Killing the Messenger explores Black Muslim ideology and the cycles of brutality
The legacy of brutal racism in this country, particularly against African Americans, shapes the events of today. That's a notion that much of white America resists accepting, particularly conservatives. But actions create reactions, hatred begets hatred, and those cycles can roll forward endlessly and manifest in unpredictable ways.
That's one of the most compelling lessons in local journalist Thomas Peele's gripping and insightful new book, Killing the Messenger: A Story of Radical Faith, Racism's Backlash, and the Assassination of a Journalist (2012, Crown), which grew out of covering the aftermath of the 2007 murder of Oakland journalist Chauncey Bailey by members of Your Black Muslim Bakery.
Bailey was killed to prevent him from writing a story in the Oakland Post about the violence and financial crimes perpetrated by followers of the late Yusuf Bey and his sons, including Yusuf Bey IV (aka Fourth). Peele and other local journalists and media outlets (including the Bay Guardian) formed the Chauncey Bailey Project to build on the work Bailey began and investigate his murder, which Fourth was convicted last year of ordering.
"The free press on which the public depends to keep it informed had been attacked," Peele wrote. While such murders are rare in the U.S. — the last was a Mafia hit on a reporter from Arizona in 1976 — Peele and his brethren considered it important to send the message that, "A story could not be killed by killing a journalist."
But the story that emerges from Peele's years-long investigation goes well beyond Bailey's murder, its flawed investigation by the Oakland Police Department, the violence and hypocrisy of the Your Black Muslim Bakery "cult," or its long and complex relationship with Oakland's political and community leaders.
Peele delves deeply into the 80-plus-year history of the Nation of Islam and Black Muslim ideology, dissecting its turbulent evolution and belief system that white people are "devils," created by a mad scientist named Big-Headed Yakub, who use "tricknology" to hide the truth that African Americans are superior beings who will be spared during a coming Armageddon inflicted by a spaceship that has long circled the earth — a belief system that Malcolm X rejected after taking a hajj to Mecca and shortly before his assassination.
Peele dismisses the entire religion — which has very little in common with true Islam — as a deceptive scam from its inception, devised by the "con man" W.D. Fard and promoted by Elijah Muhammad simply to enrich its leaders by manipulating poor African Americans. Similarly, Yusuf Bey spoke the language of black empowerment in founding his own breakaway Black Muslim sect in North Oakland then used it as cover for criminal enterprises and raping the women under his control over a period of decades.
But to understand the appeal of Black Muslims preaching hatred of white devils, you have to look at the African American experience and horrible racism and violence that black people have endured in this country, as Peele does. He starts in Depression-era Detroit, where Fard and Muhammad met amid the virulent racism against Southern blacks who migrated north to work in Henry Ford's automobile factories.
"This is the question of the psychology of race," legendary attorney Clarence Darrow said during the Detroit murder trial of blacks defending their home against an attacking white mob, which Peele uses to great effect. "Of how everything known to a race affects its actions. What we learn as children we remember — it gets fastened to the mind. I would not claim that the people outside the Sweet house were bad. But they would do to Negroes something they would not do to whites. It's their race psychology."