Far­rakhan sees open­ing for sep­a­ratist mes­sage

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Sophia Tareen and Rachel Zoll

chicago» Min­is­ter Louis Far­rakhan, head of the Na­tion of Is­lam, spoke from a podium draped in the red, black and green of the Pan-African flag, a sym­bol of black pride.

It was the week af­ter Don­ald Trump won the pres­i­dency. The re­sult had de­lighted a new gen­er­a­tion of white su­prem­a­cists, and Far­rakhan was an­a­lyz­ing the political land­scape.

In a speech be­fore the State of the Black World Con­fer­ence in New Jersey, he warned, “The white man is go­ing to push. He’s putting in place the very thing that will limit the free­dom of oth­ers.” Then he pointed to the crowd, smiled and said, “That’s what you needed,” as mo­ti­va­tion to fi­nally sep­a­rate from whites.

“My mes­sage to Mr. Trump: Push it real good,” Far­rakhan said, build­ing to a roar that drew ap­plause and cheers. “Push it so good that black peo­ple say, ‘I’m outta here. I can’t take it no more.’ ”

Af­ter a pres­i­den­tial cam­paign that em­bold­ened white iden­tity pol­i­tics, the Na­tion of Is­lam, a black sep­a­ratist re­li­gious move­ment, is positioning it­self as newly rel­e­vant.

Some watch­dogs who mon­i­tor Far­rakhan say his lat­est ap­peal is a des­per­ate grasp at sig­nif­i­cance for a group far from its hey­day. How­ever, the South­ern Poverty Law Cen­ter, which tracks ex­trem­ism, has found black sep­a­ratism grow­ing along­side white supremacy, cre­at­ing a more fa­vor­able en­vi­ron­ment for the Na­tion’s teach­ings.

“Racial na­tion­al­ism of all kinds is on the rise,” said Mark Po­tok of the South­ern Poverty Law Cen­ter.

Theresa X, an al­co­hol and drug coun­selor from North­ern Cal­i­for­nia, said af­ter this “vi­cious” elec­tion, she hoped oth­ers, in­clud­ing her Latino rel­a­tives, would fol­low her into the Na­tion of Is­lam, which Na­tion of Is­lam leader Louis Far­rakhan speaks dur­ing a rally on Capi­tol Hill in Wash­ing­ton in Oc­to­ber 2015. she joined in the 1980s. “I think they should,” she said in a phone in­ter­view. “They’re afraid.”

The Na­tion largely has been closed off to out­siders, mak­ing it im­pos­si­ble even for those who fol­low the move­ment closely to gauge its strength. Nei­ther Far­rakhan nor the head min­is­ter of the move­ment’s Mosque Maryam in Chicago, Ish­mael Muham­mad, re­sponded to in­ter­view re­quests.

Still, Far­rakhan and his mes­sage of black em­pow­er­ment clearly have an on­go­ing im­pact. The Mil­lion Man March he or­ga­nized in 1995, draw­ing hun­dreds of thou­sands to Wash­ing­ton, re­mains a cul­tural touch­stone, and hip-hop artists praise him in their mu­sic. The Na­tion has an ex­ten­sive prison min­istry, along with health and so­cial ser­vice pro­grams, and the move­ment’s mili­tia, the Fruit of Is­lam, pro­vides se­cu­rity at pub­lic hous­ing and else­where.

That name recog­ni­tion and high level of or­ga­ni­za­tion has left the Na­tion well-sit­u­ated to take ad­van­tage of the cur­rent political mo­ment, in­clud­ing the emer­gence of Black Lives Mat­ter protests over po­lice shoot­ings of black men.

“We have to turn to each other,” said Na­tion mem­ber Duane Muham­mad, 63, a Chicago-area elected of­fi­cial who helps pro­duce videos of Far­rakhan.

In Chicago, Na­tion mem­bers stood be­tween po­lice and marchers at a postThanks­giv­ing protest last year over the killing of black teenager Laquan McDon­ald by a white po­lice of­fi­cer. Marchers blocked traf­fic and store en­trances along the Mag­nif­i­cent Mile shop­ping district, and Na­tion mem­bers “formed a line and made sure we were OK,” said Ja’Mal Green, a Chicago ac­tivist.

Zain Ab­dul­lah, a Tem­ple Univer­sity pro­fes­sor who spe­cial­izes in Is­lamic stud­ies, noted the Na­tion first gained national promi­nence in 1957 af­ter its stun­ningly dis­ci­plined Har­lem protest af­ter po­lice beat Na­tion mem­ber John­son Hin­ton. “Be­fore that, the mem­ber­ship was a cou­ple of hun­dred. Af­ter that, peo­ple were com­ing to the tem­ple to lis­ten and join,” Ab­dul­lah said.

Online, the Na­tion’s presence has grown. Sun­day ser­vices from Mosque Maryam are streamed live. Far­rakhan’s pub­lic speeches and ser­mons are on YouTube. He has more than 637,000 fol­low­ers on Face­book and 462,000 on Twit­ter.

Mikal Nash, a pro­fes­sor at Es­sex County Col­lege in Ne­wark and au­thor of “Mus­lims in Ne­wark, New Jersey: A So­cial His­tory,” said he has no­ticed increasing in­ter­est in “the voice of peo­ple like Min­is­ter Far­rakhan much the same way there’s been an in­ter­est in the voice of Don­ald Trump.”

Dur­ing the cam­paign, Trump called Mex­i­can im­mi­grants rapists, ad­vo­cated poli­cies that put Mus­lims un­der gen­eral sus­pi­cion and drew an en­dorse­ment from the Ku Klux Klan. The pres­i­dent-elect has been crit­i­cized for be­ing slow to con­demn white su­prem­a­cists.

“I think peo­ple are at­tracted to those voices as a re­sult of a racially po­lar­ized so­ci­ety,” Nash said. “This elec­tion, you could see the whole is­sue of race arose more than any elec­tion in my life­time.”

Dur­ing the cam­paign, Far­rakhan sent mixed sig­nals about Trump, in­di­cat- ing the min­is­ter saw some re­flec­tion of his world­view in the can­di­date’s rhetoric, in­clud­ing the Repub­li­can’s talk of a “global power struc­ture” that has rigged the econ­omy. Far­rakhan has long pro­moted con­spir­acy the­o­ries, blam­ing Is­rael and Jews for the Sept. 11 at­tacks, and ac­cus­ing Jews of con­trol­ling the Amer­i­can govern­ment.

In an ex­ten­sive in­ter­view in Jan­uary with Alex Jones of In­foWars, a con­ser­va­tive web­site that traf­fics in con­spir­acy the­o­ries, Far­rakhan de­scribed Trump as a “businessman par ex­cel­lence” and agreed with Trump’s pro­posal to more strongly vet refugees from Mus­lim coun­tries, point­ing to the re­sent­ment gen­er­ated by Amer­i­can poli­cies in the Mus­lim world.

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