Many Americans fear that the 2024 presidential election will be a rematch between the 2020 candidates Joe Biden and Donald Trump. Apparently, voters are not enthusiastic about such a choice.
As a result, a new grassroots group called No Labels—characterized by The Wall Street Journal simply as “a centrist group of Republicans and Democrats”—has been formed. The group seeks to offer a third candidate in the 2024 election, even planning a nominating convention in Dallas.
No Labels’ prominent national co-chairs include Joe Lieberman, a former senator and the Democratic candidate for vice-president in 2000, and Ben Chavis, identified by The Wall Street Journal only as “the civil rights legend” and “former NAACP executive director.”
Clearly, Chavis’s political and ideological commitments have been forgotten or carefully erased. He should at least have been identified as the former infamous NAACP executive director, as he was fired for diverting $332,000 of the organization’s funds to settle a sexual harassment claim against him without informing the board. In 1996, the editors of the student newspaper at Howard University, Chavis’s alma mater, blamed the ADL for his fate.
As executive director of the NAACP, Chavis forged an alliance with Louis Farrakhan, the notorious head of the antisemitic and black supremacist Nation of Islam (NOI). Chavis invited Farrakhan to participate in the 1994 National African American Leadership Summit, held at NAACP headquarters.
The eminent New York Times columnist A.M. Rosenthal characterized the invitation to the “bigot-in-chief” as “sickening opportunism” and “a plain mark of respect and respectability that will increase [Farrakhan’s] standing … and therefore increase [his] influence.”
At the summit, while a police helicopter circled overhead and a large group of mostly Jewish demonstrators protested Farrakhan’s presence, Chavis, with Farrakhan at his side, pronounced, “NEVER AGAIN will we allow an external force to attempt to dictate who we can meet with.”
Here Chavis shamelessly invoked the Jewish vow never to allow the Holocaust to happen again, casting the Jews as the force and the dictator to be resisted. Yet the conference hall exploded in applause and shouts of “amen,” “that’s right” and “say it.”
Sadly, the hall was filled with black academic and political notables, including Cornel West, professor of religion at Princeton University; Rep. Kweisi Mfume (D-Md.), then head of the Congressional Black Caucus; Leonard Jeffries, a professor of black studies at City College of New York, who taught that the world is divided between “ice-people” (whites) and “sun-people” (blacks); and Jesse Jackson, who referred to Jews as “Hymies” and New York as “Hymietown” during his 1984 campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.
A year later, Chavis signed on as the main organizer of the NOI’s Million Man March. There, Farrakhan would deliver what some dubbed his “coronation address.” Drumming up support for the March, Chavis was the featured speaker at the Big Eight Conference on Black Student Government.
Notably, Chavis’s speech did not touch on black student government at all. It was devoted to praising “the honorable minister Louis Farrakhan” and “the honorable Elijah Muhammad,” who led the NOI from 1934 until his death (or move to the Mother Wheel circling 40 miles above the earth) in 1975.
Having been instructed by Fard Muhammad, whom the NOI has always identified as Allah in human form, Elijah Muhammad taught that Judaism is “a dirty religion.” He claimed that the Hebrew Bible is “THE POISON BOOK,” because from the moment Jews “received the Divine Scriptures” they “started tampering with its truth.”
The Jews, Elijah Muhammad asserted, converted the Bible into a counterfeit text that resulted in “the graveyard of my poor people (the so-called Negroes)” of America, who are the real “Chosen People of God.” This is a foundational doctrine of the NOI.
In his speech, Chavis denied that Farrakhan was antisemitic. He repeatedly vilified the “forces out there” that were trying to separate blacks from this “great man.” Having been alerted to the presence of white Jews in the audience (my husband Stephen H. Norwood and myself), Chavis only hinted at the identity of these malevolent forces.
In speeches given across the country, however, Chavis singled out “Jewish groups” as the “oppressors of the black community.” Indeed, the reason he addressed audiences of black students in person was because he decided he had to do an end run around the media, which were, he appeared to believe, owned by those same cunning “forces out there.”
Chavis also strongly recommended that the students read a new book by Sister Souljah, who was renowned for her advice, “I mean, if black people kill black people every day, why not have a week and kill white people?”
In 1997, at the NOI’s annual Savior’s Day celebration commemorating the birth of Fard Muhammad, Chavis formally announced, “God has called me into the Nation of Islam.”
He quickly assured all who knew him, “Don’t worry, I’m not turning from Christ, I’m turning to Allah.” It was through the NOI that he would now struggle against what he characterized as the “genocide of our people, [which] persists in 1997. … Our people need a healer. … Thank God for the Honorable Elijah Muhammad.” A vicious antisemite had become a “healer” in Chavis’s eyes.
One cannot simply dismiss all of this by saying it took place over two decades ago. Chavis was 49 years old in 1997. His choices and actions were not those of an errant youth.
Moreover, as A.M. Rosenthal warned, Chavis’s endorsement and promotion of “Brother Farrakhan” had an enduring effect. Chavis himself stated, “It was a mistake not to have Minister Farrakhan speak at the March on Washington” in 1963.
At that march, Martin Luther King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial. Chavis appears to believe that Farrakhan could have presented an alternative dream—or rather, a nightmare.
And Chavis, now included in the “centrist group” of No Labels leaders, in 1995 ridiculed “any Negro that calls himself a Republican.”
Given all this baggage, it is misleading to identify Chavis simply as “the civil rights legend.”
At a time when many Americans dread choosing between Joe Biden and Donald Trump, it should give us pause that Ben Chavis is one of the co-chairs of a group that will choose an alternative.