The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights calls their organization a hate group, and founders of the Black Panthers call them impostors. They call themselves a "black nationalist organization," dedicated to the establishment of an "independently governed black nation."
The New Black Panther Party for Self-Defense has been around since 1989 but recently caught the world's attention when investigators discovered that Micah Johnson, who killed five police officers and wounded nine more in Dallas "liked" the party on Facebook and associated with a spinoff group called the New Black Panther Nation for roughly six months in Houston.
The leader of the Houston group, Quanell X, said in an interview on KTRH radio's "The Matt Patrick Show" that Johnson helped work security detail for several events nearly three years ago but was asked to "excuse" himself from the group after he started pushing leadership to acquire more arms and ammunition.
"I honestly believed that the brother had post-traumatic stress disorder," Quanell X said. "We knew the brother was a ticking time bomb."
According to Quanell X, Johnson never talked about killing cops or said anything that would warrant reporting him to the police. He said he did encourage Johnson to see a therapist, however.
Hashim Nzinga, the chairman of the New Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, which is headquartered in Atlanta and claims 38 chapters worldwide, also condemned the Dallas killings. But despite the party's efforts to distance themselves from Johnson, some individuals have said the movement's ideology influenced the shooter.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, a watchdog organization that monitors hate groups, has tracked the party since 2000 and says the New Black Panthers are a "virulently racist and anti-Semitic organization whose leaders have encouraged violence against whites, Jews and law enforcement officers."
"If you are in a prominent position and pushing out propaganda, eventually that will translate to criminal hate violence," said Mark Potok, senior fellow at the center. "The Dallas shooter is the best example."
According to the center, the group has never been charged with killing or assaulting anyone, although it faced charges of voter intimidation in 2008 when Philadelphia chapter leader King Samir Shabazz, along with member Jerry Jackson, started making threatening remarks at a polling station. The Department of Justice later narrowed the charges to Shabazz and dismissed the charges against the New Black Panther Party. A court issued an injunction prohibiting Shabazz from bringing a weapon near an open polling place in a Philadelphia precinct through 2012.
Although the group has not been found responsible for any violent attacks, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, past New Black Panther party leaders have advocated the killing of Jews and white people.
"You want freedom? You going to have to kill some crackers! You gonna have to kill some of their babies!" Shabazz, was filmed shouting in front of a crowd in 2008.
According to media accounts, at a 2002 protest in Washington, D.C., another leader, Malik Zulu Shabazz, yelled, "Kill every ... Zionist in Israel!"
Asked about such comments, current party Chairman Nzinga told the Los Angeles Times, "I still say that all the time now. You've gotta kill them before they kill you."
However, Nzinga, a father of six, emphasized that the group advocates killing only in self-defense. "In America, you've got a constitutional right to protect your property," he said. "If someone brings harm to us, we're gonna kill them."
The New Black Panthers patch that members wear reads, "freedom or death," and its 10-point platform based on original Black Panther Party goals says that members will protect themselves from racist police and military "by any means necessary.'" The document, posted on the party's website, also calls, among other things, for a new black nation, government reparations for slavery and the release of all black prisoners.
In addition, Nzinga said in the interview that homosexuality is evil, that Jews control the media and are responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks and that blacks are God's "chosen people," Jesus himself being black.
Members of the original Black Panther Party, a revolutionary civil rights group founded in California in 1966, firmly deny any connection to the newer organization. The Dr. Huey Newton Foundation, named for the Black Panthers' founder, released a letter several years ago denouncing the group's exploitation of the party's name and history.
"There is no new Black Panther Party," the letter declares.
The now-disbanded Black Panthers were known to advocate violence to get what they wanted and also were criticized by many for their aggressive language and public stance. In 1967, they stormed the California Capitol fully armed to protest a gun bill. Newton was convicted of stabbing a man with a steak knife in 1964 and fatally shooting a police officer in 1967, the latter conviction later being overturned.
And in 1969, the head of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, called them "the greatest threat to the internal security of the country." But the Black Panthers also preached "undying love for the people," started a free breakfast program for children and advocated on behalf of other minorities.
"We were never what you called xenophobic black nationalists," another founding member, Bobby Seale, told CNN in a 2010 interview about the New Black Panthers. "We crossed all racial lines and ethnic lines, and we said all power to all of the people."
The Black Panther Party was dissolved in the early 1980s after in-fighting and FBI interference led to a decline in popular support.
Elaine Brown, a former Black Panthers chairman, said she is not concerned about the new group tarnishing the reputation of the old.
"I don't think anyone will think this is our legacy," Brown said in an interview. "There is no comparison besides that they took our name."
But according to Nzinga, dozens of past Black Panthers do support the new movement and regularly attend and speak at rallies.
"Some of these old guys who don't support us, it's because they are really elite now. They get big money to speak to white colleges, and they have left the revolution behind," Nzinga said.