By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Revelation of Minister Benjamin's alleged tryst with Anita Williams rocked New York City's close-knit civil rights community. Chagrined black preachers, whose help Minister Benjamin had asked for to draw 1 million black families to the nation's capital, bombarded the mosque with calls, demanding an explanation. Minister Benjamin denied the charges.
A key black Muslim operative, who spoke on condition of anonymity, says that a major civil rights figure warned Farrakhan during a meeting in Chicago that a moral backlash sparked by the sex scandal would derail the Million Family March. "He went to Farrakhan and asked him to remove Ben as head of the Million Family March," the source says. "He said Ben shouldn't represent the Million Family March because Ben has got some real women problems."
The civil rights leader, the source adds, had an ulterior motive in wanting Minister Benjamin out of the way. "I thought first that he was just trying to give him some brotherly advice, but it was later told to me that Farrakhan and his top aides felt that [the civil rights leader] wanted to take over the Million Family March himself. Such a move would shore up [this activist's] base; it would increase his legitimacy. As he moves more to the center, he wants to make sure he still has a radical base." Two days after his departure from New York, Farrakhan, annoyed by nagging questions about Minister Benjamin, quietly ordered a changing of the guard at Mosque No. 7. According to an NOI official who is privy to the details, New York is no longer the flashpoint of the black Muslim movement; that distinction has been conferred on Washington, D.C., which is the new East Coast regional headquarters of the Nation of Islam. Minister Benjamin, who retains the title of national director of the Million Family March, will operate out of Washington. Farrakhan removed Sister Captain Kareema Muhammad and Majeed Muhammad, the former captain of Mosque No. 25 in Newark. Captain Majeed had taken over from Captain Muhammad Abdul Aziz 16 months after Farrakhan tried to elevate the convicted killer of Malcolm X from cold-blooded assassin to Mosque No. 7's top cop.
Inside Mosque No. 7, the "laborers," as NOI followers call themselves, debate the meaning of the recent changes. Some say Minister Benjamin was put in "Class C" (a disciplinary category slightly above the more punitive Class F, under which a member is put out of the mosque and banned from associating with fellow Muslims for a period of time) for being "untrustworthy" and unable to stem infighting. Others contend that the Nation hit Minister Benjamin with "morals charges" related to the sex scandal, which, if proven by NOI investigators, would relegate him to Class F status.
But an NOI insider traveling with Farrakhan put a less nefarious spin on what had occurred. "The Minister knew what had to be done with Minister Benjamin because it's crunch time for the Million Family March," he says. "When you're the national director of such an event, you can't administrate inside a spiritual house or over a region. Minister Benjamin has to be able to concentrate solely on bringing a million families to Washington."
Asked to explain why Brother Captain Majeed and Sister Captain Kareema were demoted, the Farrakhan aide replied that "everyone was pretty new to administering a mosque." He adds that Chicago felt it was better "not to leave the administration of a region in their hands until they're seasoned. There's really not much to it." He insists, "The move clearly is to make sure this Million Family March happens."
In another controversial move, Farrakhan shuttered Mosque No. 7C in Brooklyn and appointed its leader, Kevin Muhammad, as both chief minister at Mosque No. 7 and his New York spokesman. The appointment is being viewed by some as Minister Kevin's greatest political triumph. He had always been the man who replaced the marquee minister but who never got the job. "He's never Chicago's first choice; he's always a stand-in until Minister Farrakhan selects a new leader," says a source familiar with Minister Kevin's history with the NOI.
In 1986, after Mosque No. 7 minister Abdul Allah Muhammad was suspended, Kevin Muhammad filled the post for 90 days until the appointment of Abdul Akbar Muhammad. After Minister Abdul suffered a heart attack in 1987, Kevin Muhammad became the interim minister, a position he held for three years. In 1990, Farrakhan passed over Minister Kevin, as well as then NOI national student representative Conrad Muhammad, and appointed Khallid Abdul Muhammad as Mosque No. 7's new minister. Ministers Kevin and Conrad had campaigned for the post. Khallid never got along with the two ambitious young Muslims. In 1991, in an attempt to ease tensions, Farrakhan removed Khallid and promoted him to national assistant. Kevin Muhammad held the post for 90 days until Farrakhan installed the more charismatic Conrad Muhammad, who became known as the "hip hop minister."
In 1994, when Farrakhan intensified a national campaign entitled "Stop the Killing," Minister Conrad became his emissary to street gangs like the Bloods and the Crips. Minister Conrad improved relations with black politicians. He started an elementary school that he named Muhammad University of Islam, and even was considered a possible heir to Farrakhan. He became embroiled in the executive affairs of the NOI and later would privately endorse Farrakhan's firing of Khallid for calling Jews "bloodsuckers" and attacking the pope during a speech at Kean College in New Jersey. After Khallid was shot in a May 1994 assassination attempt, the Voicebroke the story of how, a year and a half previously, he had accused Minister Conrad, Captain Dennis Muhammad, and other ministers at Mosque No. 7 of setting him up to be killed. Both Minister Conrad and Captain Dennis vehemently denied they were involved in an assassination plot.