The New Black Panther Party is Unlike its Namesake of the 1960s
Brandishing assault rifles and shotguns, 50 black men clad in fatigues and berets appeared two years ago on the troubled streets of Jasper, Texas. They were there, they announced, to protect fellow blacks against attacks following the truck-dragging murder of James Byrd Jr. and to face down the Ku Klux Klan.
Twice, a large contingent of police and Texas Rangers turned back the black-clad militants attempting to confront the hooded marchers who had come to Jasper to "defend" local whites in the aftermath of the Byrd killing.
At one point, police had to intervene to prevent opponents from overturning a van full of Klansmen. But the police, sensing the supercharged nature of this very public confrontation, avoided - probably wisely - trying to disarm the black men from Dallas.
That tense day in June 1998 introduced the nation to a group that few Americans had heard of: the New Black Panther Party.
Trading on the name of a group of black militants famous in the 1960s and 1970s, the "new" Panthers portrayed themselves as the only men bold enough to take on the violent racism of the Klan and other white supremacists.
Eschewing the health clinics and free breakfast programs of the original Panthers, the new group's leaders have seemed to focus almost exclusively on hate rhetoric about Jews and whites.
"We will never bow down to the white, Jewish, Zionist onslaught," is the way Washington, D.C., attorney Malik Zulu Shabazz put it not long before becoming the chief spokesman for the New Black Panther Party.
Panther leader Khalid Abdul Muhammad, Shabazz added, is the man "who gives the white man nightmares ... who makes the Jews pee in their pants at night."
Whites as the Enemy
Lacking a national office, a publication or even a web site, the New Black Panther Party may seem somewhat disorganized. But despite that, the new Panthers have managed to sustain themselves through several incarnations since their beginnings about 10 years ago.
Today, the party appears to be a federation of as many as 35 chapters in at least 13 cities with informal but important links to certain black Muslims and other small black groups. In the last year, the Panthers have appeared publicly in Atlanta, Dallas, Detroit, Houston, New York, Norfolk, Va., and Washington, D.C.
Dallas leader Robert Williams says there are chapters scattered throughout the East and Midwest, and adds that new chapters are being organized in Gulfport, Miss., and New Orleans. He said he could offer no estimates as to the national group's size, but added that in Dallas there are "just over 100 members."
The party's overall ideology - and the uniformity of that ideology within the party - is difficult to assess. Some local leaders seem far less radical - and less given to anti-Semitism and hatred of white people - than their national spokesmen.
Williams says the chapter heads meet annually, but adds that communication among the party's leaders is usually quite informal - he himself says he knows little more than the phone numbers of the other chapters.
Even the party's official platform is unclear. Members variously have claimed to have 10-, 12- and 14-point platforms, each adapted from the original Panthers' 10 points.
Shabazz, the party's national spokesman, refused to describe his organization to the Intelligence Report. "I've discussed it with my national committee," he said, "and I've been instructed not to answer any of your questions."
But certain things are obvious. One version of the new Panthers' platform, drawn from a 1997 web site, is very similar to the original Panthers' - with a key difference.
Where the original Panthers demanded "an end to the robbery by the capitalists of our black and oppressed communities" the new party calls for something quite different - "an end to robbery by the white man."
'Who's Pimping the World?'
And then there is Khalid Muhammad.
Muhammad, who first appeared publicly as the new Panthers' leader at the Jasper demonstration in 1998, had long been known as the leading spokesman for the black separatist Nation of Islam. He lost that post after Nation leader Louis Farrakhan was widely criticized for Muhammad's violently hateful speeches.
With a fondness for speeches with titles like "Who's Pimping the World?" (answer: "the Jews"), Muhammad has rarely minced words.
He has blamed slavery and even the Holocaust on the "hooked-nose, bagel-eating, lox-eating, perpetrating-a-fraud, so-called Jew."
He has called for building a Student Violent Coordinating Committee - a takeoff on the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee that was a key player in the civil rights struggle.
He has launched repeated diatribes against his enemies: "white devil crackers," "bloodsucking Jews" and "faggots."
Some of his most famous comments, regarding politics in post-apartheid South Africa, came in a notorious 1993 speech at Kean College in New Jersey.
Muhammad had clear ideas for dealing with whites who did not leave immediately: "We kill the women. We kill the babies. We kill the blind. We kill the cripples. We kill them all. We kill the faggot. We kill the lesbian. ... When you get through killing them all, go to the goddamn graveyard and dig up the grave and kill them a-goddamn-gain, because they didn't die hard enough" the first time.
Just this fall, Muhammad made similar comments in a Detroit speech. "There's only two kinds of white folks, there's only two kinds, " he said, "bad white folks and worse white folks. ... [Malcolm X] said if you find one good, kill him first, before he turns bad. Because he's only faking."