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He also gained a dedicated following among the Oakland black underclass. With his fusion of Horatio Alger homilies and sweeping talk of racial destiny, Bey reached out to lost black men -- ex-cons and impoverished ghetto youth struggling with the ravages of racism, criminality, ignorance, and drug abuse. Bey entranced these seekers with jeremiads of lost grandeur and promises of a glorious future, spinning tales of a racist conspiracy stretching back 6,000 years as he put them to work in his bakery. Perhaps most crucially, Bey challenged these men, demanding hard work and self-denial, but offering in return a sense of discipline and dignity that has come to be known as "knowledge of self."
It has proven to be a powerful force in the lives of his followers. You can see it every week on Bey's cable TV talk show True Solutions, a forum for rambling and arcane oratory filled with impenetrable psychobabble and allusions to freemasonry. That's part of Bey's appeal, as if he were delivering an esoteric knowledge the racist system doesn't want you to know -- a knowledge so secret that its truth is rendered more potent by your inability to understand it. As Bey meanders through his hour-long sermons, his cadre of attendants stands rigid and trembling, eyes fixed to the floor.
Victor Foster started watching Bey's televised sermons at least fifteen years ago. He says he always felt empty before the elder Bey helped him develop a racial consciousness and enabled him to see the human cost of the injustice visited upon his people. "I would credit Dr. Bey with helping me to gain a true love for black people," he says. "If you don't love your own people, then you must be sick. That means you don't love your mother, your father, your wife, or yourself. So number one, I would credit him with giving me the knowledge of self and others."
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Suddenly, Foster was invigorated with a desire to help his people and himself. He taught classes on self-respect at San Quentin, learned electronic design at UC Berkeley, and worked in the bakery on San Pablo. Soon he was managing the bakery's day-to-day operations, and Yusuf Bey thought so highly of him that he embraced him as his spiritual son and gave him his own name. Foster was reborn as Nedir Bey. Together with associates Mustafa Bey, Abaz Bey, and John Ayres, Nedir began developing a taste to run his own businesses, and the family established bakery outlets throughout the Bay Area, as well as dry cleaning stores, security firms, and a home-health-care business.
Because Yusuf Bey refused to answer questions about the history of his organization, little is known about the professional and personal relationship between him and his "sons," or the relationship between their various businesses. His Web site describes his bakery as "a multimillion-dollar chain."
Similarly, little is known about his formal relationship with the Nation of Islam. East Oakland's Muhammad Mosque #26 is the official East Bay center of Louis Farrakhan's movement. According to minister Keith Muhammad, the two organizations are distinct and separate.
On the surface, Yusuf Bey and his associates appear to be benign civic-minded businessmen. But according to police and court records, Bey's close associates have been known to occasionally turn to more sinister tactics. In 1991, martial arts expert Abaz Bey got in a nasty fight with the Richmond cops.
And in 1994, Bey family associate Larry Chin, whose sister was apparently once married to Nedir Bey, made the acquaintance of Olasunkanmi Onipede, who just happened to have a house for sale. This fateful meeting set in motion a chain of events that would allegedly have Onipede pleading for mercy.
"Don't go banging upside her head and hitting on people, that's not our nature. ... Don't ever let them reduce you down to that level. And they will try. They would love you to hit them and beat. Then they call, tell their neighbor you a bad man. ... But we don't want to do that. We want to have control."
-- Yusuf Bey, True Solutions, 1999
When Nedir Bey returned to the apartment with Onipede's business partner, Bey allegedly walked to the couch, stood over the Nigerian home-seller, and began interrogating him about Chin's real estate deal. "As I was trying to answer some of the questions that he was asking, all of a sudden he said I was lying," Onipede would later testify. Bey allegedly turned around, walked over to the kitchen counter, and returned cradling an eighteen-inch police flashlight.
To this day, it remains unclear what Onipede had done to earn Bey's wrath. Bey calls Onipede "a robber and a thief," but refuses to go into detail about the incident. Despite repeated requests for his version of what happened that day, Bey will not explain his side of the story in any way, aside from broadly denying Onipede's claims. He did not torture anyone, he claims -- but he clams up after that. "As far as that particular incident, I mean, it's in the past," he says. "The transcripts, I think, basically speak for themselves." Olen Grant refused to comment for this story, and Onipede himself declined comment and pleaded with this newspaper not to write about the event.