Louis Farrakhan was in pain. He had lost six units of blood, and his doctor feared the worst. But the Nation of Islam leader somehow survived his ordeal with prostate cancer, and by December 1999 he was telling reporters that he was a new man."We must try to end the cycle of hatred," he said then.
He repeats that conciliatory tone, sort of -- at least when the cameras are on -- when he visits Dallas to garner local support for his Million Family March, set for October 16.
"The beauty of God is in every member of the human family," says Farrakhan, sitting last week in a small room packed with media at the Crescent Court Hotel. All are welcome for the march, he says. Blacks, Hispanics, Asians. Even whites.
Despite his cancer scare, the 67-year-old Farrakhan looks fit today; his face is unlined, his frame well padded. And he's wearing his trademark square-framed glasses.
But is this a new Farrakhan talking? Or the same man who called Judaism a "gutter religion"? The one who called whites "beasts"?
"I am not anti-Semitic," he says now, addressing those familiar charges against him. "I have the greatest respect for the Jewish people."
"I...I...I wish," says Farrakhan, imploringly, innocently, "I could make my point so strong that you would know that 'Brother Farrakhan' is not anti-Semitic."
A woman stands up.
"May I say something?" asks this older black woman, Artie Giles.
"Yes, of course!" says "Brother Farrakhan" enthusiastically.
"Until today, I didn't like you," says Giles, a Baptist pastor who has her own 50-member Dallas church.
Farrakhan smiles broadly, comfortably. Others laugh.
"Now I can see why nobody wants me to come into your presence, because we think alike," she says.
Another woman -- a 31-year-old Turk named Merve Safa Kavakci -- stands up and tells him of the plight of religious Muslims in her homeland.
"I sympathize with you," she tells him. "We are the black people of Turkey."
He offers this teary-eyed woman encouragement: "We are assured of victory."
Farrakhan has kept his name in the news not only with his upcoming Million Family March, but with his trip to the Middle East in 1997. He met with Libya's Moammar Gadhafi, who pledged his support to the Nation of Islam. And the prostate cancer that has plagued Farrakhan (though he says he's 85 percent cured) has elicited strong sympathies from blacks nationwide.Now hours following this August 4 news conference, he's at Carver Heights Baptist Church in East Oak Cliff, where he has an audience numbering 1,000. For all the travails facing blacks in America, Farrakhan has said in the past that the "enemy" doesn't lie within but with the "agents." Whites and Jews, specifically.
In the past, his supporters have said that his controversial views are peripheral to his real message: America's lack of commitment to racial equity.
Farrakhan's Nation of Islam makes up only 20,000 of America's 2.6 million black Muslims. But this leader -- and his far-fetched explanations for many of the black community's social ills, among them that Jews are economically oppressing blacks -- holds a special appeal for many African-Americans, even those who aren't Muslim. Though he says he promotes self-sufficiency, there has always been an underlying message: Look to whites and Jews if you want to understand the root of your problems.
Perhaps tonight, the "new" Farrakhan will change his tone.
In the past, Farrakhan's Nation of Islam has openly peddled the Protocols of Zion, an infamous early-20th-century anti-Semitic forgery, and he has regularly spewed a similar worldview that Jews are responsible for both capitalism and communism, for U.S. entry into World War II, for the national debt. Focusing much of his hatred on the Jews' alleged control of blacks has done little to damage his appeal. In fact, no blatant anti-Semite has gotten as much mainstream support within his own community as Farrakhan. Last year, Jet magazine listed him among its greatest "Chicagoans of the Century." Ebony included him in its "20th century's immortal giants." And some three decades after his father denounced the views of another Nation of Islam follower -- Malcolm X -- as racist, Martin Luther King III met with Farrakhan several weeks ago in Atlanta to voice his support for the Million Family March.
At this church tonight, Farrakhan -- flanked by two guards, one of whom is his son -- lets the word out: "I'm taking on the baddest government on Earth."
The crowd jumps to its feet, clapping and roaring praise.
"Allah Akbar!" shout some, their fists clenched.
"I'm not anti-white," he continues. "I'm not anti-Semitic. I'm not anti-American."
"No," they shout in agreement.
"I'm anti-control of my people from people who are not worthy to control," he bellows, pounding his fist on the lectern while his wife, Khadijah, sits impassively in the front row of the audience.
"Teach," yells one man.
"I'm calling for a Million Family March," says Farrakhan. "Five years after the Million Man March.
"Why?" he continues. "It's a march to create a movement of people organized to bring about change."
He's silent a moment and scans the black faces before him.
"May I humbly submit," he says, his voice soft now, "America has already been taken over."
He pulls out a $100 bill from his pocket.
"Who is it printed by?" he asks.
"Federal Reserve," answer a few.
"Is the Federal Reserve owned by the government?"
"No, sir," a man calls out.
"No?" replies Farrakhan, facetiously.
"Who owns the Federal Reserve?" he asks.
"Jews," shouts a man in the crowd.
Many in this audience laugh.
"How powerful is he, the head of the Federal Reserve?" asks Farrakhan of the Fed chairman, a Jew named Alan Greenspan.
"Come on Minister," they shout. "Yes, sir."
"In 1913, they pushed through Congress the Federal Reserve Act. Before 1913, there was no IRS," he shouts. "This nation is in debt all the way into your great-grandchildren's future."
The crowd rumbles with anger. Farrakhan's got them in the palm of his hand.
"The same year they set up the IRS, they set up the FBI," he says. "And the same year they set up...." He pauses, then speaks slowly. "...the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith." He looks ahead. "It could be coincidence," he says, smiling sheepishly, and tucks his $100 in his pocket.
No one voices any indignation here for what Farrakhan is saying -- not former Dallas City Council member Diane Ragsdale, who's here tonight, not the church's pastor, Tyler Carter, who's also in attendance. (And on the previous night, at a town-hall meeting organized by a local chapter of the Nation of Islam, Councilman Leo Chaney voiced his support for Farrakhan's upcoming march.)
"Come on, brother," shouts a man, amid the unbridled applause.
"They brought us here to destroy us," Farrakhan says, speaking of other whites now. "For 300 years we were not allowed to marry. The slave master would go into our women and produce children my color," he says, contemptuously rubbing his brown face.
"We were like animals," he shouts and turns to his right, to look at me. "So you white people don't understand why we are the way we are," he screams. "So my Arab Muslim brothers, you don't know why we are the way we are.
"You don't know what's happened to us."
The crowd jumps to its feet, cheering. Just as quickly, the four guards sitting at the edge of the stage stand up and look ahead, stone-faced.
"When we were free, we wanted to marry," he says, over the cries of a child in the audience. "The enemy saw our rise, so now crack cocaine -- the devil -- is right up in our house," says Farrakhan, repeating his oft-recited conspiracy theory that the CIA planted the drug in black America.
"Since you've been robbed of a creative mind," he continues, "you find pleasure in your bodies."
He wipes the sweat from his face with a white handkerchief. He's not letting "the enemy" off the hook.
"The enemy...create(d) a virus that destroys the immune system, transmitted by sex."
"Preach," they shout.
"They're running the radio stations," screams Farrakhan, "the newspapers, and they dumb you down in the schools." He looks around. "I'm just telling you what's going on."
The woman behind me, her head covered by a white cloth, nods. Her eyes never wander from him; she's transfixed.
"We have to reconstruct family life...I would like to remarry 10,000 couples," says Farrakhan, outlining one of his goals for the Million Family March.
"When you hear me speak, I never speak condemning of somebody else's faith," he says, clearly conditioning this audience to view his rant against whites and Jews as the truth and nothing less. "Don't let anyone tell you I condemn Judaism.
"They lie," he says, indignantly. "They lie."
"Here's what I condemn. I condemn the taking of Palestinian land," he says, voicing the sort of anti-Israel rhetoric that other black civil rights groups, among them the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee of the 1960s, once expressed.
"I'm not anti-Semitic. I'm not that," he says, shaking his head in denial.
"I want to see black intellectuals free," he shouts. The crowd roars its approval.
"I want to see them not controlled by members of the Jewish community."
"Am I lying?" he asks them.
"No, sir!" they fire back.
It's close to midnight, and the crowds are leaving."I thought it was tremendous, spectacular," says a 32-year-old, a local producer of R&B records standing outside the church with two other young men. "I believe he was on point on all of his issues."
Even what Farrakhan said about Jews?
"The type of leader that I've known Minister Farrakhan to be is one who does not charge without having the full facts," he says, declining to give his name because I may be "one of those agents" Farrakhan spoke of.
"I've never had an encounter with Jews, negative or positive," interjects Bryant Johnson, 32, who has worked in data entry. But he takes Farrakhan at his word. "That means there's a percentage of people that are rich that control the environment."
"The history speaks for itself," says the third man, who says he's an actor.
"The Minister speaks from experience," says this 25-year-old dressed in a suit. "His words are just."
"Let me ask you this question," says the producer. "Given the history of white people in America, Jews in America...if you had been the object of ridicule, discrimination, then what would your disposition be?
"I'm living from paycheck to paycheck," he adds. "Not because I'm lazy, not because I'm dumb, but because I'm a black man in a white man's world.
"The whole international banking conspiracy -- are you versed on this? Are you aware?" he asks.
I plead ignorance, just to see what he'll say. He snickers.
"That's what we're saying," says the actor. "So many things are happening, and you have no idea."
"I knew that you were Jewish when you came up to me," says the producer.
"I knew by your nose," adds the actor.
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"You probably have friends...who take off on Saturdays and Sundays and become part of a militia," says the producer, chiming in. He sounds earnest, as if he believes every word.
"Write this down, sister," he says, and speaks about a book, The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews, which he says was written by a Jew. (It's actually a piece of pseudo-scholarship put out by Farrakhan's "Historical Research Department" that purports to prove how Jews took the lead in capturing Africans and transporting them to America.)
"You know what it is?" he concludes. "You're really not used to talking to educated, well-versed brothers."
And there is not a hint of irony in his voice.