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January 26, 2018 1:12 pm

Previously-Unseen Photo of Obama With Louis Farrakhan Revives Controversy Over Ex-President’s Early Links With Nation of Islam Leader

avatar by Ben Cohen

Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan speaking in Detroit, Mi., in February 2017. Photo: Reuters / Rebecca Cook.

Former US President Barack Obama’s relationship with Louis Farrakhan — the openly antisemitic leader of the Nation of Islam (NoI) movement — has come into the spotlight again in recent days, after a previously unseen photo of the two men meeting in 2005 that was first released a week ago began spreading on social media.

The existence of the photo was originally revealed by Farrakhan himself, in a 2016 address to the NoI. No precise date has been provided for the image, showing Obama standing alongside Farrakhan, that was snapped by photographer Askia Muhammad at a meeting of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Muhammad told the veteran journalist Hazel Trice Edney — who first published the photo on Jan. 20 — that he had surrendered the image to Farrakhan’s son-in-law and chief of staff, Leonard Farrakhan, on the grounds that its release might have damaged Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.

The photo “remained one of America’s best hidden secrets for the next 12 years,” Trice Edney observed. She quoted Muhammad telling her that he had “sworn secrecy” about the image.

Muhammad went on to add, “after the nomination was secured and all the way up until the inauguration; then for eight years after he was President, it was kept under cover.”

Obama explicitly disavowed Farrakhan in February 2008, while still a Democratic senator from Illinois, telling an interviewer on Fox News, “You know, I have been very clear in my denunciation of Minister Farrakhan’s anti-Semitic comments. I think that they are unacceptable and reprehensible.”

The existence of the 2005 photo with Obama was first revealed by Farrakhan himself, in an address to NoI followers in Chicago on Oct. 30, 2016. “I have a picture of myself and Barack together,” the NoI leader said at the time. “You never saw it. I would never put it out to give his enemies what they were looking for to hurt him.”

The 2005 image of then-Sen. Barack Obama with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan (far right) at a Congressional Black Caucus meeting. Photo: Askia Muhammad via social media.

In the same speech, Farrakhan disclosed that the NoI had backed Obama with political contributions during his early political career. “We supported him when he was a community organizer,” Farrakhan said. As a result of contacts between Leonard Farrakhan and Obama, he continued, the NoI “backed him with money, and with the help of the FoI” — the “Fruit of Islam,” an NoI paramilitary-style group reestablished by Farrakhan after it was disbanded in 1975  — “to get him elected.”

Farrakhan explained to his audience that at his 2005 meeting with Obama, the then-junior senator told him “straight up:  ‘… the black vote in Chicago made me win Chicago. But it was the (Illinois) downstate vote that made me a US senator. And I will never do anything that will cause me to lose the downstate vote.’”

Farrakan said he responded, “And I said to him, ‘My brother, your reality is not mine. And we need you where you are, so I will never ask you to do anything that will cause you to lose the downstate vote’ — and I never have. He was the bigger picture.”

Now 84 years of age, the Chicago-based Farrakhan has established himself in the tradition of Henry Ford and Father Charles Coughlin as one of America’s best-known, most prolific Jew-baiters.

In a famous address on Feb. 25, 1996, Farrakhan told American Jews, “You are the synagogue of Satan, and you have wrapped your tentacles around the US government, and you are deceiving and sending this nation to hell.” During his long career, he has also expressed admiration for the Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, embraced Arab dictators like the former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, and promoted the denial of the Holocaust, declaring in 2003 that one could not question whether six million Jews were murdered because, “You can’t speak about Jews, you can’t criticize Jews. If you do, you’re an anti-Semite.”

Farrakhan has also been a deeply divisive figure among African Americans. After remaining silent for 45 years about his ties to the 1965 assassination of the radical civil rights leader Malcolm X, he confessed in 2010 to his personal role in the killing. Two months before the shooting, Farrakhan described Malcolm X, who had broken with the Nation of Islam, as a “man worthy of death.”

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