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Obama candidacy exposes race hatred in America

By Ashahed M. Muhammad
and Richard Muhammad | Last updated: Nov 10, 2008 - 2:42:00 PM

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America’s trial: A post-racial future or more racial division?

Paul Schlesselman (l) and Daniel Cowart (r) are White Supremacists accused of plotting to go on a national killing spree, shooting and decapitating Black people and targeting Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, according to federal authorities.
CHICAGO ( - While the historic presidential campaign of Barack Obama inspired hope in millions of men and women of all races and ethnicities over the past 21 months, his historic run has also revealed the raw underbelly of American racism.

A federal magistrate recently ruled two White supremacists, accused of plotting to kill the Democratic Party leader and dozens of other Blacks, must remain in jail. The magistrate granted an Oct. 30 defense request to delay a hearing in Memphis, Tenn., for 20-year-old Daniel Cowart and 18-year-old Paul Schlesselman. He ordered the two to stay behind bars. Defense lawyers want more time to prepare for a hearing on whether the case is sent to a grand jury. The two are charged with possessing an illegal firearm, planning to steal weapons and threatening a presidential candidate.

Authorities said they plotted a killing spree that would end with attacks on Mr. Obama while dressed in white tuxedoes and top hats. Authorities said the duo planned to kill 102 Blacks and behead 14 victims before a final and likely fatal attempt to get Mr. Obama.

Days before the Nov. 4 election, vandals spray painted racial slurs and threats against Mr. Obama in various locations in San Marcos, an upscale northern San Diego County community. A spokeswoman for the city of San Marcos said the graffiti was found Oct. 30 in at least six locations in the San Elijo Hills neighborhood. One message read “Death to Obama.” A spokeswoman said a vandalism report with a hate-crime enhancement has been filed with the sheriff’s department. The city immediately painted over the vandalism and posted a $1,000 reward.

“This is a shameful display of hate and absolutely will not be tolerated in our community,” said San Marcos Mayor Jim Desmond in a statement.

This photo from a MySpace web page shows Daniel Cowart, 20, of Bells, Tenn. holding a weapon. Federal agents have broken up a plot to assassinate Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill. and shoot or decapitate 102 Black people in a Tennessee murder spree, the ATF said Oct. 27. Daniel Cowart and Paul Schlesselman 18, of West Helena, Ark., are being held without bond. Photo: AP Wide World Photos
Since Mr. Obama’s campaign announcement, the son of a Kenyan father and a White Kansas mother has moved skillfully to avoid and neutralize race as an issue—but the issue was always there.

Little was done to urge Whites to get beyond their racial attitudes, beyond late campaign appeals by labor leaders and others who urged Whites in Pennsylvania and battleground states to set aside racial prejudice for their own well-being and support Mr. Obama.

A mask of civility fell while vicious attacks on his character and death threats had already necessitated heavy 24-hour police protection, an extensive U.S. Secret Service detail and the erection of concrete barriers around his Chicago home.

“There is a (perceived) threat to some White people. The real sad thing is that the element that is frightened by the election of Barack Obama is the group that is going out and buying guns,” Robert T. Starks, a political scientist at Northeastern University in Chicago told The Final Call.

Prof. Starks said the Obama presidential campaign faced a desperate John McCain-Sarah Palin and Republican effort to stoke White fears. “Their (the McCain campaign’s) rhetoric, their hidden messages and innuendo have brought out the racism of some segments of the White community, they have fanned the flames,” said Prof. Starks. It was neither accidental nor unintentional that Republicans began using racially tinged code words, he added.

“I think it was directed to that segment that really understood what that meant,” said Prof. Starks.

In a country where Whites have enjoyed power and privilege, Black advances that smash the idols of White superiority or threaten White power have produced often violent backlashes. Beginning in 1865, the end of the Civil War and slavery and the Reconstruction Period saw Black political progress that spawned night riders, the Ku Klux Klan, Jim Crow laws and Black Codes that turned back the clock. In 1910, when Jack Johnson pummeled and defeated former heavyweight champion James J. Jeffries, a White man, race riots broke out. Black efforts to desegregate schools, businesses and neighborhoods were met with attacks in the 1950s and continued through the 1970s with school bussing. Before Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s record for career home runs in 1974, the star was subjected to death threats because he was Black. Baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn didn’t even show up the night the Ruth record fell.

When the Rev. Jesse Jackson ran for president in the 1980s, death threats were common and the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan dispatched the Fruit of Islam, the men of the Nation of Islam, to protect the civil rights leader in 1984 before Secret Service protection was assigned.

Min. Farrakhan provided guidance to Black America Nov. 2 in a lecture at Mosque Maryam, advising intelligent celebration if Mr. Obama won and restraint if he lost the presidential election. “If brother (Mr. Obama) wins, there will be more joy in the hearts of so many. More than we have ever experienced probably in our lives. ... But then others are going to go out in the street and celebrate with wild joy and revelry as though it was the Red Sox winning the World Series; or the Philadelphia Phillies winning the World Series. But that’s not wise. That’s not wise, because your joy is somebody else’s sadness. And in your moment of revelry, there are those who will be so angry they can’t get to him—but they will get to you.”

“So my counsel to you would be if he wins, rejoice intelligently. Don’t overdo it. Celebrate the praise of God who brought us a mighty long way, and made us in a time like this, to ascend to the highest post in one of the greatest countries in the history of the word. Don’t act foolishly, because Obama’s rise is the rise of all of us who would be risen by his rise, who would be inspired by his rise.”

A spectrum of White discontent, anger

James Ridgeway, a senior Washington correspondent for Mother Jones magazine, reporter for the UK-based Guardian newspaper and author of “Blood in the Face: The Ku Klux Klan, Aryan Nations, Nazi Skinheads and the Rise of a New White Culture,” talked about the White supremacist movement and rising racial discontent among Whites on Democracy Now.

White hate groups publicly predicted an increase and their numbers and influence as Mr. Obama’s political star rose.

“Now, most people think that this movement is kind of like splintered or died out. But, you know, people have said that all along, and the result, when they were saying that, somebody blew up Oklahoma City. So you’ve got to take this seriously,” said Mr. Ridgeway, over broadcast airwaves and the internet Oct. 30.

Democracy Now played a clip of an exchange about the Obama White House run between Steven Boswell, of the National Socialist Movement, a neo-Nazi group, and Mr. Ridgeway. “I hear words coming out of people’s mouths today that I never heard 10 years ago, 15 years ago,” said Mr. Boswell, in the interview. “Average, normal Americans’ mouths, people who have never been involved in the movement. You hear them talking about a new American revolution. You hear them talking about that Obama will be assassinated, that there’s going to be a race war coming up, and we better get ready for it,” said Mr. Boswell.

Hardcore White supremacy groups may not be getting stronger, “but what has happened is that racism in general, racial comments, you know, have come to the surface much more, you know, in greater numbers and more openly, because of the Obama candidacy. And you hear all sorts of racial slurs all over the place. So, this subject, this atmosphere, this kind of racial energy, is very much in evidence. And some of these people undoubtedly are motivated and encouraged by this, you know, that they—it’s hard to know to what extent, but they clearly come forward much more openly than they have in the recent past,” Mr. Ridgeway told Democracy Now host Amy Goodman.

National Public Radio explored the topic of White hatred with Tim Zaal, of Los Angeles. According to NPR, the onetime White supremacist explained that “the split Obama has created is almost generational--between old-school Ku Klux Klan types who are viscerally against a Black man running for president and a new wave of haters. ‘You have the more—kind of strange to say it—progressive White attitude: The worse it gets, the better,’ said Zaal,” NPR reported.

“Zaal says the new generation is particularly focused on what they see as the coming race war. They have been trying to spark one for years. Some think, even hope, that an Obama presidency will do just that. Zaal says some will actually vote for Obama to send the country into a tailspin. ‘The faster this country falls, the sooner White revolution will arise,’ he said,” according to NPR.

There have been some 500 threats made against Mr. Obama’s life with White angst and anger a continued companion to his White House run.

Television ads filled with vicious smears, false attacks and malicious viral internet rumors have run rampant with technological tools like YouTube and a 24-hour global news cycle.

Numerous examples about the cauldron of racial unrest exposed by the Obama movement are available:

• On Oct. 29 on the campus of the University of Kentucky a life-sized likeness of Barack Obama was found hanging from a tree with a noose around its neck. It was the second time a hanging effigy had been reported on the campus in a month.

• Sandra Schultz Newman, a former Pennsylvania Supreme Court judge, sent an e-mail to 75,000 of what she termed “Fellow Jewish Voters” implying that voting for Mr. Obama would be similar to ignoring warning signs that led to the deaths of Jews during WWII Germany at the hands of Adolph Hitler and his military henchmen.

• On Oct. 20 a dead bear covered with Obama campaign signs turned up on the campus of Western Carolina University.

• Fox News Channel along with conservative columnists such as Ann Coulter and Michelle Malkin, radio and television talk show hosts such as Laura Ingraham, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly have incessantly attacked Mr. Obama’s character, and his campaign.

• Influential right wing internet sites, such as The Drudge Report, have taken every opportunity to report negative stories about Mr. Obama. The following headlines were retrieved recently from World Net Daily’s website: “Another Day, Another Terror Tie for Obama,” “Marxist ‘mentor’ Sold Cocaine with Obama” and “Yes, Barack Obama really is a Manchurian Candidate.”

Just days prior to the Democratic National Convention in Denver, The New Yorker magazine published a “satirical” cover depicting Mr. Obama and his wife Michelle as terrorist sympathizers. Liz Trotta, a former editor with the Washington Times and a Fox News analyst implied that Mr. Obama should be assassinated. She later apologized. The Roswell Beacon newspaper in Georgia ran a cover with Mr. Obama in the cross hairs of a rifle causing a great deal of controversy. Members of the Republican Jewish coalition admitted sponsoring a negative poll about Barack Obama which reportedly included leading questions regarding his relationship with pro-Palestinian activists and professors in an effort to scare Jewish voters. Sen. Hilary Clinton was roundly denounced for hinting that a possible assassination attempt was reason enough to stay in the Democratic primary through the summer.

Intense scrutiny of the Obama relationship with Rev. Jeremiah Wright, a loose Obama association with Prof. William Ayers, formerly of the Weather Underground, and his supposed reliance on pro-Palestinian advisors such as Prof. Rashid Khalidi has spread through right-wing radio and television talk shows.

While many Whites have accepted the elevation and success of some Blacks, polls show White views of Blacks remain highly negative.

Dr. Maya Rockeymoore
Dr. Maya Rockeymoore, president and CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based think-tank Global Policy Solutions said the election offered a “fascinating look at how issues of race, ethnicity and religion are playing out in America.”

“Clearly we have a generational divide in terms of people’s perspective on race relations in this county. Younger people don’t necessarily see the country in Black and White terms as the older generations have in the past, so we see an historic turning to the Barack Obama campaign by younger voters who don’t necessarily have the baggage. At the same time we have seen that race is still a factor,” Dr. Rockeymoore told The Final Call.

She cited “racially tinged” comments by Sen. Clinton when she referred to “hard working White Americans” in the last days of the Democratic primary, and the “palling around with terrorists” charge repeated by Gov. Palin, the GOP vice presidential pick.

White denial of racism

Author and anti-racism activist Tim Wise, recently in Chicago for the State of Race Conference, told The Final Call those who believe an Obama presidency will “somehow usher in the end of racism in the U.S. would be mistaken because the success of one individual does not eliminate the social reality experienced by millions.

“Sexism and patriarchy were not eradicated in Pakistan just because Benazir Bhutto won not (only) once but twice in that nation. Sexism was not eradicated in Israel or India or Great Britain just because all three of those in addition to Pakistan have had female heads of state. Anyone who would suggest that patriarchy had been vanquished in those four nations just because they had women run the government would be laughed at,” said Mr. Wise.

Referring to himself as a “White ally in the struggle” Mr. Wise said many Caucasian people would rather believe Elvis is still alive than acknowledge the existence of racism and inequality faced by many Black and Brown people.

“This denial amongst the dominant group is one of the primary impediments to building the kind of cross racial unity we need to create social and economic justice,” he argued. “If we are going to create unity in the struggle against racism, we have to be clear-headed about that thing (racism) and its continued persistence in our culture.

“And we are going to have to learn how to express the truth of that persistence to those who want to look at the symbolic victories of individual people of color as evidence of institutional victory against this systemic and structural larger phenomenon.”

Signs of a post racial future?

Tonja Styles, founder and CEO of, said the success of the Obama campaign points directly to his vision and message. “He represents what America looks like now because things are no longer Black and White. You have so many mixed heritages and mixed races,” Ms. Styles said. She believes the recent threats against him represent “an old racist mindset that is dying out.”

Mr. Wise agreed that there have been signs of racial change, but cautioned against complacency.

“On the one hand it has brought a lot of that to the surface which is ugly to see, on the other hand, there are people I know who have worked on Obama’s campaign—White folks—who were activists for years, but they did not necessarily see the level of racism and we would actually argue about it (because) they sort of had a Pollyanna attitude. Then they began canvassing and making phone calls and dealing with some of the overt (racism) and found it eye opening. The one really positive thing from an activist and organizing perspective is a lot of young White folks have now been made aware of just how raw some of this racism is (and) they are now going to be much better positioned to be stronger allies.”

“What they (Whites) fear is that Black people will do to them, what they have done to Black people,” said Prof. Starks. “The great majority of White America is looking for change and wants change and we can certify that reality by the tremendous following of White Americans and all creeds and colors flocking to his (Mr. Obama’s) rallies.”

Minister Farrakhan, in a message delivered from the newly renovated Mosque Maryam and viewed via internet webcast across the United States and the world on Nov. 2, delivered a sobering reminder to those who aspire to lead this nation.

“Whoever becomes president will become president at the time of the fall of America and the fall of the present world,” said Min. Farrakhan. “Whoever will be president will lead America in a time of tremendous crisis. America does have the power to change the world, but America has to be changed.”

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)