Memo To: Bill Kristol, editor, The Weekly Standard
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Malcolm X’s “Murderer”
In your April 20 issue, the Standard’s political gossip column reports that I have been putting distance between myself and Louis Farrakhan because you have not seen me writing in his defense on my website recently. You suggest this is perhaps because I am embarrassed that the Nation of Islam leader who I have befriended and defended in the past two years has now appointed the man convicted of the murder of Malcolm X to be chief of security at the Harlem mosque which Malcolm helped build.
Now I understand you had zero experience as a journalist when you were named editor of the Standard at its founding by Rupert Murdoch, a man I greatly admire, by the way. You do have on your staff several veteran journalists who should know better than to run items of this kind without doing the minimal reporting of a single phone call to verify what you intend to print. Because of my enduring friendship with your father, who I enjoyed lunch with last week in Washington, I would never bring a lawsuit against the Standard while you are editor. If you are dragged into court by others who resent reading falsehoods about themselves in your pages, be assured the judge will be impressed with their argument that your reporters made no attempt to contact them for a statement before running the item in question. I say this as a bit of friendly advice.
If your reporter had called, I would have advised him that I have not slackened one bit in my aggressive defense of Min. Louis Farrakhan, who I believe is a genuine spiritual leader who has not an anti-Semitic or bigoted bone in his body. I would have suggested to your man that he look beyond the home page of my website (www.polyconomics.com) to the TalkShop, where they will see at least a dozen entries by me in the last two months, responding to critics of the minister.
In regard to the issue of the “murderer” of Malcolm X being appointed chief of security at his mosque in Harlem, I would have told your reporter a number of things. First, I did write a note to the editorial page editor of The New York Times, Howell Raines, congratulating the Times for meeting the highest journalistic standards in its report of March 31 by Robert D. McFadden, as the report made it clear in so many words that Muhammad Abdul Aziz may have been innocent of the crime for which he spent 20 years of his life in prison. I append a copy of that memo to this, Bill, so you can see for yourself that I have become even more impressed with Minister Farrakhan, for his being willing to shoulder the public outcry that he knew would surely follow the appointment of Aziz as chief of security at Harlem Mosque No. 7.
Actually, if your reporter had called, I would have mentioned that the Times did get one critical fact wrong in its story, as did the rest of the national press corps. Aziz was not appointed chief of security at the mosque Malcolm X helped build. That mosque remains under the control of the son of the late Elijah Muhammad, which is separate and apart from the Nation of Islam, and which presumably has its own chief of security. You can verify this yourself, if you like. The NOI’s Mosque No. 7 is in another structure which the NOI purchased from a masonic group.
As to the story itself of the murder of Malcolm X, even a casual reading of the Village Voice account in its March 31 issue, which appeared on the newstands a few days before the Times account of the same date, would have alerted your reporter to the likelihood that a great injustice probably did occur in the imprisonment of Aziz. Here is what the record indicates:
1. On Sunday, March 5, 1965, Malcolm X was gunned down in a Harlem ballroom by several men who had plotted to kill him because they were angry at his challenge to the leader of the NOI at the time, the late Elijah Muhammad.
2. Arrested and charged with the murder were three men, all of whom were convicted and sent to prison. Of the three, Tom Hagen is the only one who admitted his role in the killing. At the trial, he said the two who maintained their innocence, Aziz and Khalil Islam, had no part in the plot or the murder. Hagen, though, refused to name the men who were his accomplices and Betty Shabazz, wife of Malcolm X, identified Aziz and Khalil as having been present at the assassination scene. That was sufficient to convict them as Hagen was not believed in asserting their innocence.
3. The late William Kunstler, the prominent lawyer of controversial defendants in that era, had been asked by Hagen to represent him at the trial. Kunstler, who had been close to Malcolm, refused, but later said he regretted the decision. At a chance meeting with Hagen in 1971, when Kunstler became involved in the Attica prison riots and Hagen was in charge of the Muslim inmates guarding the hostages, Hagen told Kunstler he “felt guilty about letting [the two others] rot in jail for something they had not done,” Kunstler wrote in his 1994 book, My Life as a Radical Lawyer. “But he still refused to reveal the names of the other assassins. ‘I’m between a rock and a hard place,’ he told me.”
4. Six years later, in 1977, Hagen, according to Kunstler, searched his conscience and “during a talk with me and Nurridin Faiz, an Islamic cleric, finally gave up the names....” They were four men who, with Hagen, had been members of Mosque No. 25 in Newark.
5. Hagen signed an affidavit which set out in detail how the plot against Malcolm originated. If you would like to see it, Bill, I’ll send it to you. In any case, the New York Supreme Court judge who took the petition from Kunstler rejected the affidavit as insufficient to reopen the case. Kunstler wrote that the judge, the late Harold I. Rothwax, “was determined not to rock the boat.”
6. Among those who came to believe in the innocence of Aziz was National Review publisher William F. Buckley, Jr. He was among a group of prominent Americans who in 1984 petitioned for the parole of Aziz, who was paroled the following year.
7. Until his death, Kunstler worked to clear the name of Aziz. Kunstler came to believe that the refusal to have the case re-opened has been part of a broader plot inside the political establishment to conceal the role of the FBI and its late director, J. Edgar Hoover, in the death of Malcolm X. In a court filing of July 14, 1995, in a case in which he represented Farrakhan as the plaintiff in a civil suit, Kunstler wrote:
There is overwhelming evidence, including that amassed by the Select Senate Committee To Study Governmental Operations With Respect to Intelligence Activities (the Church Committee), 94th Congress, First Session, that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) instigated or encouraged the murder of Malcolm X. After the latter’s death, Director J. Edgar Hoover issued a directive forbidding his agents from participating in the ensuing murder investigation. Significantly, there was a FBI report on January 22, 1969, from the Special Agent in Charge of the Chicago resident agency claiming success in causing or exacerbating “factional disputes” in target organizations, including the Nation of Islam, “the most notable being Malcolm X. Little.” During his tenure and prior to the murder of Malcolm X, Director Hoover often spoke of the need for preventing the rise in this country of what he called “a Black Messiah.”
Part of the mystery surrounding the murder of Malcolm X is that an FBI agent was in the Ballroom at the time of the murder. The suspicions at the Nation of Islam is that an FBI agent had infiltrated their ranks at the Newark mosque and had helped engineer the plot against Malcolm. I have no idea about what is going on here, but this is what is behind the demands that the files be opened. During her lifetime, Malcolm’s widow, Betty Shabazz, opposed the opening of the files, and now her sons oppose the idea as well. These suspicions carry over to demands for the reopening of the files on the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. -- the suspicion that the FBI did more than wiretap Dr. King prior to his death.
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You see, there is a great deal going on here, Bill, which makes your little gossip item look as foolish as it is to those who know what’s going on. Your magazine is a journal of opinion, which means you can be much more subjective in what you say than the news columns of the Times. This does not mean you can continue to operate at the level of a high-school or college periodical and expect to be considered more than a nuisance. You should really not be allowing your imprimatur to be placed on material that does not even qualify as being half-baked. You seem not to realize it, but you are not only responsible for what you write, but for everything that goes into the Standard. If you want it to reach a level of respectability, not to mention greatness, you should begin to set standards for it. Press your editors and reporters to do some serious digging instead of playing wiseguys with their word processors. I could almost guarantee they would, for example, be persuaded that Aziz had his life destroyed because it was convenient to the white power structure of this country, in parallel to what happened to Nelson Mandela in South Africa. If your people dug even deeper, pulling on the string until they got to the end of it, they might actually find a big story that would amount to something.
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Memo To: Howelll Raines, NYTimes
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Malcolm X’s “murderer”
If you write an editorial on Mosque #7, please bear in mind the "murderer" of Malcolm X spent 20 years in prison for a crime everyone knows he did not commit. I met the fellow earlier this year and could not believe how little bitterness there is in him. On the surface, which is all I can attest to, he has a sweet disposition. The Times account was excellent, in that it contained enough information for any unbiased reader to see that the fellow was railroaded by the white power structure. If Farrakhan were political, he would not have approved this. Bad PR. But he is a religious man who will not behave the way white guys want him to behave. It makes my job of "undemonizing" him harder, except it does increase my admiration for Farrakhan, standing by black men he knows have been unjustly treated.