America’s current reckoning over race has made this much clear: People are calling out bigotry wherever they find it, whether in the Manhattan, New York, offices of a glossy magazine or the grimy corridors of a Midwestern police department. And when they do, they are not mincing words, but naming things for what they are.
Which makes the anti-Semitic social media posts by Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson, later doubled down on by former NBA player Stephen Jackson, all the more troubling.
The Eagles’ Jackson shared a quote falsely attributed to Adolf Hitler. It said, Jews “will blackmail America. [They] will extort America, their plan for world domination won’t work if the Negroes know who they were.”
The controversy was inflamed when retired NBA player Jackson (no relation) jumped in with a series of Instagram videos to defend the Eagles star. He also veered into anti-Semitic tropes. “The Jews are the richest. You know who the Rothschilds are?” he said in an exchange on Instagram Live. “… They control all the banks.”
Both men have apologized and said they harbor no ill will toward Jewish people, even though their posts slandered Jews. At the same time, they each proclaimed their admiration for Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, 87, who has been singled out as the greatest source of tension between the African American and Jewish communities for the past several decades.
“I’m a fan of Minister Farrakhan because nobody loves Black people more than him and that’s just facts,” said Stephen Jackson, the former shooting guard, who coincidentally emerged as a passionate voice against bigotry after the killing of his childhood friend George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis.
On July 6, the Eagles’ Jackson posted a clip from an Independence Day speech in which Farrakhan bizarrely charged that development of a coronavirus vaccine is part of a plot by Microsoft founder Bill Gates, his wife Melinda and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Anthony S. Fauci to “depopulate the Earth.”
“This man [is] powerful,” DeSean Jackson said in a since-deleted Instagram post. “I hope everyone got a chance to watch this! Don’t be blinded. Know what’s going on!”
Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam is widely admired across Black America for its 90-year track record of lifting up and cleaning up Black lives and its emphasis on Black self-help. Many African Americans look past Farrakhan’s frequent forays into mind-bending conspiracy theories and his long history of anti-Semitism to focus on what they see as his core message.
That has long been a sore point in Black-Jewish relations. Through the years, a series of Black leaders have attempted to forge partnerships with Farrakhan in the hope of tapping into his broad grassroots appeal and were criticized for minimizing or ignoring his anti-Semitism, rather than acknowledging it for what it is.
Anti-discrimination groups have identified Farrakhan as the person most responsible for fanning the flames of anti-Semitism among African Americans. The Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled the Nation of Islam a hate group, and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) calls Farrakhan “America’s leading anti-Semite.”
Meanwhile, the problem of anti-Semitism remains urgent. In 2019, the ADL reported 2,100 acts of assault, vandalism, violence or harassment against Jews, the highest number of anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. since the organization began tracking them in 1979.
The contrasting views of Farrakhan have strained the long alliance between Black and Jewish people who through the years have largely stood together in the battle for civil rights.
In 1984, when Rev. Jesse Jackson was making a surprisingly strong run for the Democratic presidential nomination, he enjoyed Farrakhan’s support early on. Jesse Jackson’s Operation PUSH and the Nation of Islam were both headquartered on Chicago’s South Side, and men from the Nation’s Fruit of Islam security force served as Jesse Jackson’s bodyguards.
But as the campaign wore on, Jesse Jackson was forced to distance himself after the Nation of Islam leader called the creation of Israel an “outlaw act,” and threatened a Black journalist who revealed that Jesse Jackson had referred to Jews as “Hymies” and New York as “Hymietown” in private conversations.
Jesse Jackson’s repudiation of Farrakhan set what became a familiar pattern.
Rep. Kweisi Mfume, then-head of the Congressional Black Caucus, appeared with Farrakhan at a 1993 legislative conference to announce a “sacred covenant” between the two groups. But that relationship unraveled months later, after Khalid Abdul Muhammad, then a minister and representative of the Nation of Islam, delivered a ferocious anti-Semitic attack during a speech at Kean College in New Jersey.
Through the years, a series of Black leaders have attempted to forge partnerships with Farrakhan in the hope of tapping into his broad grassroots appeal and were criticized for minimizing or ignoring his anti-Semitism, rather than acknowledging it for what it is.
Years later in Minnesota, Keith Ellison, the first Muslim to serve in Congress, publicly renounced the Nation of Islam in a letter to Jewish groups after coming under pressure for his past affiliation with the group. (Ellison is now Minnesota’s attorney general and is leading the prosecution against the police officers charged in Floyd’s killing.)
Tamika Mallory, former co-president of the Women’s March, once posted a photo of herself with Farrakhan on Instagram that called him “the GOAT,” or “greatest of all time.” She also attended the Nation of Islam’s Saviours’ Day event in February 2018, where Farrakhan said Jewish people are “responsible for all of this filth and degenerate behavior that Hollywood is putting out turning men into women and women into men.” Calls for her to either resign from the Women’s March board or denounce Farrakhan soon followed, and she left the organization the following year.
Even members of the Nation have recognized that a perceived affiliation with Farrakhan could hinder the political career of an aspiring Black politician.
In 2005, Askia Muhammad, a senior correspondent for the Nation of Islam’s Final Call newspaper and news director of Washington’s WPFW radio station, took a photograph of a smiling Sen. Barack Obama standing next to Farrakhan following a Capitol Hill luncheon with the Congressional Black Caucus. Not long after he shot the picture, Askia Muhammad said he got a call from a caucus staffer asking him to surrender his camera’s disk.
Askia Muhammad did not give the picture to the caucus, but he sent it to Farrakhan. He also kept a copy for himself that he would not publish until 13 years later in his latest book, The Autobiography of Charles 67X.
Askia Muhammad said he kept the photo under wraps for fear of damaging Obama’s chances to be president. “It absolutely would have made a difference,” he told me. “It really is a deal breaker for people to stand with [Farrakhan] if they have something to lose.”
A few years after Askia Muhammad took the picture, Obama was in the midst of his first campaign for president, and during a February 2008 debate, he was pressed about his relationship with Farrakhan. At one point, the moderator asked: “Do you accept the support of Louis Farrakhan?”
“You know, I have been very clear in my denunciation of Minister Farrakhan’s anti-Semitic comments,” Obama replied.
Through it all, Farrakhan and the Nation remain widely respected in Black communities. For years, Farrakhan’s speeches routinely packed large arenas around the country, and his Million Man March brought hundreds of thousands of Black men to Washington in 1995 for one of the largest mass gatherings in the city’s history. And his influence has continued in the years since, with his appearances regularly attracting huge online audiences, even though he has been banned by both Facebook and Instagram since 2019.
A speech he gave on July Fourth was originally set to be aired on Fox Soul, a streaming service. But the broadcast was canceled after the ADL’s chief executive, Jonathan Greenblatt, criticized it days before the planned address.
“Louis Farrakhan, a notorious #antisemite & #homophobe, inexplicably continues to get airtime,” he tweeted.
The address was then moved to Revolt TV, an online platform owned by entertainment mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs. Other Black celebrities, including singer Stephanie Mills and comedian Corey Holcomb, promoted the speech on social media with short videos asking people to tune in, and it attracted hundreds of thousands of viewers.
Among those watching was the Eagles’ Jackson. Since his anti-Semitic posts blew up into national news, he has issued repeated apologies and was reportedly fined by the Eagles for conduct detrimental to the team. Late last week, he took part in a Zoom call with a 94-year-old Holocaust survivor named Edward Mosberg, and accepted his invitation to one day visit Auschwitz, Poland, a former concentration camp where an estimated 1.1 million Jews were put to death by the Nazis.
“I’m taking this time to continue with educating myself and bridging the gap between different cultures, communities & religions,” DeSean Jackson posted. “LOVE 2 ALL!!!!!”