By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Then Khalid Muhammad got some nebulous question posed to him. It was so nebulous that I didn't much focus on the answer until Muhammad, smiling broadly all the way through his remarks, said, apropos of nothing--"I almost said Jew York City. But I won't say that. It might make someone upset. I almost said Jew-nited States of America. But I won't say that. It might make someone upset."
At this point, I looked around the room in order to size up this so-called "rally" that had been prominently mentioned in a front-page story in The Dallas Morning News. There were five New Black Panthers. There were 11 Muslims--about half from the mall and half from the Fruit of Islam. Easily outnumbering them were members of the media--22 people to be exact--recording every stupid word for posterity. There were TV reporters, radio reporters, newspaper reporters, newspaper photographers, TV cameramen, TV producers, and a reporter for the Associated Press. The Morning News alone had two reporters and two photographers on the scene.
Almost incidentally, there were also spectators, but--considering the News plug, all the media coverage the New Panthers had received, and the New Panthers' big call-to-arms threat--there weren't many. Not quite 40 by my count, and for the most part, they were young people in their teens and '20s. Sprinkled among them were some middle-age folks; three in particular were nicely dressed and looked like yuppie professionals. Of all of them, the people who stood out most were two older women in the second row who cackled loudly and appreciatively at every nasty comment uttered by the head table.
And from the minute the "Jew" comments were uttered, there were plenty of nasty comments--some directed at any nonblack reporter who dared ask a question. (Black reporters were respectfully addressed as "brother" or "sister.")
"We will not allow a devil like you to ask a divisive question like that," Khalid Muhammad said to Lance Liguez, a radio reporter from WBAP whom Muhammad flippantly addressed as "Bob or Bill." Liguez had dared ask Muhammad to comment on reports that the people of Greenville hadn't much liked the recent Muhammad-Michaels militia visit.
Later on, AP reporter Melissa Williams committed an even greater faux pas by asking Aaron Michaels how many members were in the New Black Panthers organization. After sarcastically addressing her as "Suzy," Michaels replied: "The devil here wants to know how many of you do we have to contend with. Is it just a few niggers or is it a whole lot more we have to contend with?"
Bill Keever, though, caught the brunt of it--though he wasn't there to hear it. (This year it was Keever. Two years ago, it was Dallas City Councilman Paul Fielding: In a Dallas speech, Khalid Muhammad called Fielding a "hook-nosed, bagel-eating, lox-eating, Johnny-come-lately-perpetrating-a-fraud so-called Jew.")
Keever is a "Hitler dictator." He is a "devil." He had to go. He had to resign as president of the school board. And the New Panthers and the Fruit of Islam would see that it happened; that was their promise.
"We intend to turn up the temperature--the pressure, the heat--on Bill Keever's backside," Michaels said. "And we intend to make it so hot until he has to resign. If he thinks the pressure's on, he hasn't seen anything yet."
But, truthfully, Keever's not the problem. And Fielding wasn't the problem. It's clear that there's a much bigger problem to tackle here. "We must understand the nature of the white man," Muhammad said at one point. "The white man is the devil."
It struck me listening to this that if this were a couple of Klan members calling a meeting to talk about black people, the city leaders and media would be hounding them out of town instead of sitting in board rooms wringing their hands over how to deal with them. With that in mind--with all this hate spewing out all over the room and all these reporters looking on ever so blankly--I looked around at the people in the audience and tried to figure out why they were there.
About 20 additional young people had trickled into the room since the event had started, and so while Michaels and Muhammad droned on about devils, I approached a long line of youths in big basketball shoes and football jerseys, all of whom were solemnly watching the proceedings. Before I could ask the nearest one what he was doing there, the woman who had searched me upon my arrival rushed up to the young men and ordered them not to talk to me.
"Who are you?" I asked her.
"I'm a black woman who says you either stick to the rules, or you leave," the woman said.
What rules? I'm at a press conference--a so-called rally--and all I'm doing is talking to the people who have come to the press conference.
"That's you people's problem anyway--you think you can do whatever you want to do," the woman said. "And you can't. You either stick to the rules, or you leave."
What rules? "You stick to the message up front," she said, pointing to the head table with the four loudmouths. "You do what the other reporters are doing--stick to the message."