Nation of Islam and New Black Panther Party

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Nation of Islam and New Black Panther Party

The Nation of Islam (NOI) and the New Black Panther Party (NBPP) are the largest and most active black racist organizations in America. The NOI—modeled after other socioreligious groups such as Noble Drew Ali’s Moorish Science Temple and Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association—is the oldest black nationalist organization in the United States. Since its founding in the 1930s, it has both instilled African Americans with a sense of empowerment and maintained a consistent record of racism and anti-Semitism.

Fard Muhammad, the founder of the NOI, taught his followers in Detroit that he was the personification of Allah. Fard’s disciple, Elijah Muhammad, assumed leadership of the group when Fard disappeared in the mid-1930s. He continued to advance the NOI’s radical religious beliefs promoting the doctrine that whites are “devils” created by a black scientist, and that blacks are superior and should have a separate nation within the United States.

The group significantly expanded in the 1950s and 1960s when Malcolm X, a captivating orator who joined the group while in prison, became its spokesman. His militant and charismatic style attracted many adherents, including the group’s future leader, Louis Farrakhan. In 1964, however, Malcolm altered his views, denounced Elijah Muhammad, and left the organization (he was shot to death while addressing a rally in New York in 1965).

When Elijah Muhammad died ten years later, his son Warith Deen Mohammed began to steer the group toward a nonracist, more traditional form of Islam. Farrakhan, by then a popular leader, elected to perpetuate Elijah’s separatist teachings by forming his own organization in 1978, and many members who preferred to keep the teachings of Elijah left with him.

More than any other NOI leader, Farrakhan marked himself as a notable figure on the extremist scene by making hateful statements targeting whites, Jews, and homosexuals. Under Farrakhan, the NOI has used its various institutions and programs to disseminate his message of hate. A major NOI publication, The Secret Relationship of Blacks and Jews, published in 1991, is one of the most significant anti-Semitic works produced in decades. It presents a multilayered attack against Jews, arguing essentially that slavery in the New World was initiated by Jewish ship owners and merchants. This alleged domination of blacks by Jews has continued into the present day, according to Farrakhan.

The NOI experienced a notable growth in media visibility and acceptance by the mainstream African-American community in the period leading up to the 1995 Million Man March in Washington, D.C. This popular reception of the NOI stressed the group’s focus on black self-reliance and minimized the group’s well-established record of racism. Although he has continued to make racially divisive comments—in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Farrakhan alleged that levees were purposely destroyed in African-American sections of New Orleans—some observers suggest that Farrakhan’s message has changed, and he has maintained a level of mainstream support.

Farrakhan has also reached out to the New Black Panther Party for Self-Defense (NBPP), which since the late 1990s has become the most blatantly racist and anti-Semitic black militant group in America. The NBPP takes its name from the original Black Panther Party, a radical black nationalist group active in the 1960s and 1970s. The roots of the New Black Panthers can be traced to Michael McGee, former Milwaukee alderman. In 1990, at a “State of the Inner City” press conference at city hall, McGee announced his intention to create the Black Panther Militia unless the problems of the inner-city improved. McGee then appeared on Dallas county commissioner John Wiley Price’s nightly radio show “Talkback” in 1990. Aaron Michaels, who produced the radio show, was inspired to found the NBPP after McGee’s appearance, registering the New Black Panther Party name in 1991. Although the group continues to use “for Self-Defense” on its Internet site and in other places, the group is often referred to as simply the New Black Panther Party.

Michaels organized a group of like-minded followers, borrowing the militant style and confrontational tactics of the original Panthers. The group apparently established a nationwide base during the next few years. In 1993 the Dallas chapter hosted the National Black Power Summit and Youth Rally, which drew about 200 people. In an effort to make common cause in favor of racial separatism, the white supremacist Tom Metzger was invited to speak.

Under Michaels’ leadership, the NBPP embraced racist leaders, most notably Khallid Abdul Muhammad, a former member of the NOI who had previously served as an NOI minister in Los Angeles, Atlanta, and New York, and as Farrakhan’s national spokesman. Muhammad’s rise through the NOI hierarchy was abruptly halted in November 1993, after he delivered a notoriously anti-Semitic, anti-Catholic, homophobic, and racist speech at New Jersey’s Kean College. In his remarks, Muhammad called for genocide against whites and referred to Jews as “bloodsuckers.” Farrakhan responded to the controversy by removing Muhammad from the group’s leadership, and Muhammad never regained a significant place in the NOI.

With his connection to NOI waning, Muhammad focused on raising the visibility of the NBPP and consolidating his leadership over it. Even without NOI backing, Muhammad remained a popular (if divisive) and publicity-generating speaker at colleges and universities and at public events across the country. By the summer of 1998, Muhammad became de facto leader of the NBPP, taking on high-profile, racially charged causes and seeking to recruit young men attracted to his racist message and militant tone. In June 1998, Muhammad led a group of fifty NBPP followers to Jasper, Texas—including a dozen carrying shotguns and rifles—to “protect” the streets in the wake of the racial murder of James Byrd Jr.

Muhammad then organized the “Million Youth March” in Harlem, New York, which provided a forum to showcase the emergent NBPP as an alternative to other groups interested in guiding black youth, specifically the NOI. The event would be remembered for reaffirming black separatism and antiwhite prejudice, as well as fomenting hostility toward local police.

In addition to organizing high-profile demonstrations, Muhammad’s accomplishments with the NBPP include filling the organizational hierarchy with figures from the NOI and other Black Muslim groups. In February 2001, Muhammad died suddenly in Atlanta from the effects of a brain aneurysm. Control of the NBPP was left to Malik Zulu Shabazz, a Washington D.C.–based attorney and Muhammad’s closest advisor.

Like Muhammad, Shabazz’s long record of extremist speech can be traced to the NOI. In 1988 he founded Unity Nation, a Howard University group of NOI supporters. As the group’s leader, Shabazz lashed out at whites and Jews in an ostensible effort to promote black pride and consciousness.

Shabazz, who could not match his mentor’s oratorical intensity, compensated by quickly organizing protests across the country to capitalize on media attention. For example, Shabazz and the NBPP exploited the fear and anger that the September 11 terrorists attacks caused in the U.S. by spreading anti-Jewish conspiracy theories during a televised meeting at the National Press Club in Washington D.C.

By linking up with the NOI and feeding off of the nostalgia for the original Panthers, the NBPP has been able to attract some followers under the guise of championing the causes of black empowerment and civil rights. However, like the NOI, its record of racism and anti-Semitism has overshadowed many of its efforts to promote black pride and consciousness. Farrakhan’s outreach to Shabazz and the NBPP in 2005 represents a significant development in the relationship between two groups that once competed with each other.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Historical Research Department of the Nation of Islam. 1991. The Secret Relationship between Blacks and Jews. Nation of Islam.

Lincoln, Charles E. 1973. The Black Muslims in America. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Muhammad, Elijah. 1965. Message to the Blackman in America. Chicago, IL: Muhammad’s Temple No. 2.

White Jr., Vibert L. 2001. Inside the Nation of Islam. Gainesville: University Press of Florida.

Oren Segal