The following day, in the wake of public suspicion regarding Farrakhan’s role in Malcolm X’s slaying 30 years earlier, the Nation of Islam moved quickly to shift the focus of public attention from Farrakhan to the government. Nation officials called a press conference and issued a press release which cryptically read, “The identity of the alleged plotters was said to be some members of a ‘Muslim extremist group’. We do not know Ms. Shabazz to be a member of any such group. We call on the FBI to explain their assertion.” Was this true, or was it simply another ploy in a NOI legacy of disinformation?
Indeed, a glimpse into the history and development of ‘The Nation Of Islam,’ shows a group which has traditionally marketed itself as dedicated to the brotherhood, benefit and American black social improvement, while the Nation and the media continually refer to the NOI as the premier American Islamic organization. However, the historical record of the group tells quite a different story. Over the years, a pattern of rampant deceit, manipulation and violence has prevailed; targeting Muslims, African-American critics, and even its own followers, which dates from the very beginning of the movement.
For instance, on May 27, 1929, Wallace Dodd Ford, an immigrant New Zealander of Afghani/Caucasian/Polynesian parentage, was released from California’s San Quentin prison after serving three years for selling narcotics in Los Angeles. Upon his prison release, Ford moved to Chicago and then Detroit where he posed as a Bible-toting, itinerant silk and rug peddler ‘from the East.’ Ford attracted a following of poor, working class black migrants by blending an admixture of ideas adapted from Christianity, the Qadiani translation of Qur’an, and concepts from numerous Messianic, Depression-era cult ideologues, i.e. Father Divine, Marcus Garvey, Drew Ali, etc.
Using up to eighteen different aliases, among them, “W. Fard Muhammad,” and “W.D. Fard,” Ford variously identified himself as an Arab, a Hawaiian, a black and a white. He claimed to have been born in Mecca, of being the descendant of Prophet Muhammad, and finally, ‘the Apostle of Allah.’ In Detroit, he met Elijah Poole from Sandersville, Georgia. Poole, an unemployed assembly line worker and former follower of Drew Ali’s “Moorish Temple”, was mesmerized by Ford’s aura and became his devoted follower. Ford changed Poole’s name to Elijah Karriem, and on July 4, 1930, a little more than one year after his prison release, Ford with Karriem’s assistance, formed ‘the Nation Cult of Islam.’
For a fee of ten dollars, Ford gave Arabic names to cult members, Elijah and his family going through a series of name changes, finally settling on the name, ‘Muhammad.’ Among Ford’s teachings, was a call for followers to sacrifice whites in order for the person ‘to return to his home in Mecca.’ Followers were encouraged to believe in human sacrifice, ‘of himself or his loved ones if Allah requires it.’ In November of 1932, Robert Karriem Harris, one of the earliest members of ‘the Nation Cult of Islam’, was convicted of murder in Detroit in the sacrificial slaying of Nation follower, James J. Smith, amidst reports of other slayings. This event, referred to in Detroit as the infamous ‘Voodoo Murders,’ led to the confinement of Elijah Karriem (who at the time used the alias, Ghulam Bogans) to a Detroit mental ward and the banishment of his teacher, Wallace Dodd Ford from Detroit to Chicago.
The departure of Ford from Chicago in 1934, led to deadly power struggles within Elijah Karriem’s own family, as his brother Khallatt Muhammad threatened Elijah and forced him to flee from Detroit to Chicago. With Ford’s departure, Karriem changed his name to Elijah Muhammad, elevated his teacher to the status of ‘Allah in person’ and himself to ‘the Messenger of Allah.’ From the 1940’s onward, the Nation recruited its staunchest following from prisons, devolving into a violent gang-fueled reign of terror against both ex-‘Nation’ followers who renounced Elijah Muhammad and embraced Islam, as well as those who differed on issues with ‘Nation’ leadership. The practice of intimidation and fratricide reached a boiling point during the 1960’s and 70’s as a number of Nation leaders pitted ‘brother against brother’ as if a macabre chess match, this amidst reports of Elijah and his family’s immorality and widespread objections to his teachings.
For example, in 1964 Aubrey Barnett, a former Boston minister under Louis X Farrakhan, quit the group after being fed up with the deceptions. Barnett was soon after viciously assaulted on a Boston street by 13 of Elijah Muhammad’s men. On November 5, 1964, ex-member Kenneth Morton, died from internal injuries suffered when he was beaten by four members of ‘the Nation.’ During the same year, Malcolm X, former national spokesman for Elijah Muhammad, renounced Elijah’s organization, made Hajj and became a Muslim, and officially changed his name to Al-Hajj Malik Shabazz; openly declaring Elijah Muhammad to be a false prophet, thief and fornicator. This led to Elijah printing a series of articles critical of Malik Shabazz in issues of Muhammad Speaks written by Nation ministers, referring to Malik Shabazz as a ‘hypocrite,’ including a call for Malik Shabazz’ death written by Louis X Farrakhan.
On January 6, 1965, ex-NOI member Benjamin Brown, who left ‘the Nation’ to establish an Islamic masjid, was shot in front of his masjid. This was followed by a series of repeated attempts on Malik Shabazz’ life by Nation members, culminating in his February 21, 1965 assassination in New York City. This was immediately followed up by the brutal beating in Boston of Leon 4X Ameer, a former bodyguard for Malik Shabazz. Shortly after Malik Shabazz’ assassination, Ameer’s picture was circulated in Muhammad Speaks newspaper as ‘wanted’ for expressing a desire to kill Elijah Muhammad in revenge for the death of Malik Shabazz. Left in a coma for weeks as a result of the beating, Ameer emerged from the hospital in a vegetative state with permanent brain damage. He died shortly thereafter.
In 1968, Hulon Mitchell, Jr. (Min. Hulon X Shah), a former Atlanta head NOI minister, abandoned the NOI with $50,000 sent from NOI Chicago headquarters, moved to Florida with friend Billy Steven Jones, and started their own group, mixing elements of Christianity and Islam. On the night of May 23, 1969, a hit team of three men entered Jones’ and Mitchell’s home/headquarters, opening fire on Jones who returned fire. Two gunmen and Jones died at the scene, the third gunman was captured in Chicago yet oddly, was never prosecuted. Mitchell, who was not present during the shootout, and whom many saw as the real target, later started the Black Hebrew Israelite, ‘Nation of Yahweh’, changing his name to Yahweh Ben Yahweh. Curiously, police never questioned Mitchell and he never afterwards spoke openly about the shooting.
In 1971, twenty-five Nation members walked out of Temple no. 2 in Chicago with the complaint that not enough money collected from members was reaching poor blacks. This led to the murder of one dissident in Chicago, while another who fled to Oakland was murdered there. Between 1970-71 Philadelphia’s ruthless ‘Black Mafia’ became the official extortion arm of the NOI. Operating out of Philadelphia NOI Mosque No. 12 headed by Jeremiah Shabazz, the criminal enterprise controlled drug trafficking, numbers rackets, stolen cars, counterfeit money, armed robbery, extortion, prostitution and a trail of over forty murders. On January 4, 1971, Eight Black Mafia members entered South Street furniture store, where they shot a janitor to death, looted the shop, beat and bound its employees, and set them and the store on fire. The Philadelphia Inquirer called it, “one of the most cold-blooded and inhuman acts in the long criminal history of this town.”
By 1973 the Black Mafia’s criminal web extended to Chicago, Detroit, Baton Rouge, Baltimore, New York, Atlanta and Washington, DC with key members making the FBI’s Most Wanted list.
On April 14, 1972, NYPD Officers Phillip Cardillo and Vito Navarra, rushed to the Nation of Islam’s Harlem Temple No. 7 in response to a fake 911 call. The call alleged a police officer was in distress on the second floor. Temple leader Louis Farrakhan, had offices on the third floor. The two officers were met by six to sixteen NOI members, a melee ensued as more police arrived. Officer Cardillo trapped on the inside, was shot and killed. Investigators later named Louis Farrakhan’s driver, Louis 17X Dupree, as the main suspect. An unrepentant Farrakhan stated the officers had come “charging into our temple like criminals and were treated like criminals.”
On January 18, 1973 in Washington DC, the most gruesome of murders took place when several assassins were dispatched from Elijah Muhammad’s Philadelphia Mosque No. 12 to kill ex-follower Hamaas Abdul Khaalis, who had written dozens of letters to Elijah’s temples nationwide, calling Elijah a ‘lying deceiver who was stealing his followers’ money and dooming them to Hell’. The assassins entered Hamaas’ home, finding seven members of his family, all women and children. The assassins beat and shot the women and children numerous times, robbing and ransacking the house, then drowning two infants in a sink and tub. Hamaas’ daughter Amina, who survived despite being shot six times in the head at close range, recalled that one of the killers asked her, “Why did your father write those letters?” His last words to her were, “Don’t mess with Elijah.” The killers fled, but following a nationwide manhunt, all were captured and convicted, four of them sentenced to 140 years in prison. On May 1, 1973, author Hakim A. Jamal, a cousin of Malik Shabazz and like him an outspoken critic of Elijah Muhammad, was gunned down by four Nation members in his New England home. In June of 1973, career con-artist and gangster intermediary Major Coxson was found bound and executed in his posh Cherry Hill home, along with three others who were also bound and shot. The lead suspects were Black Mafia leaders Sam Christian and Ronald Harvey, both participants in the January DC Hanafi murders.
Between late 1973 and mid-1974, the city of San Francisco was terrorized by the ‘Zebra’ serial killings carried out by followers of Elijah Muhammad. Reviving the original 1930’s Nation teachings, the killers believed that godhood could be achieved by murdering non-blacks. For a 179-day period, the killers brutally assaulted, robbed, and sodomized a total of twenty-three persons, leaving fifteen dead, including Jordanian Muslim, Saleem Hassan Erakat.
After Elijah Muhammad’s death on February 25, 1975, his son, W.D. Mohammed, ascended to the leadership; in the process, reshaping the NOI organization and its beliefs. Yet on November 22, 1975, twelve members of the Islamic Party of North America, which had written newspaper articles denouncing the son’s refusal to renounce his father’s beliefs, were attacked and beaten in broad daylight with clubs, claw-hammers, tire irons and pipes in Newark, New Jersey by followers of W.D. Mohammed.
In 1977, Louis Farrakhan, disgruntled with organizational changes under W.D. Mohammed, left W.D. Mohammed’s leadership to re-start the organization and beliefs of the former ‘Nation’. His group today commands a following which includes a variety of current and former street gang members, rap artists, and black nationalists. During Jesse Jackson’s 1984 Presidential campaign Louis Farrakhan issued a death threat against black Washington Post reporter Milton Coleman for Coleman revealing a private conversation Jackson had with campaign aides.
The violent pattern continued in 1988 as members of Farrakhan’s ‘Dope-Busters’ assaulted black NBC reporter Joe Johns and cameraman Harry Davis on April 18 in Washington DC while Johns and Davis videotaped a story on them. This was followed by a brutal attack in October 1990 on Howard University campus by fifteen Farrakhan members upon two Muslim university students following their public criticism of Farrakhan and Elijah Muhammad. In May of 1993, W.D. Mohammed, declared in a London interview with The Muslim News, that Louis Farrakhan ‘respects Islam’ and ‘he does a lot of good.’ He added: “He is friendly with us and we should be friendly with him.”
Over a three week period in October 2002, NOI member John Allen Muhammad murdered 10 people in what was known as the ‘DC Beltway Sniper’ rampage. In 1995 John Allen Muhammad had provided security for Louis Farrakhan’s Million Man March, yet on Oct. 26 following Muhammad’s arrest, Farrakhan distanced himself and the NOI from John Allen Muhammad.
In recent years, Chicago, Illinois, has sadly become recognized as the murder capital of America. Yet during his February 2013 Chicago Saviours Day rally, Louis Farrakhan appealed to the cities’ ‘gangbangers’, saying they are “natural soldiers” who could be taught “the science of war” to become protectors of the Nation of Islam’s assets.
In the end, the NOI’s legacy from human sacrifices to assassination to gang-banger recruitment, remains its sordid trail that leads back to Elijah Muhammad’s doorstep.
Braden, Charles Samuel, These Also Believe: A Study of Modern American Cults and Minority Religious Movements, (MacMillan, NY, 1949)
Breitman, George, Herman Porter & Baxter Smith, The Assassination of Malcolm X, (Pathfinder Press, NY, 1976)
Carson, Claybourne, Malcolm X, The FBI File, (Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc. NY, NY 1991)
Evanzz, Karl, The Judas Factor, The Plot to Kill Malcolm X, (Thunder’s Mouth Press, NY, 1992)
———- The Messenger, The Rise and Fall of Elijah Muhammad, (Vintage Books, New York, 1999)
Freedberg, Sydney P., Brother Love: Murder, Money, and a Messiah, (Pantheon Books, NY, 1994)
Friedly, Michael, Malcolm X, The Assassination, (Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc. NY, NY, 1992)
Griffin, Sean Patrick, Philadelphia’s ‘Black Mafia’, A Social and Political History, (Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht, 2003)
———-Black Brothers Inc., The Violent Rise and Fall of Philadelphia’s Black Mafia, (Milo Books Ltd. Preston, UK, 2005)
Howard, Clark, Zebra: the true account of the 179 days of terror in San Francisco, (R. Marek Publishers, NY, 1979)
Melton, J. Gordon, Encyclopedia of African American Religions, [with Larry G. Murphy & Gary L. Ward] (Garland Publishing Co., New York, 1993)
Perry, Bruce, Malcolm, The Life of a Man Who Changed Black America, (Station Hill Press, Berrytown, NY, 1991)
X, Malcolm, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, (Grove Press, Inc. NY, NY, 1965)
———-Malcolm X, The Last Speeches, (Edited by Bruce Perry; Pathfinder Books, NY, NY, 1990)
———-February 1965, The Final Speeches, (Pathfinder Books, NY, NY, 1992)
MAGAZINE, JOURNAL, NEWSPAPER & INTERNET ARTICLES
Ansari, Zafar Ishaq, W.D. Muhammad: The Making of a “Black Muslim” Leader (1933-1961), (The American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences, Jointly published by AMSS/IIIT, vol. 2, no. 2)
Barnett, Aubrey, The Black Muslims Are a Fraud, (Saturday Evening Post, February 27, 1965)
Beynon, Erdmann Doane, The Voodoo Cult Among Negro Migrants in Detroit, (The American Journal of Sociology, The University of Chicago Press, vol. XLIII, July 1937-May 1938)
Block, Merv, Elijah Muhammad –black paradox, (Chicago Sun-Times, March 26, 1972)
Black Leader Slain by Boston Gunmen; Muslim Feud Hinted. (The New York Times, May 3, 1973)
Muslim feud seen behind Boston death (The Washington Afro-American, May 8, 1973)
Daley, Robert; The Untold Story Behind the Harlem Mosque Shooting, (New York Magazine, June 4, 1973)
The Detroit News, Head of Cult Admits Killing (Nov. 21, 1932)
———-Leader of Cult Called Insane, (Nov. 22, 1932)
———-Leader of Cult to be Quizzed, (Nov. 23, 1932)
———-Cult Slayer Pleads Guilty, (Nov. 25, 1932)
The Final Call, Farrakhan addresses D.C.-area sniper case during press conference (Oct. 26, 2002)
Islamic Party of North America, ‘Black Muslims’ Still Unbelievers, (Al-Islam: The Islamic Movement Journal, vol. 4, no. 4 Rajab-Shaban 1395/July–August 1975 & Sept.-Oct. 1975)
———-Elijah and Fard Must Go!, (vol. 4, no. 6, Nov.-Dec. 1975)
———-Blood in the Cause of Allah, The Attack-Its Meaning (vol. 5, no. 1, Jan.-Feb. 1976)
Muhammad Speaks, Louis X Farrakhan: To Follow Malcolm is to be Doomed (December 4, 1964)
New York Amsterdam News, Gil Noble urges Farrakhan, Tell us about your role in Malcolm X’s murder, (November 16, 1985)
Time Magazine, Punish the Traitor: Milton Coleman, (Monday, April 16, 1984)
The Muslim News, Imam Warith in London, (London, May 28, 1993)
The Sunday Star-Ledger, Muslims attacked in Newark, (November 23, 1975)
Philadelphia Daily News, X Terminator? Farrakhan admits setting mood in ’65 (January 13, 1995)
Walsh, Edward, Farrakhan Says U.S. Concocted Plot Charge, (The Washington Post, Jan. 18, 1995)
Interview with NBC/CNN reporter Joe Johns, (Washington, DC, 1993)
Griffin, Sean Patrick, Requiem for a Gangster, (Philadelphia Inquirer, March 13, 2016) http://www.phillymag.com/articles/requiem-for-a-gangster/#qL61Z8i9e2A1ZcvS.99
© 2016 A. Idris Palmer