What about Farrakhan?

Louis Farrakhan, from left, Rev. Al Sharpton, Rev. Jesse Jackson and former President Bill Clinton attend the funeral service for Aretha Franklin at Greater Grace Temple, August 31, 2018, in Detroit, Michigan. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Louis Farrakhan, from left, Rev. Al Sharpton, Rev. Jesse Jackson and former President Bill Clinton attend the funeral service for Aretha Franklin at Greater Grace Temple, August 31, 2018, in Detroit, Michigan. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

“I have to be careful, because I don’t want to tell the voters of Louisiana how to cast their ballot. When someone has a long record, an ugly record of racism and of bigotry, that record simply cannot be erased by the glib rhetoric of a political campaign. So I believe David Duke is an insincere charlatan. I believe he’s attempting to hoodwink the voters of Louisiana. I believe he should be rejected for what he is and what he stands for.”   


I’m not an anti-Semite. I’m anti-Termite.”


The massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh is devastating and especially disturbing given it took place in a house of worship, during services, by a man filled with hatred for the Jewish people.

One can’t help but think of the massacre of nine African Americans at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church in South Carolina in 2015. That also was carried out by a hate-filled white supremacist who now is on death row — hopefully the Pittsburgh murderer will follow.

It is imperative to marginalize those filled with hate and not mainstream them in any manner.

So why is no one sharing what happened during the three elections when David Duke, the former KKK grand wizard, notorious racist, and anti-Semite, ran for the Louisiana House of Representatives in 1989, for senator in 1990, and for governor in 1991? Though Duke was a registered Republican, the Republican party never supported him in any of his efforts and the leadership was not silent. During his successful race for the Louisiana House of Representatives, not only did President Bush and former President Reagan support another candidate, but Party Chair Lee Atwater said during the campaign, “David Duke is not a Republican. We repudiate him and his views.”

When he ran for the Senate, the National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesperson said, “Our posture’s been to not even acknowledge that he [Duke] exists. We do not recognize him as a Republican.” In the open primary election, Vice President Dan Quayle voiced the administration’s opposition, saying that they wouldn’t disclose what they would do if Duke ended up in a run-off but “there’s no question about what we’re going to do.” The Republican party endorsed State Senator Ben Bagert. According to Louisiana’s rules, the two candidates with the most votes would face off in a run-off, regardless of party affiliation, unless one of them received more than 50 percent of the vote. When Bagert realized that his bid could lead to a run-off between Duke and the Democrat, Senator Bennett Johnston, and there would be a realistic chance that Duke would win, he bowed out days before the primary. Many Republican senators, including John Danforth, Ted Stevens, Nancy Kassebaum, and even HUD Secretary Jack Kemp, endorsed Johnston. And that’s how Bennett Johnston, the Democrat, was re-elected.

Duke realized he had support in Louisiana and decided to run for governor in 1991. It is hard to understand how a state that elected Bobby Jindal as governor could have been supportive of a bigot like Duke. Louisiana was one of only five states that segregationist George Wallace won in the 1968 presidential election. And Duke said he had reformed and repudiated his past. It was a charade but it worked for a while. But not with the state and national Republican party leadership, which continued to openly reject him. Thus, when Republican party candidate Governor Buddy Roemer came in third, forcing a run-off between Duke and Democratic candidate and former Governor Edwin Edwards, Bush held a press conference. After the charlatan remark, he added, “When someone asserts the Holocaust never took place, then I don’t believe that person ever deserves one iota of public trust. When someone has so recently endorsed Nazism, it is inconceivable that someone can reasonably aspire to a leadership role in a free society.” And that’s how Democratic candidate Edwin Edwards won, even with his scandalous past.

I wonder how many remember this about Bush 41, Reagan, and the Republican senators and their party? I remember because I was in a journalism class where we contrasted it with the coverage of another case concerning a democratic aide to the mayor in Chicago in the late 80s who lectured at Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam for two years. Then it was revealed that he was spewing anti-Semitic hatred, including both the egregious lie that Jewish doctors were deliberately infecting black children with the AIDS virus and the tiresome but ever-popular canard that Jews had a conspiracy to rule the world. It took almost a week after this went public, and after much controversy, for the aide, Steve Cokely, to be dismissed.

And so the horrific slaughter in Pittsburgh only reinforced what we know — that white supremacists always will hate Jews and our community always will work together against them. The question is what are we doing about a Farrakhan, a black supremacist, who we have come to understand in the past year is much more mainstreamed and influential than we ever could have imagined.

We found out that the Deputy Chair of the Democratic party, Keith Ellison, (now attorney general elect of Minnesota), lied about ending his relationship with Farrakhan over a decade ago, earning him four Pinocchios from the Washington Post but no public rebuke from Party Chair Tom Perez. We learned that Farrakhan met with President Obama and the Congressional Black Caucus in 2005 through the release of a deliberately suppressed photo that finally came into the public square via the photographer, and we learned that many, if not all, the representatives in the CBC have met with Farrakhan over the years. One of them, Congressman Danny Davis of Illinois, called him “an outstanding human being.” Davis only condemned Farrakhan recently after he and a few others were specifically called out by the Republican Jewish Coalition to resign for having strong ties with Farrakhan. Most, not all, of those highlighted finally made statements ranging from condemnation to distancing themselves from Farrakhan. Still haven’t heard anything from Maxine Waters, have you?

And, in the tradition of Bush 41 with Duke, what would have been the impact on those like Women’s March leader Tamika Mallory, who praised Farrakhan, if the revered Congressman John Lewis had issued a strong statement, irrefutably condemning him and the Nation of Islam, and making it clear that Farrakhan should be ostracized? What about our Jewish leadership in Congress? Why aren’t they making it perspicuously clear that this man is the embodiment of hatred not just of Jews but of LGBTQ people and others, and that they need to marginalize him just as Duke was marginalized?

Why the silence?

Perhaps the most revelatory and deeply upsetting moment, exposing how accepted Farrakhan is, was seeing him as an honored guest at Aretha Franklin’s funeral, sharing the stage for hours with President Clinton, not far from former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. There is no possibility the Clintons were taken by surprise at Farrakhan’s presence. Hillary Clinton wouldn’t even share the stage with Sarah Palin at an anti-Iran nuclear rally but she was fine with this?

We correctly stand up loudly to condemn David Duke, the KKK, white supremacists, homophobia, neo-Nazis, Islamophobia, anti-Semites, and the alt-right, but where are we when it comes to black supremacists like Farrakhan? We seem tepid when we need to be unrelenting. In fact, in a meeting with one of our local Jewish congressman, when he was asked about this, part of his response was that the Jewish community needs to do more.

Let’s not allow the alarming increase in anti-Semitism and hate to continue to grow, when we can demand that our leadership make this a priority today. No more excuses for anyone. As CNN’s Jake Tapper tweeted recently, “The difference between Farrakhan and some members of the alt-reich whose heinous bigotry has received a lot of attention this past year: Farrakhan has a much larger following and elected officials meet with him openly.”

The Clintons and all those in Congress who have been silent need to take a cue from Bush 41 and proclaim loudly about Farrakhan, “I believe he should be rejected for what he is and what he stands for.”

About the Author
Martha Cohen is an award winning producer and creative executive. She is a Berrie Fellow and currently sits on the JFNNJ JCRC and StandWithUs East Coast Boards. She chaired the JFNNJ Partnership2Gether when the Young Leadership program was developed and executed; and, continues to be closely involved. Martha and her husband David live in Fort Lee with their son, Harry.
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