The vengeance of Malcolm X

Black leader's daughter stands accused of plotting to kill her father's enemy

David Usborne
Sunday 22 January 1995 01:02

THOUGH Charles "37X" Kenyatta does not know exactly what to make of the latest twist in the Malcolm X assassination story, he thinks it smells bad. Fingering a bronze necklace medallion in the likeness of the slain black leader, he observes: "The re is something going on here that is very dangerous."

Mr Kenyatta has a personal interest. For three years, he was a bodyguard of Malcolm X and was alongside him that winter night in 1965 when the civil rights agitator, now a street icon, was assassinated by Black Muslim gunmen in Harlem's Audubon Ballroom.The barrage of bullets became one of the most vivid and painful moments in black American history. Last week, almost exactly 30 years later, the history abruptly became contemporary again.

In a courtroom in Minneapolis on Wednesday, grave charges were brought against a 34-year-old black woman who was also in the Audubon that day. Qubilah Shabazz, Malcolm X's daughter, was only four when she witnessed her father's murder. Now she is accusedof having plotted over several months to kill Louis Farrakhan, leader of the extremist Nation of Islam movement, with which Malcolm X broke in a bitter dispute shortly be his death.

It might have been nothing more than a poignant postscript to the Malcolm X legend. The family has always held that Farrakhan ordered the Audubon execution. Betty Shabazz, Malcolm's widow, implicated Farrakhan openly in a television interview last year. "Nobody kept it a secret," she said. "It was a badge of honour. Everybody talked about it."

If the passage of years have failed to erase the memory of what a little girl saw, some might even forgive Shabazz for wanting still to avenge her father.

But the case, expected to come to trial in March, has sent a high-voltage shock through the African-American community. It will matter for many reasons. First, it will return attention to Farrakhan, who has emerged as arguably black America's most visib l e and most controversial leader -not least because of the vacuum created by the crumbling of other black movements, Secondly, it will reopen the explosive question of what role the FBI might have played in deliberately undermining black unity. Mr Kenyatta, who, with Malcolm X, abandoned the Nation of Islam in 1964 and today is a Baptist minister, is among those who gives credence to the Farrakhan theory, noting the intense jealousy Farrakhan and others in the NOI felt towards Malcolm X as his prominence grew in 1965.

"Farrakhan wanted Malcom's spot. There is no question about it. He wanted Malcolm's spot," he said. Consequently, he would have some sympathy with Shabazz if she were found guilty. "If it's true, it's understandable." The possibility that Farrakhan may have been involved in the Audubon execution is highlighted in a documentary film, Brother Minister. the Assassination of Malcolm X, recently released in New York.

The film, now certain to get wide attention, includes previously unseen footage of Farrakhan excoriating the memory of Malcolm X during a speech in 1993. "If we dealt with him like a nation deals with a traitor, what the hell business is it of yours?" heis seen bellowing to followers. Before the assassination, Farrakhan wrote: "The die is set and Malcolm shall not escape. Such a man is worthy of death."

Most of the African-American leadership expressed scepticism, however, over the case against Ms Shabazz. According to federal prosecutors, she plotted Farrakhan's assassination for seven months, moving to Minneapolis from New York last September, hiring

a hit-man and making a first down-payment. The pair allegedly planned to kill Farrahkan in Chicago, where his movement is based. Ms Shabazz has pleaded not guilty.

Even Farrakhan himself declared last week that he considered her innocent, and expressed sympathy for the Shabazz family. He voiced the suspicion that Malcolm X's daughter, described as shy and a recluse, was the victim of an FBI set-up. Thus he resurrected the old and widely held belief that the FBI helped sow the hatred that led to Malcolm X's death, and deliberately hung back from protecting him. Evidence pointing to FBI complicity is detailed in the Brother Minister film.

"The old, false, filthy propaganda campaign has been dug up, dusted off and redirected, this time against Louis Farrakhan," the NOI head declared from the pulpit of his mosque in Chicago. "The US government is frustrated because there's no basis to bringme into a court of law, to try me on charges of Malcolm's murder." And he added: "It is easy to set a trained set-up artist to manipulate her [Ms Shabazz's] emotions in a diabolical scheme."

The more that is learned of the case against her, the more questionable it seems. The would-be hit-man she is said to have contacted was revealed to be an old high-school classmate, Michael Fitzpatrick, who has been under the government witness protection programme and has acted before for the FBI as an informant and agent provocateur. The identity and history of Fitzpatrick, who went into witness protection after taking part in a Jewish Defense League bombing of a Soviet bookshop in Manhattan in the late 1970s, has emboldened defence lawyers to accuse the government of a set-up designed principally to undermine Farrakhan, perhaps even to have him killed.

Among those making the argument is William Kunstler, who is famed for his work on black civil rights case and who rushed to Ms Shabazz's aid last week in Minneapolis. "I think what we will find out from this bizarre case is that there was set in motion aplan to cause the assassination, if possible, of Louis Farrakhan, but it was a plan set by the bureau, the FBI, and not by this defendant," he said.

Jack Baxter, director of Brother Minister, considers the possibility of another FBI set-up at least conceivable. "The divisions, the hatred and the jealousy, none of it has subsided even after 30 years. If the FBI decided to drop a little seed just to see if it would grow, it's worked."

Acording to leaks from prosecution sources reported in Minneapolis, videotapes recorded by the FBI apparently show Ms Shabazz opposing some of the plans for the assassination laid by Fitzgerald, and leave open which of the two was the main mover behind the plot. It is also reported, however, that she signed a statement in December admitting guilt.

It was Malcolm X who shocked America in 1963 when he suggested that history's chickens always "come home to roost". He was suggesting the assassination of JFK was the fruit of white violence against blacks. What is intriguing now is whether the case against Ms Shabazz will lead back to the chickens that escaped from the Audubon Ballroom 30 years ago - perhaps to Farrakhan; perhaps to the government of the United States.

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