Inciting the most radical elements of fringe Muslim thinking, New Black Panther Party leader Malik Shabazz has developed a discourse that even former allies are dismissing as inexplicable.
Shabazz, a lawyer turned black activist whose rhetoric borrows heavily from namesake Malcolm X, is blaming American presidents from Thomas Jefferson to George W. Bush for the terror attacks that struck the United States on Sept. 11.
Sympathizing with the Taliban, Shabazz and the Muslim scholars and Imams he has gathered around him are likening what he calls Muslim oppression in the Middle East to the discrimination of blacks in America.
"I don’t remember the Taliban calling me nigger anytime recently," Shabazz said. "Bin Laden a terrorist? He’s a terrorist terror produced."
Critics call Shabazz's protestations a stage act to recruit disenfranchised blacks and Muslims.
Unfortunately, this time of national crisis is a boom season for fringe groups, said Rob Sobhani, a Muslim studies expert and professor at Georgetown University.
"This is the best time for radicals to recruit because people who are disenfranchised for one reason or another are perfect prey. This is recruitment by the Black Panthers and the Nation of Islam," Sobhani said.
Shabazz represents a "very narrow slice" of "people who want to bring Islam into political life and speak for Muslims nationally," said Charles Fairbanks, director of Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.
Too often, that slice is riddled with extremists like Shabazz and moderates who may disagree but fear retaliation if they are too vocal, Fairbanks said.
"Muslim leaders need to get on the bandwagon; they need to condemn this forcefully and they are not," Sobhani said.
Those dissenting voices, however, may not be heard over the rant of Shabazz and his clerics. This week, in a four-hour sermon, they upbraided American Muslim groups that ally themselves with President Bush's war on terror. They also declared that those groups are destined for destruction because they believe that America is a democracy.
"This way of life known as Islam will dominate all others. Whether Bush, Bush senior, Clinton or (Russian President Vladimir) Putin … all the oppressors join together. Islam will rise, no matter what," said Imam Abdul Alim Musa, a former jailmate of Black Panther founder Eldridge Cleaver.
Musa, who spent the 1970s in Algerian exile with Cleaver, vows that American democracy will fall to Islam.
Where Does Hate Originate?
But the New Black Panther Party isn't recognizable to old-timers who were there for the first go-around. David Horowitz, a liberal-turned-conservative author who worked alongside the Black Panthers in the '60's, called Shabazz "a real evil guy — he reminds me of a programmed cultist."
"They hate America. They are racist and extremely dangerous," Horowitz said.
And Rev. Al Sharpton, who stood with Shabazz and visited New Black Panther Party founder Khalid Abdul Muhammad before his death in February, declined to speculate what Shabazz was talking about after watching a portion of his videotaped tirade.
The NBPP was established in 1998 by Muhammad, who had been tossed out of the Nation of Islam in 1994 for calling non-black merchants in New York "bloodsuckers and Jews."
The party debuted in Jasper, Texas with guns to protest the murder of a black man named James Byrd, who was dragged to his death.
In 1998, Muhammad borrowed an idea from former colleague Louis Farrakhan to sponsor the "Million Youth March" in New York City to protest racially-charged police brutality cases there. Mayor Rudy Giuliani dubbed the event a "hate march."
Muhammad led the party until earlier this year when he died of a brain aneurysm. He left unfinished a book he was writing entitled The Goddamn White Man.
That's when Shabazz took over, making a name for himself in Washington in part by filing a hate crime charge against a Korean convenience store owner who defended his property against three black teenage girls he claims to have caught shoplifting.
The storeowner paid for his self-defense, which consisted of holding the girls in the store until police arrived, in vandalized property and protest marches outside his store.
But that kind of fight is peanuts compared to the one Shabazz has undertaken since the war on terror began.
When asked if he supported Usama bin Laden in the war against Americans, Shabazz responded, "We should stand by all freedom-loving (people)."
He added that there is no proof that bin Laden or the Taliban had anything to do with Sept. 11 but "there is solid proof that President Bush has inherited the staunch pro-Zionist, pro-Israel callous policy of the destruction of Palestinians."
But living in a nation where free speech is guaranteed means Shabazz is free to preach what he pleases. And so are others.
"They are anti-American and anti-American government. They are the kind of groups we have to speak out against," said Gail Gans, director of the civil rights information center for the Anti-Defamation League.