P.T. Barnum had an uncanny knack for getting poor people to part with their hard-earned money just to marvel at his “elaborate hoaxes.” His rival huckster, David Hannum, famously scoffed at this with the cynical observation that, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”
Sadly, tens of thousands of Black folks vindicated Hannum’s observation when they heeded Min. Louis Farrakhan’s “final call” to gather in Washington this month to mark the 20th anniversary of his infamous Million Man March.
After all, this 82-year-old huckster spent more than two hours delivering the same message about Black empowerment that he delivered twenty years ago, and again ten years ago to mark the 10th anniversary. The only difference came in the marketing of each gathering, having repackaged the 10th as the “Million More Movement” and this 20th as the rally for “Justice or Else.” (Or else what, Farrakhan?!)
The point is that Farrakhan’s “farrakhanisms” are notorious for their sound and fury; but they invariably signify nothing. Yet there seems no shortage of “suckers” willing to part with their hard-earned money to fund his Black-nation Ponzi schemes.
This month, he framed his vintage solicitation to fund the latest with a promise to buy millions of acres of farmland – to grow enough wheat and milk enough cows to feed 30-40 million Black folks. I kid you not.
Fashioning himself a latter-day Moses, as is his wont, he intoned, plainly disingenuously, that “Moses was not an integrationist and neither are we. Let me be clear. America has no future for you or for me.”
All the same, there’s no denying how disreputable Farrakhan has become among the Black intelligentsia. For example, fellow race-baiting hustlers the Reverends Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton jostled to bask in his reflected glow in 1995 and again in 2005. But even they shunned his call to return to the National Mall in 2015. Instead, rappers Snoop Dogg and P. Diddy were the most prominent Blacks there this year, and Farrakhan seemed eager to bask in their reflected glow.
Frankly, Farrakhan is a false prophet with an uncanny knack for generating false profits. But I gave up long ago trying to understand why so many people continue to buy into his Ponzi schemes for a Black Promised Land hook, line, and sinker.
All that’s left is for God to demonstrate his perverse tolerance for genocidal conflict by turning the Promised Land Farrakhan preaches about into a Black homestead in Idaho, right next to the homestead Richard Butler carved out for White supremacists. There, Farrakhan’s hopelessly misguided Blacks and Butler’s hopelessly racist Whites could embark on an interracial conflict that rivals the internecine one Sunnis and Shiites have been waging for nearly 1,000 years.
In Farrakhan’s spirit of continually sowing the same barren seeds and still having them fall on fertile ground, I’ve decided to mark this 20th anniversary with the same commentary I wrote to mark the 10th. I continue to hope against hope that it will expose his message of thorns for what it truly is.
I wrote “Millions More Movement (and that’s millions more dollars, not people…fool!),” on October 17, 2005. I did so as one who heeded Farrakhan’s call to join his original Million Man March (in October 1995), only to become so disillusioned, disaffected, and duly disgruntled that I marked the 10th anniversary more as a recovering victim than as an enabling follower.
Sadly, my testimony is as relevant today as it was on that seminal anniversary. Again, I hope it serves as cautionary tale…
Minister Louis Farrakhan and his Nation of Islam (NOI) marked the 10th anniversary of their Million Man March (the March) by calling Black men, women, and children to the National Mall again to launch their Millions More Movement (the Movement). Considering that I am still in despair over dashed hopes and broken promises from the March, I thought it would be too politically masochistic to join the Movement.
However, thanks to C-SPAN, I could not resist tuning in from the comfortable home my Caribbean work ethic and unparalleled opportunities in America have enabled me to own. And it saddens me to affirm that what I saw only vindicated my decision not to dignify this occasion with my presence.
Incidentally, it seems appropriate to note here that fellow Caribbean native Wyclef Jean delivered the most instructive and useful message of the day. Feigning self-deprecation, he begged the crowd to excuse his perfect English as he shared his immigrant story of coming to America at the age of 10 and working several jobs at once (“the way we West Indians do”) to get by. He ended his story by declaring this self-evident truth: that if he could achieve such stellar success in America, then there was no reason why every Black American could not do the same! Unfortunately, speaking such obvious truths was not on the Movement’s agenda for this day, as every other speaker made patently clear….
Just a performer
Farrakhan is easily the most articulate, visionary, inspiring, provocative, dynamic and intelligent public speaker in America today (as he has been for decades). But many of us who have been energized and moved by his anti-establishment polemics have come to realize that Farrakhan is little more than a performer who delivers speeches full of sound and fury, signifying nothing, and then is heard from no more…until his next curtain call.
For example, in March 1995, Farrakhan led an army of one million Black men in a spirited denunciation of White supremacy. More importantly, he exhorted Blacks to atone for their self-inflicted maladies and for the serial failures of Black leadership. Of course, the irony that his failures are paramount in this respect was completely lost on him.
He exuded such infectious majesty on that occasion that even pedestrian Black leaders delivered speeches about self-help, Black empowerment, and personal responsibility with such eloquence that one might have mistaken them for historical Black luminaries like Booker T. Washington, Frederick Douglas, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr. But none of them reached the rhetorical heights where Farrakhan’s rhetoric soared – from the opening of his speech until he ended it with this now trademarked pitch:
Now brothers, the last thing we want to say, we want to develop an Economic Development Fund…
Inside of one month, we would have over $100 million. And in one year, we would have $1 billion … which means that no Black organization will be accountable to anybody outside of us… How many of you would like to see all our Black organizations free?
A task force will be formed … to make sure that the things that we say today will be implemented…
[W]e want an outside accounting firm to come in and scrutinize every dollar that was raised from your pockets to make the Million Man March a success… We will come back … and we will account for every nickel, every dime, every dollar…so that you can trust. I put my life on this.
To rob you is a sin. To use you and abuse you is a sin. To make mockery of your love and your trust is a sin. And we repent of all sin and we refuse to do sin anymore.
Bought it all
I am ashamed to confess that I not only bought every word Farrakhan uttered back then, but also contributed to his phantom Economic Development Fund (EDF). I derive no consolation from having enough sense not to contribute to his equally dubious Economic Exodus (slush?) Fund.
The point is that, based on my research and inquiries, Farrakhan did not implement any of the Black empowerment initiatives he outlined, or fulfill any of the fiduciary promises he made (that is, if any of them were ever intended to be). Frankly, it shall redound to his eternal shame that Farrakhan did, in fact, use and abuse the trust we vested in him and made a mockery of the love we bestowed upon him as a leader who, we hoped, would create a “third force” to compel the American establishment to address the concerns of the poor and powerless.
Therefore, watching events unfold, I had an appalling sense of déjà vu as speaker after speaker delivered essentially the same words I heard 10 years ago. Only this time, instead of projecting the aura of historical Black luminaries mentioned above, they looked and sounded more like second-rate actors spouting off hackneyed lines about Hurricane Katrina and the war in Iraq. And, instead of professing atonement for their own sins, they were blaming President Bush for everything from causing the levee breaks in New Orleans to cutting back their welfare checks.
Return to crime scene
Indeed, what I watched, from my 1995 vantage point, smacked of a bunch of thieves returning to the scene of their greatest heist and trying to pull off a similar heist a decade later. Specifically, one of the longest speeches on Saturday was a shameless (but decidedly shameful) solicitation for money by one of Farrakhan’s boosters. In what must be a patented NOI version of Three Card Monty, he entertained the crowd with jokes (like a Saturday night comedian) and threw them a few religious platitudes (like a Sunday morning preacher), all while coaxing them to put their “Benjamins (100 dollar bills) in the receptacles” (like an everyday street hustler).
Incidentally, NOI praetorian guards placed these receptacles all over the Mall and guarded them like Fort Knox. But it speaks volumes about Farrakhan’s intent that this was the first political rally on the hallowed Mall at which organizers had receptacles to collect cash instead of trash….
To deliver Saturday’s pièces de résistance (think Sermon on the Mount), Farrakhan descended the steps of the Capitol like a deus ex machina (Black Moses) – escorted by his personal security detail from the Fruit of Islam (FOI) – and wowed the longsuffering crowd with vintage farrakhanisms.
The highlight of his speech (or the most irresponsible part, depending on your vantage point) was his call for a separate Black United States of America comprised of “Black, Brown, Red and poor people.” Never mind reasonable suspicions that might cause Brown and Red people to fear Blacks treating them in a Black United States just as Whites treated Blacks in the United States.
Still, Farrakhan went so far as to detail the ministries he envisioned, including those for Agriculture, Education, Trade and Commerce, Defense, Information and Religion. And he promised that his Black United States of America (presumably with him as the Black George Washington) would forge economic and political solidarity with a United States of Africa and a United States of Latin America and the Caribbean.
‘We need money’
Intriguing stuff … until one realizes that it’s merely a repackaging of the grand platform for the “global advancement of Black people” he presented 10 years ago. But to perfect his recidivism, Farrakhan signaled the end of this speech with his familiar refrain: “Now brothers [and sisters] we need money.”
Only, instead of using the pretext of an EDF, he announced the founding of a National Skills Bank where millions of Black people – who wish to contribute to his borrowed vision of a Pan-African world – could register their names “for a small deposit of $20 … and donate as many Benjamins as you can.” (Farrakhan even pulled a $100 bill out of his pocket at this point and held it above his head so that there could be no confusion between Benjamins and Georges [one dollar bills] when these new suckers make their deposits.)
As for the “millions” who attended, you can believe NOI counters or your lying eyes.
Of course, I would not be at all surprised if – 10 years from now – Farrakhan has nothing of substance to show for all of his talk about the Movement. And I suspect many other Black men who joined his Million Man March are now just as cynical. Not least because aerial shots – juxtaposing the one million men who heeded Farrakhan’s call in 1995, with the smattering of men, women and children who heeded his call (in 2005) – provide irrefutable evidence that many of us have become justifiably disillusioned with Farrakhan’s hollow rhetoric and financial schemes, and no longer want to be associated with him.
(Speaker after speaker made the point of marveling at the mirage of “millions” in attendance and suggesting that D.C. authorities might deliberately undercount them for political reasons. One could not help thinking that NOI disciples were propagating a Big Lie about the size of the crowd for their own political reasons.)
Some hard questions
But before too many people register (i.e., pay) to be used, abused, and mocked yet again, I urge all Black people of conscience (especially journalists) to demand the financial reports. After all, Farrakhan promised in 1995 that they would be published on an annual basis to ensure fiscal transparency in and good governance of his EDF. And, to help frame our demands in this regard, here are just a few threshold questions I would ask Farrakhan to answer, if I had the chance:
•What is the name of the “outside accounting firm” you promised would audit all of the EDF’s operations and use of resources, and can you have that firm publish a comprehensive (or money for value) audit online as soon as possible?
•You indicated in 1995 that “in one year, we could have $1 billion” in the EDF. What amount did you have after one year, and what is the total amount collected to date?
•One of the most dramatic and “uplifting” moments during your speech in 1995 was when you said that, with so much money in the EDF, you would have your board “call in Myrlie Evers Williams and ask her, what the budget of the NAACP is for this year? $13 million? $15 million? Write a check.” How many checks, and in what amounts, Minister Farrakhan, did your EDF write to the order of the NAACP or other minority organizations over the past 10 years?
•At your rather less-attended and less-celebrated Million Family March in October 2000, you called on 1 million families to donate $100 each for your NOI to fund economic development in blighted Black cities all over America. What cities have since benefited from those funds?
•In a similar vein, please name three ongoing concerns (whether businesses, development projects, or community outreach programs) that have been funded by seed money from the EDF and now fill you with the most pride.
•When framing your solicitations for donations, you invariably profess an interest in helping Black and poor people of all races, religions, and creeds. Therefore, what has your NOI done to better the lives of non-Muslim Black Americans – besides selling them recordings of your sermons, speeches, press conferences, and, it seems, every other word that has ever proceeded out your mouth?
(NOTE: In the interest of full disclosure, I purchased many of Farrakhan’s recordings before I came to my senses in the late 1990s – a few years after the Million Man March.)
Meanwhile, if purported civil rights leaders – like (the fathering babies out of wedlock) Rev. Jesse Jackson and (chronically indebted) Rev. Al Sharpton – had any credibility or clout left, they would’ve silenced Farrakhan long ago by raising these questions in the public interest. Instead, there they were in 2005, shadowing Farrakhan, hoping to bask in his reflected glow….
What about reparations?
Finally, I feel constrained to note that, at one point in his speech, Farrakhan ridiculed the $40 billion debt relief African heads of state negotiated a few months ago with G8 countries. He posited that, because England alone had exploited more than a trillion dollars from the African continent, this purported relief was, in fact, an insult (implying, of course, that the Africans are too ignorant or provincial to recognize this).
Except that his logic raises the following question: Farrakhan is on record claiming that White Americans amassed trillions of dollars by exploiting Black Americans for centuries as slave and cheap laborers. Therefore, never mind debt relief. How much have Farrakhan and other enlightened Black Americans negotiated in reparations from White Americans?
The answer, of course, is nothing! Which is why Farrakhan’s advice for African debt relief (or Caribbean reparations) should ring every bit as hollow as his plan for a separate Black United States of America.
Anthony L. Hall is a Bahamian native with an international law practice in Washington, D.C. Read his columns and daily weblog at www.theipinionsjournal.com.