Louis Farrakhan, born in New York City in 1933, started out in life as a talented musician. Training intensively on the violin from the age of six, he played with the Boston College orchestra and the Boston Civic Symphony, appeared and won an award on Ted Mack’s Original Amateur Hour, and won national competitions as a teenager. In the 1950s Farrakhan—or Louis Wolcott as he was then known—took a different musical tack as a calypso performer. He recorded albums, toured, and in 1955 headlined a show in Chicago called “Calypso Follies.” In other words, Louis Wolcott could have gone on contributing something positive to society as a musician and entertainer.
But that year, 1955, in Chicago, he embarked on a different path. Through a friend, Wolcott came into contact with the Nation of Islam, an antiwhite, antisemitic, African-American organization founded in the 1930s. Wolcott joined, converted to Islam, renounced music, and—in a profound sense—was no more, having morphed into Louis Farrakhan. And Farrakhan quickly rose through the Nation of Islam’s ranks, becoming its leading figure by the early 1980s. He has also been, for decades, America’s most vicious antisemitic rabble-rouser, poisoning thousands of minds or exacerbating poison that was already there. As Discover the Networks notes:
For many years, Farrakhan has ranked among the most influential black figures in America. He draws enormous, standing-room-only crowds of listeners wherever he speaks. An October 1992 lecture he gave in Atlanta actually outdrew a World Series game played there that same night….
Farrakhan’s October 16, 1995 “Million Man March” [in Washington] drew several hundred thousand attendees….
Farrakhan’s venues for speeches include mosques, churches, and universities, as well as online lectures. At Madison Square Garden in 1985, he addressed a notable but typical statement to Jews: “And don’t you forget, when it’s God who puts you in the ovens, it’s forever!”
As I noted at the start of this series on the top U.S. antisemitism purveyors, the Anti-Defamation League’s poll for 2013 found antisemitism to be most common among African-Americans and Hispanics. Antisemitism rates were much lower, though, among U.S.-born compared to foreign-born Hispanics. African-Americans still came in the highest with 20 percent expressing “strongly anti-Semitic views.” Louis Farrakhan, as a single individual with great reach and influence, undoubtedly has something significant to do with that unfortunate result. Over the years he has been plying vast numbers of people, often poorly educated and susceptible, with subliterate anti-white and antisemitic bilge; the ADL’s partial dossier of his available statements against Jews runs to a full 25 pages. For example, in 1984:
Now that nation called Israel never has had any peace in 40 years and she will never have any peace because there can be no peace structured on injustice, thievery, lying and deceit and using the name of God to shield your gutter religion under His holy and righteous name.
You [Jews] are wicked deceivers of the American people. You have sucked their blood. You are not real Jews, those of you that are not real Jews. You are the synagogue of Satan, and you have wrapped your tentacles around the U.S. government, and you are deceiving and sending this nation to hell. But I warn you in the name of Allah, you would be wise to leave me alone. But if you choose to crucify me, know that Allah will crucify you.
Listen, Jewish people don’t have no hands that are free of the blood of us. They owned slave ships, they bought and sold us. They raped and robbed us. If you can’t face that, why you gonna condemn me for showing you your past, how then can you atone and repent if somebody don’t open the book with courage, you don’t have that, but I’ll be damned, I got it.
And it has continued right up to the present. Last May, speaking at a Detroit church, Farrakhan called Jews “Satan” and the “Synagogue of Satan” and said they had “devoured much of humanity.” Rev. Wendell Anthony, Rep. John Conyers (D-Michigan), and Detroit City Councilwoman JoAnn Watson were in attendance. In December, Farrakhan told the Indiana Convention Center that “we’re gonna bring you up to speed. The American government is under the control of Zionists.” Amid applause from the crowd, Farrakhan said that if Jews do not “make the wise and best choice,” then God “will bring you and your people to disgrace and ruin….” Hate speech? Incitement? Whatever you call it, it’s incendiary and dangerous, and unfortunately Farrakhan gets away with it.
As I wrap up this series on U.S. antisemitism, it’s clear to me that the center is holding; the mainstream, decent, pro-Israel American majority prevails. It’s all the more impressive an accomplishment considering that the attempts to subvert this decency and replace it with hatred come from so many directions—from far-right fringe creeps like Gordon Duff, Willis Carto, and David Duke to kill-Israel Muslim actors like Ali Abunimah and Students for Justice in Palestine to paleocon Patrick Buchanan and radical-libertarian Ron Paul to rabble-rouser Farrakhan, all the way to honored professor John Mearsheimer and honored columnist Thomas Friedman. Will the center keep holding? The most dangerous scenario would be continuing economic deterioration and distress. Antisemitism feeds on distress, as demagogues sing the sweet, seductive song of “Blame the Jews.” That is, “We’re not responsible for our problems, it’s the Jews who are doing it to us.” Ultimately the reason societies should stay vigilant about antisemitism is not the Jews or Israel, but themselves.
Antisemitism is pathology, a symptom of failure to cope with reality and of recourse, instead, to paranoid aggression. As Walter Russell Mead wrote in a memorable blog post last July:
In Nazi Germany people were imprisoned and even killed for trying to fight anti-Semitism. In America we are free to fight it, but too many of us choose to ignore this hate that dares not speak its name. Anti-Semitism is real, it is murderous, and it is very much with us today. Speak the truth and shame the devil. Whatever your religion, your politics, your views about Israeli policy, fighting anti-Semitism is part of what it means to be a decent human being.