WASHINGTON -- During a provocative news conference dominated by vitriolic attacks on a Jewish organization, Nation of Islam leader Louis T. Farrakhan condemned an aide yesterday for comments against Jews, Catholics and whites that were "vile in manner." But he said he stood by the "truths" his minister espoused.
To a standing-room-only audience of several hundred reporters and Nation of Islam members packing a hotel ballroom here, Mr. Farrakhan said he was dismissing the aide, Khalid Abdul Muhammad, as a minister and official of the militant black Muslim group until his language conformed to its standards.
But he said Mr. Muhammad -- who in a speech late last year called Jews the "bloodsuckers of the black nation" and urged black South Africans to kill whites in their country -- would remain a member of the Nation of Islam.
Mr. Farrakhan said he found Mr. Muhammad's speech, "vile in manner, repugnant, malicious, mean-spirited, and spoken in mockery of individuals and people. . . . While I stand by the truths that he spoke, I must condemn in the strongest terms the manner in which those truths were represented."
Though numerous black leaders had called on Mr. Farrakhan to repudiate firmly his aide's comments, delivered at Kean College in New Jersey last November, most of his remarks yesterday defended Mr. Muhammad -- whom he called "brilliant" and "highly gifted" -- and defended the sentiments behind the speech.
"My brother Khalid spoke a lot of truth," Mr. Farrakhan said.
The news conference came one day after the Congressional Black Caucus rejected a "covenant" that its chairman, Representative Kweisi Mfume, a Baltimore Democrat, forged with the Nation of Islam last fall, and two weeks after Mr. Mfume wrote a letter to Mr. Farrakhan asking him to clarify the position of the Nation of Islam.
The Muslim leader devoted the bulk of his news conference to a tirade -- at times heated, at times measured -- against the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, an 80-year-old Jewish organization that he called "anti-black and even anti-American" and bent on destroying him and the Nation of Islam.
Attack on Gore, U.S.
He asserted that Vice President Al Gore's sharp criticism of the Muhammad speech was evidence of "collusion between the U.S. government and the ADL, not only in sharing intelligence files, but also in shaping policies at the highest levels." Mr. Gore, in remarks this week to a Jewish audience, called Mr. Muhammad's comments "the vilest kind of racism."
Mr. Gore, in Chicago yesterday, flatly rejected the idea of collusion with the ADL, saying: "it doesn't take a conspiracy to cause people of good will to speak out against racism." He said he was glad Mr. Farrakhan had suspended his lieutenant, though he said he didn't understand the "truths" that the Muslim leader heard in the Muhammad speech.
The hourlong appearance by the controversial leader, which was televised live by CNN, was extraordinary in its security, even by Washington standards. In separate lines for men and women, reporters were frisked, literally from head to toe, by members of the Nation of Islam.
With nearly a dozen bodyguards surrounding him, and dozens more throughout the audience, Mr. Farrakhan called for a summit of black leaders "to prevent a total rupture" of relations within the black community.
But as part of his lengthy attack on the ADL -- which brought the Muhammad speech to national attention by running excerpts in a full-page New York Times ad last month -- he lashed out at those black leaders who have publicly criticized him, accusing them of caving in to outside pressures.
"Correcting one another in public for the purpose of currying favor with our enemies is repugnant," he said.
Mr. Farrakhan called upon the Black Caucus, the NAACP and the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson's Rainbow Coalition to review its relationship with and "alienate" the ADL "in view of its wickedness."
"The ADL seeks total control of the masses of Jewish people," Mr. Farrakhan said. "Why have not the black leaders denounced the ADL for spying on and keeping dossiers on our leaders when the truth of the wicked machinations of this group were
Reply from ADL
Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the ADL, said that after yesterday's performance by Mr. Farrakhan, there should be no doubt that he is a "demagoguing anti-Semite." He called Mr. Farrakhan's repudiation of Mr. Muhammad "meaningless."
"Farrakhan made it clear that he himself agrees with Muhammad's underlying message of anti-Semitism and racism," Mr. Foxman said.
Mr. Mfume, whose overture to Mr. Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam was roundly quashed by his fellow Black Caucus members earlier this week -- and for whom this controversy has become a dark cloud on his reign as caucus chairman -- said he had not watched the press conference and would not comment in detail until he had seen or read the remarks.
He said only that he welcomed the action of Mr. Farrakhan to "rebuke" his aide and dismiss him from his official position.
But several members of the caucus expressed extreme dissatisfaction with Mr. Farrakhan's remarks, saying that they served only to alienate the caucus further from the Nation of Islam.
Democratic Representative Mel Reynolds of Chicago said he was at first "encouraged" by Mr. Farrakhan's announcement that he was suspending Mr. Muhammad, but that as the news conference continued, he found himself "disgusted by the threatening tone, and wild allusions, conspiracies and all that."
Democratic Representative Al Wynn of Maryland called Mr. Farrakhan's remarks "clearly anti-Semitic," and an attempt "to make the Jewish community or the white community the scapegoats for the problems in the black community."
The freshman congressman from Prince George's County said he and other Black Caucus members were not prepared to work with Mr. Farrakhan until the minister began opposing anti-Semitism. Mr. Wynn added that he saw no need for a summit.
Mr. Farrakhan dismissed as a "bold lie" the charge that he is anti-Semitic. But throughout his press conference, his remarks, often applauded by members of his organization in the audience, focused largely on Jews.
"Seventy-five percent of slaves owned in the South were owned by Jewish slave-holders," he stated, in an assertion historians said was grossly inaccurate.
"Utter nonsense," said Kenneth M. Stampp, professor emeritus at the University of California at Berkeley and a noted specialist on the history of slavery in America. "There were Jews involved in the slave trade, but most of the people involved were not Jews. They were English, European, American, etc."
Khalid Abdul Muhammad's demotion yesterday as the Nation of Islam's national spokesman cast doubt on his scheduled appearance at Baltimore City Community College tomorrow night.
A spokesman for Newton-Thoth Inc., the sponsor of two evenings of lectures about slain black leader Malcolm X in a rented auditorium at the college, said the company had not been in touch with Mr. Muhammad since his demotion.
"Prior to Mr. Muhammad making his unfortunate remarks [in a speech at a New Jersey college], we had a contract with him," said Michael Graham, the spokesman. "This is about Malcolm X and Black History Month. This is about Malcolm X, not Dr. Muhammad."
Mr. Graham said Newton-Thoth, which is headed by Dr. Patricia Newton, a Baltimore psychiatrist, "wanted to pull together a program for the masses to better understand the power of Malcolm."
John Henrik Clarke, a historian, and Phil Cohran, a composer, are due to speak at 7 p.m. today in the Forum Auditorium of the college's Bard Building, 600 E. Lombard St. James Small, a former aide to Malcolm X, and Mr. Muhammad are scheduled to lecture at 7 p.m. tomorrow.