By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
In an upcoming biography of black power advocate Kwame Ture, Eric T. Muhammad claims that on his deathbed Ture confessed to knowing about a black separatist cult that slaughtered white men and filled whiskey bottles with their blood to avenge assassinations and brutal beatings of civil rights leaders during the 1960s.
Several of the sacrificial slayings, according to Muhammad a researcher for the Nation of Islam's The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews occurred at the height of the civil rights struggle in Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, and North Carolina.
Ture died of prostate cancer last November at age 57 in his adopted homeland of Guinea, West Africa.
Revelation of the so-called "Black Belt Whiskey Murders" comes on the heels of the arrest last month in New Jersey of John Armstrong, a member of the black separatist cult Yahweh ben Yahweh. The group's leader, Yahweh ben Yahweh, is serving an 18-year federal prison sentence in Florida for ordering the murders of 14 white vagrants and disobedient black disciples. He allegedly urged followers to "kill me a white devil and bring me an ear." And authorities say the group is responsible for 25 deaths across the country since the 1980s.
An indictment in Essex County charges that Attilio Cicala, a homeless white man murdered 15 years ago in what appeared to be a street crime, was actually sacrificed by the cult, which believes blacks are the true Jews. Armstrong, who also uses the name Yokonon Israel, allegedly stabbed Cicala repeatedly in the chest and abdomen in the early morning on July 3, 1984, about a block from the group's former Newark temple on South Orange Avenue a few days before ben Yahweh visited the city.
Armstrong's arrest rekindled waning interest in the racial philosophy of Yahweh ben Yahweh and other black separatist groups, such as the Nation of Islam, the Lost-Found Nation of Islam, and the Black Israelites all of which maintain a strong presence in New York City.
Long-dormant myths about vicious rapes, beheadings, bloodsucking, and other gruesome mutilations supposedly committed by these groups have been resuscitated in discussions among law-enforcement authorities here. Sources say NYPD brass are concerned about the populist appeal of black supremacist standard-bearers like Khallid Abdul Muhammad, who they claim entice young blacks to murder cops.
All remember the wave of random street killings that terrorized San Francisco in 1973. The "Zebra killers" struck without warning, murdering whites at night. Most victims were shot. One was raped, another beheaded. Four young black Muslims were arrested in 1974 and charged with 14 murders, seven assaults, one rape, and an attempted kidnapping. The Zebra killers were convicted in 1976.
In his unfinished biography (As Africa Is My Mother: From Stokely Carmichael to Kwame Ture), Eric Muhammad writes that Ture believed that the disappearance of several white sheriff's deputies in Nashville at the dawn of the '60s was linked to "a band of Nat Turner-type black youths." These avengers emerged at the epicenter of the nonviolent civil rights movement and killed the deputies to send a message to die-hard segregationists. The murders were covered up by the FBI, which had embarked on a campaign to discredit the major civil rights and black power organizations, Ture told Muhammad.
The "black hit men of these racist assassins" allegedly were based in Lowndes County, Alabama. According to the myth, the young blacks, who agonized over how painful it was to watch white murderers go free, went on drinking binges prior to committing the murders. "Kwame said they got together shortly before midnight, drank several bottles of whiskey, then lined up the empty bottles on a wall," says Muhammad, who is also a top aide to NOI leader Louis Farrakhan. "He said that if they drank 10 bottles that's how many they would fill with white men's blood."
Ture reportedly told Muhammad the killings continued during the Freedom Rides, when blacks were beaten and imprisoned; after the murder of Medgar Evers in Mississippi in June 1963; the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham four months later that killed four black girls; the assassination of Malcolm X in 1965; the "Bloody Sunday" attack by Alabama state troopers at Selma that same year; and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King in 1968.
"All these atrocious attacks took a tremendous toll on these young Nat Turners," Muhammad says. "They just couldn't understand that every time they went to church on Sunday the preacher would tell them, 'It's gonna be all right, we shall overcome' and by Monday morning that same church is dynamited and the preacher is threatened with a lynching. They had a real problem with that, according to Kwame."
Muhammad says that Ture, who in the '60s was the leader of a militant arm of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, "half- believed" the stories about the "Whiskey Murders" but used them as weapons anyway in his psychological warfare against white supremacists and the FBI. "After these stories were told to him, he found a way to help propagandize them so that they could be palatable to blacks," Muhammad says. "Ture wanted to encourage helpless blacks to make a stand against the white man's aggression, to make blacks feel that they weren't alone that somebody out there was sensitive to their anger."
The rumors of bloodthirsty black men on the prowl were intended as a warning to whites that beatings, lynchings, and assassinations of blacks would not go unanswered. "Kwame did not put out that call," Muhammad emphasized. "Kwame analyzed the call for self-defense. Soon, white folks were telling other white folks about these young Nat Turners and how much they feared them. That's the myth."
Among the separatist groups that fought for black liberation in the '60s and '70s, none was more feared than Elijah Muhammad's Nation of Islam. J.B. Stoner, a leader of the Ku Klux Klan, called them "the meanest niggers in the world."
Much of white America's fear of the NOI was rooted in 14 tenets, which the black Muslims call "the Lessons." One Lesson teaches NOI recruits that the white man is the "grafted devil" of a scientist named Yacub. In order to earn a trip to Paradise, the student must bring in the heads of four devils.
"Some brothers took the lessons literally," says Khalid Lateef, a former member of the NOI and one of its most vociferous critics. "The Lessons use the terms devil and white interchangeably," adds Lateef, who is now a member of the rival Society of Muslim Americans. "So in the area where it talks about bringing in the heads of devils, it doesn't say white men; at that point it has already been established who the devil is, which is the white man."
Almost every member of the NOI has heard tales about black Muslim brothers decapitating white men and presenting their heads as installments on their ticket to Paradise. The most fantastic is about a wannabe NOI member who strolled into the now-defunct Salaam Restaurant on 116th Street in Harlem with a garbage bag containing the heads of four white men. "He went to Captain Yusef Shah, showing him these heads," according to Lateef.
He maintains that many NOI Muslims soon discovered that the Lessons were turning them into killers, and they went crazy. In the late 1980s, when Lateef was an Orthodox Muslim chaplain at a psychiatric facility for the criminally insane in New York, he tried to counsel former NOI members who had been institutionalized after attacking whites.
"One gentleman had attacked a Caucasian on the train with a knife," Lateef recalls. "All he recited was the Lessons."
Eric Muhammad confirms that some NOI believers did succumb to criminal behavior due to their misinterpretation of NOI teachings. He says that shortly after Elijah Muhammad's death in 1975, which opened an ideological rift within the group, he embarked on a mission with Minister Louis Farrakhan to rein in the "Lost-Founds" and rebuild the NOI.
"Minister Farrakhan was on a campaign to keep violence from hampering the rebuilding effort," Muhammad says. "It was a house divided," he adds. "In some of the households of former followers we visited, the father was a follower of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, his wife was a follower of Wallace Mohammed [Elijah's son, who denounced his father's racist teachings and turned to Orthodox Islam], and their son was listening to Silis Muhammad [the leader of another faction, which advocated a return to Elijah's teachings]."
Eric Muhammad remembers that in 1979 his field work on behalf of Farrakhan's group led him to a psychiatric center in Alabama. "I saw a brother who had one half of his head shaved bald and the other half was in an Afro," he says. "He was running around quoting the Lessons. I'll never forget how he ran down the hall saying it was all that he had left. And when I went further into the institution, there was a floor full of people who claimed to be Muslims. Some were sitting down singing the Muslim fight song."
Muhammad argues that although it would have been easy to dismiss them as crazy, few had been exposed to a world outside of the NOI. "They were educated in black Muslim universities, sold Muslim newspapers, worked in Muslim restaurants, and married Muslim women," he says. "They worshiped the personality of Elijah Muhammad as opposed to his mission. After the Messenger left, it was a confusing time."
During Farrakhan's attempt to stamp out violence in his revived Nation, Houston prosecutors claimed that in 1982 he ordered two ministers, Khallid and Jabril Muhammad, to travel there to conduct a private investigation into the killing of Minister Raymond Wattlington. Watlington's dismembered body was found in a Houston river. Prosecutors said the two ministers obtained recorded confessions from the people responsible for the slaying. (Khallid told the Voice he and Jabril appeared before a grand jury and took the fifth. No arrests were made.)
A year later, while Farrakhan was still solidifying his grasp on the NOI leadership, he delivered a speech about his plans to revamp the Fruit of Islam, the Nation's elite guard, which he said had "looked upon [itself] as an army of killers." Then, in what some viewed as a veiled message to Wattlington's killers, he repudiated Muslim-on-Muslim violence. "And that's why if you didn't have no devil in front of you to kill, several of you turned on each other, threatening each other, jumping in each other's chest," Farrakhan said.
"Well, you say, 'What about killing the devil?' What about that? 'Well, I just had my shotgun and my stuff and I was ready.' No!" Farrakhan declared. "You go break that up. Many of the conflicts that were brought on the Nation, we brought them on ourselves by the ignorant way we handled the wisdom of God. . . . Our Lessons say, 'Why does Muhammad and any Muslim murder the devil?' Because he is 100 percent wicked and will not keep and obey the laws of Islam.' But did you know that every time you save a Black man you have in that same act of salvation killed a devil?"
Farrakhan told his followers, "If you have these weapons, I am telling you I don't need them. I've never asked people to come around me with weapons." But in 1989, a Houston grand jury subpoenaed Farrakhan as part of its investigation into Minister Wattlington's death, a move Farrakhan's attorney dismissed as an attempt by the government to discredit and imprison an outspoken black leader.
In 1994, Lateef still was not convinced that Farrakhan had made it plain he would not tolerate violence against his own brothers or whites. In a letter to Farrakhan, Lateef warned that the minister was creating an environment for murder if he did not renounce the Lessons.
"I am certain that your violent language is influenced by the 'Lessons' " he wrote. "You have threatened many of your fellow African Americans with violence in the past for statements or actions. . . . You have made statements to the effect that when you get power those African Americans that are found to be traitors . . . will be hung from tree limbs, tarred and feathered, have their heads cut off and rolled down the streets. . . . "
There is no conclusive evidence to support the myth that blacks resorted to sacrifical murders to retaliate against white aggression during the civil rights era. And it's even harder to believe these grisly murders and assaults could have occured on such a scale without law-enforcement authorities noticing. Certainly, white supremacists would have used such crimes as arguments for genocide. But their claims would have been as credible as the old libel that Jews killed Christian babies and used their blood to make Passover matzoh.
But like the legendary Wolfen, who snatched people without being noticed because they chose marginal types, it is possible that these modern-day Nat Turners selected their victims so that they would not be missed. In the case of Yahweh ben Yahweh if the orders to kill whites are to be believed he selected poor "white devils," not the powerful ones who oppressed him. Rhetoric notwithstanding, the real sacrifical murders in this country have been perpetrated by white separatists, such as the four men in Jasper, Texas, who are accused of tying a black man by his ankles to the back of a pickup truck and dragging him until his head and a shoulder were torn off. That is not a myth.