RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - The Southern Poverty Law Center listed the Nation of Islam as one of three hate groups in Central Virginia, a title the group strongly denies. The group is now the latest focus of an NBC12 series on "Hate in Virginia," and while that is a sensitive topic, this report's aim is to help open up more of a dialogue.
The N.O.I. is a religious organization or movement founded in 1930. The group has a thriving community in the heart of downtown Richmond. It has grown into one of the wealthiest and most infamous organizations in America given what some call their anti-white and anti-gay rhetoric.
"Their goal is to destroy America," said Craig Johnson, a former member of a black separatist group, and offshoot of the Nation of Islam. "These people are poverty pimps. They need hatred, anger and ignorance in order to thrive."
"They are a racist separatist group," said Don Blake with the Virginia Christian Alliance.
But, these are all claims Minister Tracy Muhammad, Virginia's representative of the organization's leader Minister Louis Farrakhan, condemns.
"I'm not anti anything. I'm pro black! There is not one act of hate or violence that is documented or cataloged anywhere," said Muhammad.
"We have picked cotton. We have picked tobacco. We have fought in all of the wars, but people say that was 50 years ago…come on move into the 21st century. We are still getting shot down in the streets of America in the 21st century. Tamir Rice. Eric Garner. Trayvon Martin," said Muhammad.
"But, the poverty pimps cannot allow the scabs of racism to heal because if they ever allow it to heal guess what? Jesse Jackson. Louis Farrakhan. Al Sharpton. They gotta go get a real job," said Johnson.
But the Nation of Islam insists there is still real work to be done. They point to their gathering of more than 1 million men and women demanding "justice or else" at the nation's capital as proof of a real longing for change.
"America has never atoned for her sins against black people," said Muhammad. "Even when the conversation of reparations is even brought up, there are those who say it wasn't me. I didn't do it."
"The Christian West ended slavery. That should be reparations enough, and furthermore, in the United States of America, it was the Republican party, so put that in your pipe and smoke it," said Johnson.
"We may start our own party called the Justice party," said Muhammad, who adds that's thanks in part to the rise of the latest Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump.
"If elected, Mr. Trump would take America to hell on a rocket ship," said Muhammad.
The group is especially troubled by Trump's call to temporarily ban all Muslim's from entering the United States.
"And I find it very ironic that he talks about terrorist acts, but he has never once mentioned the terrorist act that was committed by that young Caucasian in South Carolina, who went into a church and murdered nine black people. But he selectively chooses Muslims and those who he has a problem with," said Muhammad.
"The Nation of Islam...they say whatever. I don't see any of them buying any airplane tickets to go anywhere else," said Johnson.
Muhammad: "Well, what I believe is that we should be allowed to establish a separate state or territory of our own."
Chris Thomas: "Black people?"
Muhammad: "Yes, sir."
"We are too busy trying to clean ourselves up and clean our people up. We don't have time to sit around saying I hate him. I hate her," said Muhammad.
Still, when it comes to whites, the groups rhetoric persists.
"Wherever they have gone on this planet, they have murdered. They have lied. They have stolen. They have raped. They have robbed. They have pillaged the darker nations of this planet. That's not a Godly person. That's a devil," said Muhammad.
"The hatred that is being spewed by the Nation of Islam under some justification of what was done ions ago. That is not of Christ," said Johnson. "And Christians need to wake up and defend the Christian Faith."
Muhammad feels the group's controversial doctrine is what really bothers others.
"Take the white Jesus down off the wall. Jesus had hair like lamb's wool...and feet like brass. He was a black man!" declared Minister Louis Farrakhan in his August 25, 2015 address in Detroit. "Just leave us alone with our people. We love our people. We don't carry guns."
Muhammad claims the group is not racist despite having called Caucasian people 'white devils.'
"And for those who say that God loves everybody, that's a lie!" said Muhammad. "It is impossible for us to be racists. Black people don't control this economy."
Muhammad points to the numbers from the Pew Research Center that expose a large difference in the median household wealth of blacks and whites.
"We are trying to establish our own economic system, our own education system. We are not getting up, packing our bags and leaving that which we fought, and bled and died for. It was black people in America who picked the cotton," said Muhammad. "Who when allowed, have fought in every war in this country to secure a freedom for America that we as blacks have not always enjoyed."
Muhammad says that is why the Nation of Islam has launched a "Justice or Else" campaign. The campaign encourages blacks, who have a collective spending power of $1.3 trillion, to "redistribute the pain" by staging boycotts until demands for justice are met.
"It is only proper that we talk about separation since we have not been able to get along with Caucasians in this country," said Muhammad.
"Those things are said to divide people up, and our nation is already divided up enough now," said Blake. "It doesn't bother me if someone calls me names because if you have a Christian mindset, these things just don't bother you. Hatred is a disease of the heart. Think about that. They should want us to come together as a people and heal any wounds that we might have."
Muhammad says the Nation of Islam is now focused on tackling neighborhood hives of crime through targeted outreach.
"We are trying to clean up our people. We don't have time to sit around and name call. That's what children do," said Muhammad.
And yet, Muhammad stops just short of apologizing for their leader's heated rhetoric.
"The honorable Minister Farrakhan is evolving," said Muhammad. "The expression or the language that he is using now is on a higher level."
In the end, Minister Muhammad says the Nation of Islam is not a hate group because "Hate is manifested in deeds, not words." It's a variation of the old sticks and stones adage.
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