Khallid Abdul Muhammad, condemned nationally by most black and white leaders as a racist hatemonger, was greeted with fervent applause Saturday night by a mostly black audience of more than 1,000 in a Crenshaw district theater.
Muhammad--fired last year from his job as a senior aide to Louis Farrakhan, head of the Nation of Islam--displayed once again his strident brand of black nationalism that is routinely laced with condemnation of Jews.
Contending that blacks have suffered more than Jews at the hands of oppressors ("the black holocaust is one hundred times worse than any other holocaust," he said at one point), Muhammad quickly launched into the kind of name-calling and racial mockery that has earned him national enmity.
"Don't let those bagel-eating, hooked-nosed . . . wanna-be Jews make you think" that Jews have been persecuted more than blacks.
He also read a list of prominent Jewish entertainment and news media executives, denouncing most of them for promoting negative images of blacks.
Wearing long, royal-blue robes over a crisp white shirt, Muhammad theatrically listed some of the most tragic episodes in the history of black people in America, starting with the horrors of the slave ship crossings. As his voice rose in indignation, insisting that recognition of black suffering had been repressed, the crowd applauded and shouted words of agreement.
By the time he came to one of his most emotional statements--"the worst crime that can be committed is to be robbed of self-knowledge"--the audience erupted in frenzied applause and screams of agreement that nearly drowned out Muhammad's voice.
There were also moments of dark humor. Arguing that Jesus was black, Muhammad said: "The Bible said Jesus would have hair like lamb's wool, that nappy hair . . . I'm talking about a black lord, a black Jesus, a black savior. Take that cracker down off your wall and throw him in the garbage."
The audience screamed in delight.
The crowd that came to see Muhammad did so out of a mixture of curiosity and almost-religious support.
The believers said Muhammad had touched a strong chord among American blacks and that his strength was his appeal to black self-sufficiency, not racism--and that some of his outrageousness should be taken figuratively.
"He's telling black people to rise and take care of ourselves," said UCLA student Susan Leach, 21. "I believe in everything he says. I think it's white people who make the controversy."
"He's not anti-Semitic or racist," said Patrick Pritchett, 41. "How could he be? How can the first people on earth be racist or anti-Semitic?"
There were a smattering of white faces in the audience.
"I'm curious to hear him in person," said Farley Ziegler, 31, as she waited in line outside the Vision Complex Theatre.
An 18-year-old black woman standing behind Ziegler patted her arm. "Good answer," said Michelle Clary of San Diego. "Thank you."
"I agree with a lot of the things he says," Clary added, "but like her (Ziegler), I want to see for myself."
Outside the theater, the Crenshaw neighborhood took on the air of a street festival, intensified by a rally held in adjacent Leimert Park by a group called the All-African People's Revolutionary Party.
Inside the hall, all members of the crowd and the press were frisked for weapons. Women's handbags were searched, and all objects, including pens and makeup containers, were scrutinized. When the speeches began, the crowd was treated to what seemed like a cross between the impassioned spirit of a rally and the fervor of a church meeting.
Muhammad was preceded onstage by actor Wesley Snipes, who was sitting in the front row, and rapper Ice-T gave a rousing speech.
Also onstage were such guests as Georgiana Williams, the mother of Los Angeles riot defendant Damian Monroe Williams, and Celes King, a well-known bail bondsman and former president of the Los Angeles Human Relations Commission and the Los Angeles chapter of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People. At one point, speakers asked for money to reimburse the sponsoring organization, the Crenshaw Improvement Assn., for the cost of renting the hall.
Although Muhammad has no problem filling lecture halls at $10,000 a speech, he rarely finds vocal public support, and last week in Los Angeles was no exception.
One local community activist who supports Muhammad refused to speak about him for attribution, for fear that financial benefactors, local and national, would be outraged by his connection to someone perceived as "anti-Semitic, racist or violent in overtone."
The owner of the Vision Complex, actress Marla Gibbs, said she leased it because "it's a rental. I'd rent it to you if you wanted to speak. I'm not connected to it."
Most established scholars say that in their bitter analysis of oppression and racism against blacks, Muhammad and the Nation of Islam have many of their statistics wrong.
The academics Muhammad admires and quotes are members of established universities, but are coming increasingly under fire for their own anti-Semitic views. Muhammad also uses as a source the Nation of Islam's "The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews"--a book Henry Louis Gates Jr., a Harvard professor and chairman of the school's Afro-American studies department, has called "the bible of the new anti-Semitism."