Malcolm had been supported early on by Percy Sutton, an intelligence officer turned politician, who likely put Malcolm in touch with Yale graduate Louis Lomax. This connection culminated in a 1959 segment on the NOI, produced by Lomax and aired on New York's WNTA, a public broadcaster backed financially by the Ford Foundation. At the time, the Foundation was closely linked to the Central Intelligence Agency, a key part of a network of front groups that promoted controversial causes such as Black Power, which was seen as a way of defusing America's increasingly fraught racial tensions.
Not everyone was on board however, with Federal Bureau of Investigation Director J. Edgar Hoover eager to use his powers to sabotage his liberal rivals in the CIA. Malcolm soon became the target of the FBI's immense resources, while his rising star soon drew the ire of Elijah Muhammad. By 1964, Malcolm had left the Nation, pledging to form broader civil rights coalitions with integrationists such as Martin Luther King Jr, who was equally despised by FBI Director Hoover. Soon after, the Nation of Islam's former frontman was gunned down by active members, with the Bureau failing to find evidence of a conspiracy linking back to NOI headquarters in Detroit.
As well as the Malcolm hit, the NOI was also be linked to a number of other high-profile murders across the country, yet would still escape serious prosecution by the FBI. In Malcolm's former stronghold of Harlem, a splinter group, the Five-Percent Nation had risen with the support of Mayor John Lindsay, a liberal Republican who worked closely with the Ford Foundation. In 1969 however, leader Allah the Father was gunned down by unknown assailants, possibly from the NOI-affilated Black Mafia of nearby Philadelphia. Even without him, the PBM has a long body count, including Major Coxson, an underworld figure who had been a conduit between them and the local branch of the American Mafia.
On the other side of the country, a series of seemingly motiveless black on white killings had taken place in San Francisco. These were termed the &quot;Zebra Murders&quot; by police, who arrested four Black Muslims. According to the official story, the crimes were committed in order to gain entrance into an elite group within the sect. However, there were rumours of a wider power struggle between the Zebra faction and the NOI establishment, with the sect's secrecy helping to keep the real story under wraps. What is clear is that they coincided with a wider spate of murders linked to the NOI, as well as various other radical groups caught up in the conflict between FBI and CIA for the political consciousness of America. At the heart of the conflict was the decline of the city machine, which the former desperately wanted to preserve, yet which the latter saw as a archaic impediment to progress.
Elijah Muhammad died in 1975, handing power to designated successor, Warith Dean, who quickly brought the NOI into line with Muslim orthodoxy. His move was rejected by much of the Nation's bureaucracy, led by Boston minister Louis Farrakhan, who started their own splinter religion which quickly came to outnumber Dean's sect. Instead, under Farrakhan, the Nation formed links with other Black nationalist groups through events such as the Million Man March, which have kept the NOI relevant well into the 21st century.
Despite controversial beliefs about Jews and gender roles, the Nation of Islam continues to count allies as diverse as Jesse Jackson, the Church of Scientology and, most controversially, the Women's March. During the debate that followed, little attention was inevitably paid to the history of the NOI, and how it came to be so powerful in the first place. Instead, the topic was furiously debated for a brief period in the mainstream media, which quickly found a new issue to fixate on as the controversy soon wore down.
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Published 5 months ago
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