Amid the morbid atmosphere that overshadows the future of his Million Youth March, Khallid Abdul Muhammad may soon be branded one of the most dangerous black leaders in America. The reputed soul of the new black power movement,which is behind the controversial march scheduled for September 5 in Harlem, is being investigated by the Joint Terrorist Task Force, both law-enforcement sources and Muhammad have confirmed.
The task force, which is made up of federal and state law enforcement agencies, investigated attacks such as the bombings of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City and the World Trade Center.
Intelligence sources within the Dallas Police Department also told the Voice that the department formed its own task force, whichshadowed Muhammad when he twice led armed members of the recently unified New Black Panther Party and New Black Muslim Movement into Jasper to protest the white supremacist murder of a black man two months ago. The sources acknowledged that both agencies arelooking into how Muhammad–former supreme captain of the Nation of Islam’s elite paramilitary wing–was able to get past local authorities in Dallas, where his “kill army” is based, and march into Jasper with loaded shotguns and other sophisticated weapons.
The sources added that the task forces are trying to determine whether Muhammad’s group is associated with other “suspect black militia cells” across the country and has been involved in planning terrorist activities. The Panther and Muslim group is headed by Muhammad, whose title is supreme captain. Aaron Michaels is minister of defense, Quannel X, minister of information, and Malik Z. Shabazz is the group’s attorney. Although Dallas undercover cops refer to the leadership of the group as “Lethal Weapon 4,” the investigation focuses on Muhammad and Michaels.
“We were told to be very careful because the task force has been gathering intelligence on us,” says Muhammad, who is traveling in Africa to promote the Million Youth March. “I am disappointed that they are just discovering me,” he added. “I thought all this time the devil considered me a terror to his reign and his rule. What took him so long?”
The Joint Terrorist Task Force of the New York Police Department and the FBIalsohas been on heightened alert since Muhammad announced last fall that he intended to assemble a million young blacks for a rally, according to the sources, who added that the Dallas Police Department’s task force has been cooperating with police commissioner Howard Safir. More than 100 NYPD detectives are assigned to various joint efforts with federal law enforcement agencies, including the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
Locally, the task force has been monitoring the activities of the New York City Black Power Committee, the clearinghouse for information about the march.(Marilyn Mode, the NYPD’s chief spokesperson, declined comment.) Muhammad is the leader of the committee, which is made up of members of the December 12th Movement, a Brooklyn-based Marxist-Leninist organization composed of former members of the New York 8.
In 1984, federal authorities charged the New York 8 with racketeering, conspiring to commit murder, kidnapping, arson, bank holdups, armored-car robberies, and bombings to free two revolutionaries convicted in the1981 robbery in which a Brink’s guard and two Nyack police officers were killed. They were acquitted on all charges.
In 1989, the radicals helped to organize a “Day of Outrage and Mourning”–arising out of the slaying of Yusuf Hawkins in Bensonhurst by a white mob–that shut down subways and the Brooklyn Bridge. More than 40 cops were hurt in a confrontation that day with about 10,000 black demonstrators.
Revelation of the federal investigation comes in the wake of a barrage of repudiations, condemnations, and criticism by city officials, key black elected officials, and community leaders over Muhammad’s leadership of the march. It began with Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who apparently went on the offensive after the city failed to convince Muhammad to change the date to September 19 and relocate the march to Randall’s Island or Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx.
City officials argued that September 5 is just two days before the mammoth West Indian carnival in Brooklyn, which requires large police details. They say two big events over the Labor Day weekend would strain police resources.
Muhammad refused to push the march back, arguing that it had already been advertised for the 5th. Giuliani then labeled the event a “hate march” and said many people in Harlem don’t want the march to take place in their neighborhood. He claimed that residents are afraid to speak out for fear of retribution from march supporters.
Among the first blacks to break that alleged silence was Harlem congressman Charles Rangel. “I think it’s a very bad idea that someone like . . . Muhammad would be taking advantage of the frustrations of our teenagers to have a march without any agenda and without any goals,” Rangel said. “It’s clear to me that Khallid Muhammad wants to have a confrontation. When it’s over, no one would know where to find Khallid Muhammad.”
Perhaps the most shocking discord over the march has come from the United African Movement, the city’s largest black ultranationalist organization, led by Alton Maddox, the outspoken attorney for Tawana Brawley. Maddox stood behind Muhammad after Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan fired him in 1994 for making a racist and anti-Semitic speech at Kean College in New Jersey. Maddox offered the fallen national spokesman a platform for his acerbic rhetoric.
One UAM insider told the Voice that relations between Maddox and Muhammad cooled after Maddox invited Muhammad to Poughkeepsie to monitor the defamation trial in which he, C. Vernon Mason, and the Reverend Al Sharpton recently were ordered to pay more than a quarter of a million dollars to former Dutchess County prosecutor Steven Pagones. The activists had publicly accused Pagones of being part of a gang of white men who raped Brawley 10 years ago when she was just 15.
The UAM source said that when Muhammad showed up during one of the courtsessions, Maddox advised his friend to remain in his hotel room and not show his face to the throng of media. “Maddox hid him,” the source insists. “On second thought, he figured that Khallid would be a distraction and an embarrassment to him. Khallid was not pleased.”
Maddox did not return phone calls for comment. Muhammad acknowledges that he was in Poughkeepsie around the time of the trial but refuses to confirm or deny that he was snubbed by Maddox. Last Friday night, at a dinner in honor of Brawley at the Masonic Temple in Fort Greene, which was attended by Sharpton, Maddox–who normally would have seized the opportunity to promote Muhammad’s ventures–seemed to distance himself further from the Million Youth March. There was “no mention of it at all” in Maddox’s remarks, says one UAM member, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
But a black political analyst, who asked not to be identified, speculates that Maddox had begun to view Muhammad’s Million Youth March as the prelude to a new era in black nationalist politics. Set in the context of a broader argument, Muhammad would be regarded as the nation’s leading black nationalist if he successfully pulls off the march.
“All of the other nationalist groups in town become minimized,” the analyst says. “Khallid becomes the new nationalist leader because this march becomes the epicenter of the nationalist movement. It would be the largest gathering under the nationalist banner. Remember that everybody, including Jesse Jackson and Kweisi Mfume, responded to the Million Man March. But this is a more narrowly focused and defined national march. If he succeeds, the losers will be the hardcore nationalist groups and the Nation of Islam. They are the ones that he better watch out for.”
The analyst says that for the first time since the early ’80s, when Farrakhan draped himself in the mantle of nationalist leader, hardcore nationalists have a new celebrity.
“Khallid Muhammad is a personality, and movements are also built around personalities,” the analyst asserts. “The civil rights movement has Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. Since Farrakhan has been moving his NOI more mainstream, the nationalist movement has had no rallying figure of its own. None of their figures can walk through airports and have kids say, ‘That’s so and so!’ Khallid has a persona which people like Alton Maddox and Ben Chavis [the disgraced former NAACP executive director who is now a minister in the NOI]can’t compete with. He has a definable image. Whether you like him or not, he’s star quality. They can do cartoons with a bald head and a bow tie, and everybody will know who that is. Just like they do Sharpton with the hair and the whole bit. How do you do a cartoon on Alton Maddox or Ben Chavis?”
What is most evident as Khallid Muhammad struggles to hold his Black Power Committee together are the efforts by his own coordinators to separate him from the march. At news conferences and in radio and TV interviews, the coordinators have been stressing that Muhammad, who dreamed up the march, is not thesole organizer.
Insiders say that former members of the New York 8, who dominate the committee, frown on “the cult of personality” and are upset when Muhammad is portrayed by the media as their leader. The coordinators have been running the committee their way and are feuding with Muhammad over his association with political and religious leaders like Reverend Sharpton and Dr. Maulana Karenga, the originator of Kwanza, executive director of the Organization US, and chair of Black Studies at the University of California at San Jose. The revolutionaries have long claimed that Sharpton and Karenga were FBI informants who should not be involved in the black liberation cause.
Despite his misgivings about the internal squabbling over himself and Karenga, Sharpton has been one of the march’s loudest advocates.
“I’m sure there are tensions in the group about my support and, if the rally takes place, what part I will play,” Sharpton says. “I think most white New Yorkers do not understand that there are elements–not among the youth, but among the older organizers–that are absolutely anti-me. Which is why it would have been understandable to a lot of our constituents in the African American community if I stayed out of it. But it’s partly because of Rudy Giuliani that I take this position, even though I know I may be attacked by some of the organizers of the march because of their feelings about me. They have a right to do that. But I’m not going to give in to petty infighting.”
On Monday, Roger Wareham, a former New York 8 member and staunch critic of Sharpton, who is now an attorney, appeared for the first time at Sharpton’s House of Justice in Harlem at a news conference the minister had called to announce that he was seeking to reopen negotiations with the city corporation counsel. If that fails, Sharpton says, he will support Wareham’s and Malik Shabazz’s move to fight the issue in court. Prior to that declaration, Sharpton had arranged a meeting between Muhammad and his coordinators and newly elected Harlem councilman William Perkins, a Rangel protégé who is opposed to the march. (“The organizers never touched base with the community and in effect were trying to bogart us into supporting something we know nothing about,” Perkins claims. “You can’t have a block party without going through your own community planning board. There is a fundamental issue of respect.”)
“In the meeting, everyone said they’re not talking about bearing arms or violence,” Sharpton recalls. “They’re talking about young people, about cleaning up rap music, and they’re looking at their lives in a positive way. They said they wanted people like me to talk about black power from a voting standpoint because of what I have accomplished in electoral politics.”
Sharpton also recently convened a meeting of the Grand Council of Guardians and 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement to determine whether Charles Billups and Eric Adams, the leaders of the two black cop groups, had reservations about the march or would be willing to supplement security by the NYPD.
“They have people that did the detail when Nelson Mandela was on the corner of 125th Street and Seventh Avenue,” Sharpton argues. “They had backed-up streets, tens of thousands of people out there, in the middle of a work day, in the middle of the week, and there was no danger. How can there be danger on a Saturday when you’re not going to have people working? The black cops, who told me they don’t see this as a safety issue, have not even been granted a meeting with the police commissioner.”
Sharpton has resisted calls to criticize Muhammad, whom he befriended after Muhammad launched a blistering attack on him during his 1994 race for the U.S. Senate. Muhammad had erroneously believed that Sharpton, who denounced Muhammad’s controversialKean College speech, was among a group of black leaders who urged Farrakhan to sever ties with him. At a UAM rally sponsored by Sharpton allyMaddox, Muhammad described Sharpton to the crowd asa “wannabe S-I-N-ator” who “should be running for the border” instead of forpolitical office. “Rollers have messed up your brain,” he asserted. “How you gon’ get respect when you ain’t cut your process [hair] yet?”
“I, more than anybody in New York, could denounce this march and denounce Muhammad, and people would understand because he has denounced me, publicly,” Sharpton contends. “He has attacked me and I have attacked his speech.”
Sharpton points out that there is historical precedent for cooperation between black mainstream preachers and hardcore nationalists. “Adam Clayton Powell Jr., the preeminent black politician in this century, did not run from Malcolm X, who is the hero of Khallid Muhammad,” Sharpton argues. “He and Malcolm X worked together. He did not believe the white man was the devil, but that Malcolm X represented the rage of many people that were disaffected and abused by the system, and that his voice needed to be heard and understood. I do not believe in many things Khallid Muhammad preaches and he doesn’t believe in what I preach. But just like Adam Powell refused to let them mute the voice of Malcolm X, I will not be part of those who are trying to mute the voice of black rage crying out into the 21st century. I won’t be a part of this orgy of denunciation.”
Sharpton says the aim is to unify diverse black groups that can speak out against Giuliani’s campaign of fear. He added: “Rudy Giuliani would love to go around this country and tell white America, ‘I shot down that wild, gun-toting black man who went to Texas and tried to come to New York. I’m the man you need in the White House because I’m the man who can put black folk in their place.’ He wants to say, ‘I’ve got a place for Al Sharpton. I don’t care how many votes he gets. We’re not going to deal with him in the electoral process.'”
Sharpton does not mention names, but he castigates black leaders who will “sacrifice black dignity so that Rudy Giuliani can have a line in his literature to further his political career.”
Sharpton may be referring to the hypocrisy of politicians like state comptroller H. Carl McCall. New York’s highest elected black official, whom an upstate white town councilman once referred to as “a nigger from Harlem,” endorsed the concept of a Million Youth March but blasted “the heinous, hateful and inexcusable remarks made by [Muhammad] over the years.” McCall, strikingly, has not issued a similar condemnation of white racist talk show host Bob Grant, who was fired by radio station WABC in April 1996after making remarks about the death of Commerce Secretary Ron Brown.
While Grant was at the station, according to the media watchdog FAIR, he”prayed” for Magic Johnson to “go into full-blown AIDS” and lambasted Martin Luther King Jr. as “this bum, this womanizer, this liar, this fake, this phony,” and that “slimeball.”
On April 24, 20 days after the 30th anniversary of King’s assassination, McCall appeared on WOR, which now airs Grant’s show, heaping effusive praise on Grant while courting his “very faithful following out there.” Sharpton, who led the campaign to get Grant fired from WABC, and has declined an invitation to appear on his current show, vows he won’t be caught in McCall’s contradictions.
“I’m not going to do it!” he emphasizes. “Despite my differences with Khallid Muhammad, despite my differences with some of the revolutionaries, I refuse to co-sign Giuliani’s quashing of legitimate black dissent.”
Research: Vicki Shiahand, W. Michelle Beckles