New York Times Touts Nation of Islam’s Self-Help Approach Following Attack on Capitol
In October 2020, the New York Times ran an op-ed glorifying Louis Farrakhan’s Million Man March and failing to provide context about Farrakhan’s antisemitism. In 2017, the paper published a paean to a Nation-of-Islam style bean pie bakery.
Now — with an apparent follower of Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam having launched a violent attack on the US Capitol — the Times is groping its way, comically and ineptly, toward trying to describe the organization accurately to its readers.
An early effort came April 2 in an article the day of the attack headlined, “Suspect in Capitol attack appears to have been a follower of Louis Farrakhan.” Said the Times: “The Nation of Islam is a Black nationalist movement that has advocated African-American self-sufficiency.” Well, that is sure one very kind way to put it, but it lacks crucial context.
By the April 3 print newspaper, the Times had added to the description slightly: “The Nation of Islam is a Black nationalist movement that has advocated African-American self-sufficiency. It has been condemned by the Southern Poverty Law Center for ‘the deeply racist, anti-Semitic and anti-gay rhetoric of its leaders,’ including Mr. Farrakhan.”
That’s a slight improvement, but the Southern Poverty Law Center is notorious for inaccurately smearing even mainstream, reputable figures; for example, a 2017 blog post on the center’s “hate watch” inaccurately described Daniel Pipes as “anti-Muslim activist Daniel Pipes, a man who has spent the better part of three decades vilifying Muslims, and Palestinians in particular.” As Washington Post columnist Mark Thiessen put it in 2018, “The Southern Poverty Law Center has lost all credibility.” So for the Times to ride the Southern Poverty Law Center horse rather than just itself accurately describing the situation, or seeking a more credible source, is a default.
By the April 4 print newspaper, the Times had upped its game, if, again, only very slightly. “Mr. Green’s life appeared increasingly to revolve around the Nation of Islam and its leader Louis Farrakhan, who has repeatedly promoted anti-Semitism,” said one line high up in a news article. The second hyperlink in the online version leads to a useful and factual report from the Anti-Defamation League, but the first is to a ridiculous backgrounder from the Times that includes statements like “Mr. Farrakhan has denied that he is anti-Semitic and has even said that his father may have been Jewish.” As if the father’s religion proves anything?
The Times backgrounder also inaccurately blames Israel and “religious fundamentalism” — always a Times no-no — for Farrakhan’s antisemitism: “A religious fundamentalist whose group has been condemned by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Mr. Farrakhan is fervently opposed to the legitimacy of the state of Israel, and his political positions regarding the country frequently spill over into bigoted remarks about Jews.” In fact, a read of the ADL highlights shows clearly that many of Farrakhan’s antisemitic statements and hoary stereotypes have nothing whatsoever to do with Israel. The Times’ erroneous read of that situation is part of a long and egregious pattern of blaming Israel for antisemitism rather than recognizing the reality that antisemitism long predated Israel, and that Israel’s existence actually helps counteract antisemitism by providing Jews a safe place to flee from it and military power with which to protect against it.
Later in the April 4 print article, the Times repeated its by-now-boilerplate description:
A Black nationalist movement that has pushed for African-American self-sufficiency, the Nation of Islam has been condemned by the Southern Poverty Law Center for “the deeply racist, anti-Semitic and anti-gay rhetoric of its leaders,” including Mr. Farrakhan.
Mr. Green’s adherence is likely to increase scrutiny on the group, as investigators try to determine whether his beliefs played a role on Friday’s attack. The relationship between violence and the Nation of Islam has been debated since it started about 90 years ago, especially as outsiders and insiders have disagreed over its teachings.
“From the earliest times in Nation history, people have been taking these texts and saying, this is about killing white people,” said Michael Muhammad Knight, an assistant professor of religion and cultural studies at the University of Central Florida, who specializes in American Islam.
“The Nation has a very strong anti-violence discourse that goes all the way back to the beginning,” he said. “Consistently, if you look at the Nation, you don’t see the body count that white supremacist organizations have.”
Professor Knight’s words as quoted by the Times will, alas, doubtless be little consolation to the family of the Capitol Police officer killed in this latest attack.
Ira Stoll was managing editor of The Forward and North American editor of The Jerusalem Post. His media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here.