Farrakhan, Facebook, and the fight for freedom
By Starla Muhammad Managing Editor
CHICAGO—Livid. Outraged. Undeterred and determined. These are just a few words describing what Black folks, supporters and allies of Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan, proponents of free speech, freedom of expression and truth felt and expressed.
They were responding to social media giant Facebook’s decision to shut down and remove social media accounts of the world-renowned Muslim leader.
The decision to ban the Minister’s worldwide social media presence and growing appeal was met with swift rebuke and condemnation not only from members of the Nation of Islam and Black people, but from people of various ethnicities, religions, political ideologies and backgrounds.
On May 2 Facebook announced a ban on the accounts of Min. Farrakhan; Alex Jones of InfoWars who has been called America’s leading conspiracy theorist; right-wing pundits Milo Yiannopoulos and Laura Loomer, Joseph Watson, of InfoWars; Paul Nehlen, described as a White supremacist who ran twice unsuccessfully for Congress; and InfoWars. The ban also includes their accounts on Instagram, which is owned by Facebook.
“We’ve always banned individuals or organizations that promote or engage in violence and hate, regardless of ideology,” Facebook said in a statement. “The process for evaluating potential violators is extensive and it is what led us to our decision to remove these accounts today,” the statement continued.
With no record of violence perpetrated or inflicted by Min. Farrakhan or by the thousands of men, women and children under his leadership over the past four decades against Whites, Jews, LBGTQ community or people of different religious ideologies—the move to ban him and equate the 85-year-old leader with White nationalists and White supremacists with a history of violence was baffling, a false equivalence and outright wrong, noted observers.
Minsiter Farrakhan with rapper 2 Chainz
Celebrities and well-known Black movers and shakers joined the chorus of critics, voicing their displeasure, anger, frustration and support of the Minister on social media including rapper Snoop Dogg, activist and media personality Jeff Johnson, rapper 2Chainz, singer Stephanie Mills, social media and internet personality King Keraun, comedian and radio host D.L. Hugley, civil rights attorney Ben Crump and others. Don Enoch Muhammad, an aide to Min. Farrakhan facilitated several interviews with entertainers to share with The Final Call, their thoughts on the controversial social media ban.
Hip hop star T.I. told The Final Call via email that he thinks the decision by Facebook is unfair and unconstitutional. “It’s baffling to me how you make a decision that seems to be imposed at your discretion and not applied equally; and then cite your policies against dangerous individuals and organizations. It’s perplexing because there is no voice more dangerous in the world right now than that of the sitting president. So, to remove some and not allow others to remain is unacceptable,” responded T.I.
Actor, TV host, producer and businessman Nick Cannon told The Final Call the move was careless and not well thought out.
“In my opinion the Honorable Minister Farrakhan has only spoke truth and only spoke to what’s right and that scares a lot of these major corporations,” said Mr. Cannon.
Efforts to silence Min. Farrakhan on social media and other online platforms dates back to June 8, 2018 when Twitter, Inc. de-verified his Twitter account (@LouisFarrakhan) by removing his blue verification badge which lets people know that “an account of public interest is authentic and a verified badge does not imply an endorsement by Twitter,” noted the website. The Minister’s Twitter account is still active. Weeks later on July 31, 2018 and less than 24 hours before airing “My Life’s Journey Through Music”—a documentary on the Minister, the Nation of Islam became aware through news and online outlets that Netflix decided not to air it due to “internal miscommunication.”
Activists and leaders in Chicago, home of the international headquarters of the Nation of Islam, expressed concern with these latest developments.
“I am just appalled that they would ban him from Facebook when they have so many people who are spreading real venom in this country and to single him out along with a few other people, it seems to me that Facebook is again floundering in what they ought to be doing in this medium,” said Dorothy Leavell, publisher of the Chicago Crusader, the Gary Crusader in Gary, Indiana, and chair of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), an organization that represents over 200 Black-owned newspapers including The Final Call, which was founded by Min. Farrakhan in 1979.
“I’m personally appalled but the good thing about it is that the Minister speaks to those people that believe in what he says, including the Black Press. He’s a member of our National Newspaper Publishers Association and we revere his membership and we support him 100 percent, so Facebook better get ready because we’re going to be supporting him.”
Congressman Danny Davis (D-Ill.) in the past has worked with Min. Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam, but last year was one of several Black congresspersons forced to denounce him following pressure from the Republican Jewish Coalition. When contacted by The Final Call on May 3, Rep. Davis stated he was not aware of the Facebook ban but said he would “certainly look into it” and raise the issue at the next scheduled meeting of the Congressional Black Caucus on May 8.
“I will certainly raise it at that point, but I don’t know what their (Facebook) allegations are, what the rationale is or what they’re saying. I really have not heard about it until Ira Cohen told me, but I will definitely look into it,” he said. Mr. Cohen is Rep. Davis’ communications director.
Min. Farrakhan greets his longtime friend and ally Father Michael Pfleger of St. Sabina.
Father Michael Pfleger, pastor of St. Sabina Church in Chicago, is a longtime friend of Minister Farrakhan and said the Minister’s mission is to expose the injustices and evil done to Black people.
The activist priest, who is White, called Min. Farrakhan his brother and said he would “take a bullet” for him.
“The Minister’s Instagram and Facebook page allows him to get his message out. And, if they can stop his message from getting out, and they can now in social media and the established media can try to define his message, that’s the very dangerous part to me … that they decide how they’re going to frame his message,” he told The Final Call.
At Final Call presstime, it was announced there will be an open community rally to give people the chance to show their love and support for Min. Farrakhan, including an official response to the ban by the Nation of Islam, on May 9 at St. Sabina, 1210 W. 78th Place at 7:00 p.m.
Hypocrisy at its finest and a false equivalency
The irony that U.S. President Donald Trump—who has called for and advocated and promoted violence against his political rallies, and admitted sexually assaulting women—has weaponized Twitter as a tool to denigrate perceived adversaries was not been lost on those questioning the decision to ban Min. Farrakhan.
Additionally, the Minister has been threatened on social media by those calling for his death and harm. It is unknown whether accounts of individuals that have threatened the Minister on social media—including an Akron, Ohio, police officer who asked on his personal Facebook page asking why someone had not “offed” the Nation of Islam leader—have had their accounts shut down or banned.
Mr. Cannon said to try and categorize Min. Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam with “far right-wing” or “White supremacist” doctrine is unfair.
“I think it comes from a place of ignorance where someone can mistake truth for hate and I have never witnessed the Honorable Minister Farrakhan speak and do anything hateful; wish anything hateful or incite or even allude to anything violent in any type of nature like some of those other groups actually hang their hat on. I’ve only heard Minister Farrakhan speak to his community as what we need to do as individuals, as Black men and Black women, as families,” said Mr. Cannon.
Min. Farrakhan, T.I. and Mustapha Farrakhan
T.I. said he thinks those comparisons demonstrates a lack of understanding for Min. Farrakhan’s mission and his purpose.
“Those that take progressive steps are often misunderstood, especially when they regularly inconvenience others. Min. Farrakhan doesn’t fit neatly into anyone’s agenda; and thus is often perceived and mislabeled as ‘dangerous,’ ” observed T.I.
Finance expert Dr. Boyce Watkins said the actions leveled at Min. Farrakhan are just another example of “White folks being White folks,” but agreed with many who opined that this ban on the Minister presents an opportunity for Black people.
The most important outcome that could result from this ban is the development and support of Black-owned media and social media platforms, he argued.
Charlamagne Tha God, author and one third of the trio of hosts of “The Breakfast Club,” a popular national hip hop morning show that airs on Hot 105.1 FM, agrees. He told The Final Call that though he does not agree with censorship there is another way to view what is happening.
“Especially a company like Facebook that’s made a living off peoples thoughts, people’s opinions, people’s ideas. They’ve made a living off the concept of Free Speech. I just thought that was a little hypocritical of them,” he told The Final Call.
“But then I had to step back and say to myself, OK Facebook is a private company so they have the right to do that if they choose and when I started thinking about it from that perspective in my mind all I immediately said was it’s just another reason as to why we need to have our own,” said Charlamagne.
Dr. Ava Muhammad, student national spokesperson for Min. Farrakhan said these latest actions further confirm the position of the Nation of Islam that the highest law of the land in the U.S. is not the Constitution but is the law of White supremacy.
“The Honorable Elijah Muhammad and Minister Louis Farrakhan’s continuing demand for the freedom to establish a separate state or territory of our own emanates from this type of oppressive action. We will never know freedom, justice and equality because we are not allowed to think, speak nor are we allowed to listen to who we chose to listen to and therefore it is essential that we follow the commands of God though the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and his National Representative to go for self.”
A blessing in disguise?
According to Facebook, those banned from the platforms will be prohibited from creating new accounts, although Facebook and Instagram users will continue to be able to create posts praising them and their viewpoints, reported theverge.com.
But Facebook has also said it will remove those who praise those that the platform deems dangerous.
When the ban was announced, Min. Farrakhan began trending on Twitter, said Jesse Muhammad, his social media director. According to Jesse Muhammad he received no notification from Instagram prior to the Minister’s account being shut down. He was not aware of what happened until he began receiving notifications from others that follow the Minister on social media inside and outside of the Nation of Islam.
Regarding the Facebook page, it was removed while Jesse Muhammad was in the middle of updating the page on May 2 when it was shut down. Media had already been reporting the page was being shut down before he was notified, he said.
“About 2 o’clock CST they did send me a notification right when they completely removed it. I was on the page putting out a notification on behalf of the Minister as his web team social media director and as soon as I put that notification out to people to join the Nation of Islam’s email list to stay connected in case the page would be taken down, when I refreshed within seconds it was gone and they (Facebook) sent me a notification.”
The enemy knows that social media has freed the Minister to be able to reach and impact millions of people worldwide, he explained.
“We anticipated this time coming and we’re in no ways wallowing in grief or dismayed or sad. This is fuel to fight harder with truth!”
Russell Simmons Photo: Haroon Rajaee
Russell Simmons, businessman and legendary hip hop executive and record label owner, told The Final Call this encourages people to continue posting Min. Farrakhan’s messages on their individual social media accounts to keep spreading his message.
Facebook boasts 2.23 billion users worldwide and is the most popular worldwide social network site. Instagram has over one billion users. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg reportedly boasts a net worth of over $72 billion.
Facebook is no stranger to controversy and accusations of censorship. According to a December 30, 2017 article written by Glenn Greenwald for The Intercept, an online news publication, a year before Facebook representatives were meeting with the Israeli government to determine which Facebook accounts of Palestinians should be deleted on the ground they constituted “incitement.”
“The predictable results of those meetings are now clear and well-documented. Ever since, Facebook has been on a censorship rampage against Palestinian activists who protest the decades-long, illegal Israeli occupation, all directed and determined by Israeli officials,” wrote Mr. Greenwald in the article, “Facebook Says It Is Deleting Accounts at the Direction of the U.S. and Israeli Governments.” The article goes on to reveal that Facebook censorship was extensive when it came to suspending and shutting down pages of Palestinian activists but, “Israelis have virtually free rein to post whatever they want about Palestinians,” the Intercept article reported in part.
Other Black activists have also accused the social media giant, stating that posting about racism is censored as hate speech. “Black activists say hate speech policies and content moderation systems formulated by a company built by and dominated by white men fail the very people Facebook claims it’s trying to protect. Not only are the voices of marginalized groups disproportionately stifled, Facebook rarely takes action on repeated reports of racial slurs, violent threats and harassment campaigns targeting black users,” reported USA Today in an April 24 article, “Facebook while black: Users call it getting ‘Zucked,’ say talking about racism is censored as hate speech.”
“I believe that Zuckerberg or whoever was really directly involved in the decision believes that they’re justified because they have refused to listen to truth and it makes their stomach hurt especially when we start talking about the condition of Black people. We’ve always had leaders who wouldn’t tell us the truth and lay it out for us and they’ve been controlled by their jobs, the corporations that fund them. So when the Minister says ‘I’m a free Black man’ and then says the truth they take it as if it’s an attack on them when he’s a unifier. He talks about the higher calling of all human beings. No matter what they say about him whenever they say it, I always post his speeches and things I think the Black community needs to hear all over my Facebook page, my Instagram, all the time,” said Mr. Simmons.
A lot of rappers with millions and millions of followers on social media are posting Min. Farrakhan’s image, he continued. Mr. Simmons said he has also noticed quite a few people posting #Farrakhan on their social media pages.
“Any one person can be #IamFarrakhan that’s not hard. … You can’t stop him from speaking to the people and we did the Million Man March without them! There was no social media,” said Mr. Simmons referring to the October 16, 1995 gathering of nearly two million Black men in Washington, D.C., for a day of atonement and reconciliation that was called by the Minister.
“I don’t see it as a setback, I see it as a branding exercise and a growth process for him. A blessing in disguise.”
For critics and adversaries that attempt to fit Min. Farrakhan into a particular box based on their limited understanding, misunderstanding or outright opposition, it is a mistake, said observers.
Min. Farrakhan has an undeniable passion for his people and their struggles, explained T.I.
“I think that I have been able to, over the years hear a man thinking through things (many times out loud) to find his truth. I believe he has shown us and continues to show us (and tell us in various ways), that his journey has been about finding a way … his own way … of serving the good of his people and of humanity,” added the platinum recording artist, actor and family man.
Dr. Mark Stevens of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity was blunt, telling The Final Call the Minister has been banned from Facebook “simply because he and his followers are Black.” The Omegas’ inducted Min. Farrakhan as a full lifetime member of the fraternity earlier this year.
“He is a righteous man of integrity and strength who has sought to uplift and empower and enlighten all people who believe and pursue justice and equality. It is ironic and hypocritical that Facebook, a powerful social media tool which allows posts which are devoid of morality now seeks to silence the voice of morality. This is the same entity which invades the privacy of its members for financial gain and is little more than a capitalistic tool. It is Facebook that put this democracy in peril by failing to vette accounts,” Dr. Stevens told The Final Call.
Hip hop legend Busta Rhymes told The Final Call the ban was frustrating and disappointing. “For me, I looked forward to waking up and feeding my mind, body and soul with going to the Minister’s Instagram page. I’m not really a Facebook individual but I go to Instagram pretty much every morning just to grab a jewel from the Minister,” he said.
However, Busta Rhymes pointed out there is so much content online by Min. Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam to repost and share. “The Minister has such a significant impact on all walks of life, culture and races. This ban on Facebook and Instagram really has had no impact other than the Minister being able to give us a direct feed. His presence now probably with them doing that has made the Minister that much more of a presence,” he pointed out.
“Now what they have done has brought so much more attention and light to the Brother Minister that it backfired! They was better off leaving him alone!” said the hip hop veteran.
It’s not just well-known people coming to the defense of Min. Farrakhan and condemning the actions by Facebook. Venus Hill is a flight attendant and lives in Long Island. She is also a Jehovah’s Witness. Ms. Hill told The Final Call, she was “outraged.” Though she practices a different faith tradition she has listened to Min. Farrakhan, attended a few of his addresses “to learn and to be educated and to know and choose.
“The fact that I am a different faith doesn’t mean I don’t want to know what’s going on. When I hear what he says it’s similar to what we preach and teach. Now there are some differences but nothing that would cause me to think that this is going to incite any riot; that this is going to make me to want to go out and kill or this is going to cause me to go to a school and shoot up children or go into synagogues and churches and do all these things that we see people are doing right now. None of that.”
William Spiller of Chicago is a course development trainer and was so angry after seeing the reports of the ban that he called The Final Call to share his concerns.
“I am totally outraged that they would deem and even try to suggest that Min. Farrakhan is preaching hate and that he is not someone that should be represented on Facebook or any other media. He preaches the truth ... information he gives is life changing. It has saved me and my family and I am just really outraged,” said Mr. Spiller.
“I even named my youngest boy after Min. Farrakhan because of the life-giving teachings he gives and how he helped to change my life and me in turn helping to raise my five boys that I’m raising.”
As one Facebook user posted in part, “Farrakhan was loved before social media existed! To ban him you have to ban us all!”
(Final Call staff contributed to this report.)