The talk was billed as a news conference because reporters were invited, but no public questions were taken after the address. And it was called a message to Trump. It was laid out as a detailed history of American wrongs, from slavery to war to hypocrisy, delivered to an unexpected and unlikely president whom Farrakhan painted as perhaps best able to address such problems.
“America needs to reflect on her sins! And who is bold enough, strong enough to say to America: ‘You have been wrong for a long, long time and it is time now for you to actually see yourself as God sees you!’ This is a final warning to the government and the people of the United States of America. It’s written in the Bible, and I say this to our president: It is written that every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess.”
The fiery talk focused on injustices against African Americans and Muslims and seemed to single out a longtime favorite target of the religious leader: Jews. Running through his story of America, he said Jews were the ones who stopped African Americans’ initial progress. About 40 minutes into the talk, an assistant brought out a large poster of a Jewish star and an advertisement for a decades-old Nation of Islam-published book subtitled “How Jews Gained Control of the Black American Economy.” The poster stood beside Farrakhan for the rest of the talk.
Farrakhan’s comments about Jews, gays and lesbians and white people prompted the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate and extremist groups, to label the Nation of Islam a hate group. The Nation was formed in Detroit in the 1930s. Its theology entailed, in part, black superiority over whites. But the 84-year-old Farrakhan has also been held up as a civil rights leader by his followers and supporters.
“For black youth, this puts their struggle in perspective — for them to see they are the victims of circumstances,” said Ishmael Muhammad, national assistant minister to Farrakhan. “They can redirect their anger and turn it into something more constructive.”
But nothing and no one were outside Farrakhan’s critique, with targets from Presidents Kennedy, Clinton, Nixon and both Bushes to his fellow African Americans and Muslims as well.
Thursday’s talk was “a final call to black people that you must change the way you think and the way you act because the time has arrived for you to do better and be better or suffer the chastisement of God,” he said, prompting many calls from the crowd of “Yessir!”
Trump was the stated audience for Farrakhan’s plea, but he was both hero and villain in the story. He portrayed Trump as a warmonger who “tore up the White House” to eliminate any trace of the country’s first black president. “You hate our shadow,” Farrakhan said.
But time and again Farrakhan seemed to offer a fig leaf to Trump, using a Trump-like worldview suggesting hidden enemies and conspiracies keeping the decent American down.
Americans “expected a man to be like the other presidents. You wanted him to be more presidential. He’s so transparent! Like thieves and robbers who dress in suits and tell lies — you wanted him to be like that. You’re angry because he’s your reflection.”
Later he noted Trump got into a spat with the popular Pope Francis, who criticized then-candidate Trump for promising to build a wall with Mexico to keep immigrants out.
“What kind of a man is [Trump?] That he would argue with a man that every other president of the United States would go to Rome and kiss the ring! But not Donald Trump. The pope says, ‘He’s wrong because he’s building walls.’ But what about the pope himself, Farrakhan asked, noting the wall around the Vatican “that walls you off from the poor!”
After alleging the U.S. government was behind the 9/11 attacks, Farrakhan segued to a shared enemy. “When Trump talks about fake news, he knows what he’s talking about! You say you’re the Fourth Estate, I’d say you’re in a hell of a state. You can’t say what you know is true, unless it passes the muster of your bosses.”
While the Nation of Islam is probably the best-known group of African American Muslims in the United States, according to Pew Research, just 3 percent of U.S.-born black Muslims identify with the Nation. About 45 percent of Muslims who are black say they are either Sunni or don’t identify with any particular Islamic denomination.
To some, Farrakhan’s core message of fighting for black self-empowerment and equality is worth the conspiracy theories and controversy. The crowd was dotted with local African American figures, including former NAACP leader Benjamin Chavis — one of the organizers of the historic Million Man March in 1995 — prominent D.C. Pastor Willie Wilson and others, including Anthony Shahid, a Nation member and St. Louis activist close to the family of Michael Brown, who was killed by police in Ferguson, Mo.
“A lot of what he said, if Martin Luther King were alive today, that’s where he would be,” Chavis said after the talk. “I think sometimes . . . people get emotional when they hear something controversial. You seize on what is controversial without seeing a challenge to not only have the proper ideology, but the proper theology — in terms of repentance, forgiveness. I think people misunderstand him because they try to see him through a sociological lens, but he’s a theologian.”