservative guest who dismissed the relevance of the story.

To his credit, Politico‘s Ben Smith ran a piece late yesterday that effectively ends the “controversy.”

A scholar whom President George W. Bush appointed as vice chairwoman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Abigail Thernstrom has a reputation as a tough conservative critic of affirmative action and politically correct positions on race.

But when it comes to the investigation that the Republican-dominated commission is now conducting into the Justice Department’s handling of an alleged incident of voter intimidation involving the New Black Panther Party — a controversy that has consumed conservative media in recent months — Thernstrom has made a dramatic break from her usual allies.

“This doesn’t have to do with the Black Panthers; this has to do with their fantasies about how they could use this issue to topple the [Obama] administration,” said Thernstrom, who said members of the commission voiced their political aims “in the initial discussions” of the Panther case last year.

“My fellow conservatives on the commission had this wild notion they could bring Eric Holder down and really damage the president,” Thernstrom said in an interview with POLITICO.

Those pushing this garbage aren’t exactly subtle in their intentions. Why hyperventilate about a two-year-old story that Bush’s own Justice Department found too insignificant to care about? Because some Republicans hope to generate racial animus before the elections, trying to get white voters angry with the Obama administration.

Jon Chait explained this week, “What you’re starting to see from Fox News now, though, is the most widespread and mainstream right-wing effort to exploit racial fears against Obama…. There has been a great deal of right-wing insanity unleashed over the last year and a half, but this is the first time that the fear has an explicitly racial cast. You now have the largest organ of movement conservatism promoting Limbaugh’s idee fixe that the Obama administration represents black America’s historical revenge against whites.”

It’s as disgusting as anything we’ve seen from the right in the past 18 months.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.