|Edwin Black||March 17th 2008|
In the end it was not the lies about his religion, but the truth about his religion that may have irrevocably splattered the image of Barack Obama.
Democratic presidential frontrunner Obama survived a malicious viral email campaign that he was a Muslim. While under Sharia, he was in fact born Muslim of a Muslim father; but Obama never lived as a Muslim in any way. He survived a ridiculous blogospheric posting of a photograph of him bedecked in a turban--Somali tribal apparel while traveling in Ethiopia--equivalent to wearing a festive sombrero in Mexico. And he handily survived the antagonistic Republican incantation of his Muslim middle name, "Hussein."
But can Obama’s populist candidacy survive the truthful revelations about his twenty-year relationship with spiritual advisor Jeremiah A. Wright, the "black separatist" Christian pastor?
It is pivotal to understand that Obama’s potentially insurmountable problem is not about his mere membership in Pastor Wright’s Trinity Church, an affiliate of the nationally diverse United Church of Christ. Obama’s problem is the deep-vein mentoring with Pastor Wright himself. Obama was not just sitting in the pews for twenty years. The two men were and are tight--very tight.
It was Wright’s charismatic "in your face" African-American activism that first brought unaffiliated, young twenty-something Chicago neighborhood organizer Obama into the Trinity Church as a practicing Christian in the eighties. Obama became a regular attendee and took Wright’s inspiration with him when away. While at Harvard studying law, Obama morally tutored himself with tapes of Wright’s fiery lectures.
Wright was a moving force in Obama’s family as well. Pastor Wright married Obama to his wife, Michelle, and baptized their two children. The Pastor’s provocative sermon, "The Audacity of Hope," gave Obama the title for his bestselling book of the same name. Obama even huddled with his Pastor for spiritual guidance just before announcing his presidential bid. Wright was given a prominent advisory role in the campaign. Wright is more than an arms-length acquaintance. The Pastor is precisely the mentor and close personal advisor Obama has long declared him to be.
Wright explains, "When the Black radical liberals want support, they come to the Black church because they know we have the numbers. We pack the buses. Fifty buses with 50 people. For example, the Black church sent hundreds of men to the Million Man March."
It seems too late for Obama to distance himself or condemn the recently broadcast bigotry of Wright. The real question is how a man described by many as a leading anti-American, anti-Israel, anti-white agitator became Obama’s closest mentor for two decades?
Exactly what is the objectionable conduct of Wright? To begin, Wright is a close confidant and supporter of Minister Louis Farrakhan. The leader of the Nation of Islam has called Jews "bloodsuckers" who practice a "gutter religion," and has ascended to the apex of virulent anti-Semitism in the Black community and indeed worldwide. Wright was among those deeply affected in the early eighties by Farrakhan’s Southside Chicago activism. In 1984, Wright was one of the inner circle that traveled with Farrakhan to visit Libyan strongman Col. Muammar Khadafy. The ostentatious Farrakhan junket came at a time when Khadafy had been identified as the world’s chief financier of international terrorism, including the Black September group behind the Munich Olympics massacre. By the time Wright and Farrakhan visited, Libyan oil imports had been banned, and America was trying to topple what it called a "rogue regime." In the several years after that, Farrakhan was pro-active for Khadafy even as Libya was internationally isolated for suspected involvement in numerous terror plots including the explosion of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.
Farrakhan’s and Wright’s 1984 visit and subsequent support was done precisely to openly ally themselves with a declared enemy of the United States. Why? Because these two American men of the clergy--Farrakhan and Wright--are avowed enemies of the United States.
The Farrakhan-Wright connection is no distant matter of the turbulent eighties. Farrakhan, Wright and Wright’s Church have remained in close esteem until this very day. As recently as December 2007, the Church’s publication, Trumpet Newsmagazine, bestowed upon Farrakhan its highest honor, the "Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr. Trumpeter" Award for Lifetime Achievement. An interview with Farrakhan in the magazine concludes with the words, "he truly epitomizes greatness." Wright himself described Farrakhan in that article as "a 20th and 21st Century giant." Pastor Wright is the CEO of the church publication, which is said to reach 200,000 readers across the nation. Members of Wright’s family act as publisher and editor. As recently as this Palm Sunday, March 16, 2008, the church listed Farrakhan on its Prayer list in the weekend hand-out at church services.
In the Farrakhan mold, Wright is a firebrand anti-American, anti-White, anti-Zionist preacher. His pulpit statements, by now widely broadcast on cable TV and across the Internet, have histrionically asked followers to chant not "God Bless America" but "God Damn America," to denounce Israel and Zionism for "state terrorism," to hold Washington responsible for creating the HIV AIDS virus as a weapon against Blacks, and to recognize that America is controlled by "rich white people." Immediately after the 9-11 attacks against the World Trade Center, Wright waved his arms and almost danced, bellowing that America had brought the crime upon itself. Nor is he shy about publicly using the words "nigger" and "shit" even from the pulpit.
Despite his extremism, Wright is no fringe member of the African-American mainstream. He is a giant in the Black community. Wright built the Trinity Church from an 87-member congregation in 1972 with a $30,000 annual budget to a Black megachurch said to boast as many as 10,000 members--the largest in the United Church of Christ--operating on a more than $9 million annual budget with its own $2 million credit union, donating its own $100,000 check to Hurricane Katrina relief, and selling advertising in its house organ for $5,000 per page. In 1993, Ebony Magazine listed Wright among its top 15 pastors. In March 2007, Wright was honored by a resolution of the Illinois House of Representatives.
The wide Black acceptance of Wright’s damning hate rhetoric points up a complete racial disconnect with White America that still lies just below the surface. Angry African-American leaders such as Wright see the Black church as a place of confrontation that continues to serve that historical role. Before the Civil War, not a few slave revolts occurred, Wright has said, after getting "worked up" in church. He adds, "The church gave us the strength to fight to end slavery."
The angry world of Pastor Wright is the embittered experience that most Americans either don’t know or would rather forget. That bitter legacy includes slavery until the Civil War and Jim Crow after, segregation and social torment in the 20th Century, thousands of lynchings in almost every state of the Union from Minnesota to Mississippi continuing into the post-WWII era, and a voting rights law that did not pass until 1965.
On Chicago’s Southside, where Wright and Obama knew their formative years, "blockbusting" was a real estate term for fear mongering about Black families moving into a neighborhood to induce "white flight." Being arrested for a DUI in Chicago was "driving under the influence," but being arrested for a DWB was "driving while Black." The Black family on Chicago’s Southside suffered as a shattered concept subjected to inferior schooling, inferior health care and often abysmal living conditions.
Most Americans probably think the Black "middle passage" refers to a paragraph of text. Obama and Wright do not. The Middle Passage was the mass murder of millions of Africans during their heinous transport to slavery across the Atlantic in ship hulls, a torturous trip that killed almost as many as it delivered for servitude. Slaves and their underpaid emancipated descendants helped build this country for a pittance. Rage at the pulpit resonates for many within the African-American community as Black America understandably carries the credentials of oppression in their vest pockets--out of sight but close to their heart. They never leave home without it--nor would anyone.
Jews don’t forget the Holocaust, Armenians remember the Turkish genocide, and Native Americans know who tried to exterminate their people.
Yet, the Black church is vastly more than a caldron of inspiration via rage. It is also a place of exhilaration for a better way, a new way. Obama says he represents that new way; he is the apostle of "change" and a torch of the new politics. Yet, revelations about his infusion with Pastor Wright represent his tie not to the new century but to the decades-old politics of bitterness, rage and hate.
In a political defense that now ranks with Bill Clinton’s assertion that he "never inhaled" and "never had sex with that woman," Barack claims he was never in the pews when Wright expressed his hateful sermons. Not a few in the media are now scouring Pastor’s Wright’s video tapes to spot Obama’s face in the rollicking crowds, or those much-loved audio tapes Obama so passionately studied to detect bigoted language.
Obama’s defense that he did not know of Pastor’s Wright bigotry is opposed by the record itself. More than a year ago, Obama suddenly uninvited Pastor Wright to offer the invocation at a major campaign event. Wright told The New York Times in March 2007, "Fifteen minutes before Shabbos I get a call from Barack... One of his members had talked him into uninviting me." Wright pointedly chose the Yiddish term Shabbos to refer to the Friday night time of the call.
Wright told The Times, "When his enemies find out that in 1984 I went to Tripoli with Farrakhan, a lot of his Jewish support will dry up quicker than a snowball in hell." He added, that Obama advised, "You can get kind of rough in the sermons, so what we’ve decided is that it’s best for you not to be out there in public."
For Obama it seems like a "lose-lose" situation. Either he has repeatedly lied to the nation about his knowledge of Pastor Wright’s bigotry, or for 20 years he was ignorant of his own mentor’s views even as they were broadcast worldwide every Sunday.
Many critics have long self-censored on Obama’s hate links, even among the Jewish community where sensitivity to any connection Farrakhan runs high. For example, the Anti-Defamation League recently issued a press release that it was satisfied that Obama had disavowed Wright’s race hatred and anti-Zionist fervor. But now, in a weekend interview, ADL national director Abraham Foxman says his view is different. "More is now known," says Foxman. "It is not a casual, one-way way relationship with Pastor Wright." Foxman has joined the growing chorus of disbelief about Obama’s ignorance. "It is very difficult to believe that throughout these years, Obama has been unaware of the conspiracy, bigotry, and anti-Zionist views."
While most in America are worried about playing a race card, Barack Obama has shown he is still carrying around a full deck.
Edwin Black was the first Jewish journalist to interview Minister Louis Farrakhan while on assignment for the Washington Post as part his broad investigation of the Nation of Islam.