The membership of sniper suspect John Muhammad in the Nation of Islam has made the background and nature of this group into a national issue of concern. Muhammad changed his name from John Allen Williams after he converted to Islam. At first, Nation of Islam officials declined comment. Later, leader Louis Farrakhan admitted Muhammad was a member.
The Nation of Islam has its own interpretation of Islam and what analysts call a “strong militant tendency.” In 1965, Malcolm X, who had left the organization, was gunned down and murdered by members of the group. Louis Farrakhan, now the leader of the Nation of Islam, made headlines on a 60 Minutes by appearing to suggest that his rhetoric may have contributed to the assassination. In a later interview he strongly denied that.
American Muslims have been widely quoted as saying they generally do not consider the Nation of Islam part of their movement. “We don’t represent their views, they don’t represent our views,” said a spokesman for the American Muslim Council. However, Farrakhan is a Muslim who has been honored around the world by Arab and Muslim countries. In 1996 Farrakhan traveled to Iran and Iraq, two members of the Axis of Evil, as well as Libya, whose dictator Moammar Ghadafi offered him $1 billion. A CNN story at the time reported, “He said the money will not be used to arm his followers, despite a report from Iran that he had said there that one day Allah will destroy Americans at hands of Muslims.” The full statement attributed to him was, “God will not give Japan and Europe the honor of bringing down the United States. This is an honor God will bestow upon Muslims.” But Farrakhan denied making that statement. “I’m not an enemy of America,” he said.
Columnist Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe said Farrakhan was “offering aid and comfort to anti-American dictators? There is a word for people who encourage their nation’s enemies. There is a word for people who conspire to mobilize against their country from within?The word is traitor.”
Farrakhan’s statements in favor of violence are numerous. He once said, “It is an act of mercy to white people that we end your world… We must end your world and bring in a new world.” He also said, “We are at war and we never stop fighting for justice. You must have force… don’t drop your gun and don’t forget to squeeze.” But most reporters are reluctant to report such statements because of the fear of violence from Farrakhan’s supporters. In 1984, Farrakhan condemned Milton Coleman, a black reporter for Washington Post, as a traitor after Coleman revealed that Jesse Jackson had, in a conversation with campaign aides, referred to Jews as “Hymies” and to New York City as “Hymietown.”
Farrakhan said of Coleman, “One day soon we will punish you with death.” However, he denied he was threatening Coleman’s life. Farrakhan backed Jackson for president in 1984 and Jackson returned the favor by appearing as the featured speaker at a Muslim Savior’s Day rally sponsored by Farrakhan. Jackson was called a “brother” by Farrakhan.