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Sunday, 23 February 2020 23:45

Ark Media and Malcolm X: Bad Acting and Half-Truths

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Karl Evanzz reviews the “theatrical” documentary, Who Killed Malcom X? by Ark Media, act by act and reveals the half-truths that make up the whole lie.


If the truth will set us free, a lie will keep us in bondage. If you know the whole truth about something but deliberately withhold part of it, you are no better than a person who creates events out of whole cloth. An old adage is that “a half-truth is the same as a whole lie.”

Having watched the six-part Netflix series, “Who Killed Malcolm X,” I can say emphatically that the makers of this series are peddling a half-truth even though the whole truth was available to them. As such, the series is more propaganda than inquiry, more deception than honesty.

Why do I call it a half-truth? Because Ark Media had access to the complete film footage of the scene outside the Audubon Ballroom moments after three members of the Nation of Islam assassinated Malcolm X, a charismatic revolutionary who inspired tens of thousands before his death on February 21, 1965, and who inspires millions across the globe today.

They had access to the complete footage, but they only revealed half of it. They show the footage of two of the assassins—Talmadge Hayer and William Bradley—fighting with police and spectators, but they deliberately suppressed footage of the third assassin—Norman 3X Butler—wrestling his way through the crowd as the body of Malcolm X is wheeled from the Audubon to the Columbia Presbyterian Hospital across the street.

There are a host of problems with the series, but the major offenses and omissions are these:

  • They minimize the role of the intelligence agencies in orchestrating the assassination. There is, for example, only one reference to the State Department’s hostility toward Malcolm X, but they don’t show a single document to substantiate it.
  • They fail to make a single reference to the CIA’s spying on Malcolm X while he was in Africa, and they make no mention of Benjamin H. Read, a White House official, telling CIA Director Richard Helms in the spring of 1964 that Malcolm was damaging America’s foreign policy in the Third World and should be “dealt with” the way the CIA dealt with other foreign leaders who cause problems for America.  This information is in the declassified CIA documents on Malcolm X and is readily available.
  • Instead, the entire series is aimed at convincing viewers that Malcolm X was killed by a group of five Black Muslims from the Newark mosque who were acting independently of any leaders of the sect.
  • To buttress this argument, nearly all of the NOI members interviewed are from Newark. There were no interviews with members from Philadelphia, Chicago, or even Harlem, an inexcusable omission.
  • While there is a brief mention of a mandatory meeting of officers in the NOI’s Fruit of Islam group called by Elijah Muhammad Jr., during which he ordered them to kill Malcolm X, there is no mention that Junior added an extra incentive of $10,000 to the person who killed Malcolm.
  • The central premise of the series is that two of the three men convicted for murdering Malcolm X were innocent. While it succeeds in establishing the innocence of Johnson through eyewitness accounts and FBI documents, they fail to show any reliable evidence whatsoever to support Butler’s claim of innocence.
  • They give the false impression that Abdur-Rahman Muhammad is this brave, defiant soldier hell-bent on confronting William Bradley, the shotgun assassin of Malcolm X, but Bradley died before he could do so. This is, of course, utterly ridiculous. Rahman wrote on his blog on April 22, 2010, that he had discovered Bradley’s whereabouts.

Bradley didn’t pass until October 2018. By then, Ark Media was a full ten months into the project. If Rahman had eight years to confront Bradley, to give the impression that he didn’t locate Bradley until shortly before the latter’s death is dishonest, one of many half-truths in the series.

The Bradley confrontation hoax is one of many.  Another half-truth is Rahman’s account of how he discovered Bradley’s whereabouts. He claims now that he was visiting a mosque and asked about Bradley when someone gave him Bradley’s new name, Al-Mustafa Shabazz.

This is at odds with what Rahman told me and other researchers in 2010, when he said that he was the Howard University classmate of the nephew of a prominent NOI official whose name has surfaced repeatedly in relation to the assassination. The nephew was the person who led him to Bradley.

Here are some of the key problems with the series, episode by episode. I refer to them as “acts” because the series is more theater than documentary.

Act One

Rahman begins that he was bothered that no one seemed interested in discovering who killed Malcolm X, and that he spent 30 years wondering “why someone doesn’t want to get to the bottom of this.”

Rahman knows Professor Zak Kondo of Baltimore and apparently has read his book on the assassination. He began emailing me in 2010 and expressed familiarity with my books, one of which focuses on the assassination. Since Kondo’s book was published in 1993 and mine in 1992, he knows full well that people have tried to solve the question of who actually killed Malcolm X.  Moreover, Newsweek writer Peter Goldman wrote one of the first in-depth accounts of the assassination in 1973, when Rahman was a nine-year-old named Kenneth Oliveira living in Providence, Rhode Island.

David Garrow: This brings us to the next problem. David Garrow, a white writer who has written a book in which he called Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. a “sexual athlete” (based solely on his opinion, of course), followed by other salacious statements about Dr. King. Garrow’s career has been in the toilet of late, especially after writing a disreputable, overly long biography of President Barack Obama (based almost exclusively on the views of a white girl who dated Obama a hundred years ago, so to speak). His descent into disreputability continued last year when he claimed that Dr. King laughed while one of his associates raped a prostitute.

“No one alive has done more” than Rahman to solve the riddle of the assassination, Garrow claims.  Even though Rahman claims to have been investigating the assassination for thirty years, he has not in all that time published a single book about his findings. He hasn’t had a single magazine article about his findings. He has blogged for nearly a decade, yet he has never blogged about his findings except to mention that he had located William Bradley.

So what, Mr. Garrow, has Rahman done to deserve your adulation? There are several university professors in the series, yet none of them express any familiarity with Rahman. I’ll lay you ten-to-one odds that if you had asked any of the professors “Who Is Abdur-Rahman Muhamad?” before April 2010, they would have replied: “I have no idea.”

This is the first time we hear the theme of the series, namely, that Butler is innocent. Not a single shred of evidence is shown to support this contention.

Part One ends with the proverbial scene of “The Investigator” (played by Rahman) tacking items about Malcolm X’s assassination to a bulletin board.

Act Two

It begins with Rahman arguing that Talmadge Hayer, the assassin caught at the scene, told the jury the truth during the trial but that he was not believed. This is another whopper, one that anyone who has read the trial transcript would recognize. Hayer told so many lies during the early part of the trial that the jury must have thought he was insane.

Butler wasn’t much better. He was disrespectful to the prosecutor and got caught in a number of misstatements, so much so that he essentially convicted himself. For example, the prosecutor asked Butler whether he ever heard any language besides English in the mosque. Butler became indignant and replied that Muslims were not permitted to speak anything but English in the Nation of Islam.

The prosecutor then asked him whether “As Salaam Alaikum” was an English phrase. To which Butler replied, “Oh, that’s different” or something to the effect.

During a break in the trial, Thomas Johnson (whom I interviewed over a span of about five years) said that he, Hayer, and Butler were standing outside the men’s room when he said to them in a stern but calm voice: “Man, y’all are jamming me up. Y’all know I wasn’t there.”

He was furious at Butler, he said, because Butler “stole my alibi.” He had proof from his physician that he was at home at the time of the assassination sitting in a chair with his right leg propped up due to a circulatory problem.

When Butler took the stand, he said the same thing. However, when Butler’s doctor was called to testify, he said that he did not see Butler until February 25, four days after the assassination.

Halfway through the second hour, Garrow is cued again. Apparently, you need a white person to make an argument truly convincing.

“Historians universally accept that Johnson and Butler are innocent,” he tells us. None of the black historians in the series concurs with this statement during the entire series.

The rest of the time is spent interviewing members of the Newark mosque and showing footage of the former Newark mosque minister, James 3X Shabazz, a former protégé of Malcolm X who grew jealous of Malcolm’s rise to the forefront of the Nation of Islam.

Act Three

Garrow makes his third appearance, during which he tells us that “the FBI had multiple informants inside the Nation of Islam—almost certainly so.” Well, did it or didn’t it?  Again, apparently we are to take this as an article of faith because Garrow has won the Pulitzer Prize or because he is white, or both.  What becomes disturbing at this point is that Garrow, whose reason for being in the series is never explained other than the aforementioned possibilities, is given nearly five times as much air time as Zak Kondo and other black historians in the series. In contrast, these African American historians have written five times as much about Malcolm X as Garrow.

On a positive note, former New York police officials admit repeatedly during the series that Malcolm X was a thorn in their side and that they therefore routinely violated his privacy rights, worked with FBI agents to surveil him, and had informants inside Malcolm’s group, the Organization of Afro-American Unity. FBI Agent Arthur Fulton admits that the Bureau had informants inside the group.

In yet another appearance, we see Rahman visiting Garrow’s home, where Rahman seems a bit surprised to see an FBI document about Elijah Muhammad’s adultery. Now, if Garrow believes that Rahman is the most knowledgeable person in the universe about Malcolm X, why does he need to show him a document that Rahman should know by heart?

Another glaring omission is exposed at this point. When Garrow takes Rahman to the room where he keeps his research, we see boxes and boxes of files, all neatly organized. Even though the series shows Rahman at his home praying and sticking things on a board, we never see any evidence of his alleged thirty years of research, not so much as a single box. He has a few files on a table, but hell, those could well be something that he received from Garrow.

Garrow also claims that the FBI had three informants inside Elijah Muhammad’s inner circle. He has a document on the table, but we never see it, unlike most of the other documents he discusses. He then claims that three of the ten people in Elijah Muhammad’s inner circle were FBI informants. Once again, we are asked to take this as an article of faith.

John Ali, an individual long suspected of being an FBI informant, makes for the first time an interesting admission. He says that he applied for a position (which one is unclear, but presumably an agent) with the FBI but was turned down.

The balance of the hour is spent discussing Malcolm’s mentoring of Muhammad Ali. Historian Peniel Joseph and Jonathan Eig, an award-winning biographer, make brief appearances.

Act Four

The scene begins with a rather disturbing and certainly questionable piece of hyperbole about Malcolm X’s mental state during the last year of his life. “He needed a therapist,” Joseph says. “He needed two therapists,” he adds with a grin.

This is followed by a comment from Lance Shabazz, a diehard believer in Elijah Muhammad and someone who has written critically about Malcolm X for many years. “Malcolm X lost his mind,” he claims.

A layperson is liable to believe that both men are speaking literally, and perhaps they were given the tone of the segment. In truth, Malcolm X was in great spirits until the last month or so of his life. He was anxious about the numerous attempts on his life, but was functioning as well as he always had. He was holding it all together until members of the Nation of Islam firebombed his home during the early morning hours of Valentine’s Day, 1965.

He and his wife and daughters would have perished in the fire, but for a stroke of luck. One of the Molotov cocktails aimed at his daughter’s room on the second floor ricocheted, giving the family time to escape.

What the series fails to note is that the person who threw the homemade incendiary device at the window was none other than Alvan Farrakhan, brother of NOI leader Louis Farrakhan. Farrakhan is seen in the background of several pieces of footage, but I don’t recall hearing his name mentioned more than once or twice.

The reason why this is an unforgivable omission is because Alvan lived less than half a block from Malcolm X. The gang of Muslims who firebombed the home in all probability threw the bombs and then ran down the street to Alvan’s apartment.

This is another example of the half-truth nature of the series. They want viewers to believe that the entire plot to kill Malcolm X emanated from Newark, when nothing could be further from the truth.

Muslims, including John Ali and Butler, claim that Elijah Muhammad ordered his followers not to lay a finger on Malcolm X. There is no mention of the attempt to kill Malcolm X in Boston, the attempt by Boston mosque minister Clarence 2X Gill to obtain a silencer to kill Malcolm X, or the brazen attempt to kill Malcolm X right in front of his home.

The comedy relief in the otherwise mundane series comes in this hour, when Rahman is visiting Garrow once again (around the 23-minute mark). Garrow shows Rahman and FBI transcript of a wiretapped telephone call between Elijah Muhammad and one of his ministers. During the call, Elijah Muhammad said that it was time for the NOI to deal with Malcolm X the same “way Moses and the other ones did” their bad apples.

Rahman chimes in that he understands what that meant. It was a reference to how Moses wanted to kill certain Christians who resorted to idolatry when he had to go away for a while.

When Garrow replied, I nearly bowled over laughing. I could just see them in a comedy.

Garrow: “Well, golly, Mr. Rahman, I don’t know nothin’ ‘bout Moses. You really need someone with your background to understand all this Moses stuff!”

It was one of the worst instances of patronizing conduct I have ever witnessed. Garrow has written numerous books and articles about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Garrow grew up as a Christian. Yet he sits there with this ridiculous look on his face swearing that he had no idea what the reference to Moses meant.

Near the end of the segment, Garrow tells us that Rahman “is a person with a cause. He’s one of deep commitment and deep faith and deep courage. What Rahman is doing, he adds, is “dangerous. Rahman knows that.”

Garrow was doing so much sucking up to Rahman that I expected to find Rahman nursing him in the next episode.

Act Five

After telling us at the end of Act Four what a brave man this Rahman fellow is, Act Five opens with Rahman showing a video clip of the scene outside the Audubon moments after the assassination of Malcolm X.  This person, he says, pointing to a tall black man on the screen, “looks a lot like William Bradley.”

“If I can prove it,” he adds, “I want to confront him face to face.” We see Rahman driving by Bradley’s gym and a daycare center, he says, that have closed. Poor Rahman is foiled again! (the audience laughs)

This scene was presumably shot sometime before Bradley’s death in 2018.  As I said earlier, Rahman had eight years to confront Bradley, if that was ever his intent. Bradley was a dangerous man and you would have to be more crazy than brave to confront him without backup. That’s why we know this is only theater.

The premise gets repeated, namely that Butler and Johnson were framed. We are told that there is no physical evidence linking them to the crime. What we are not told—and hence the half-truth aspect—is that many of the eyewitnesses to the assassination described one of the assassins as a man about Butler’s height and Butler’s complexion. Oh yes, they also mention that the assassin wore a tweed coat.

Butler was the father of six young children at the time and as poor as a mosque mouse.  He had a tweed coat that was a bit too large and a brown suit that he wore two or three times a week. Another way to pick him out of the crowd was the way he wore his black fedora. He wore it at a forty-five-degree angle, always.

Benjamin Karim, one of Malcolm’s top aides, swore in an affidavit that Johnson and Butler could not have been inside the Audubon that day because he or one of the guards would have seen them and put them out or barred their admittance.

This affidavit is what threw every historian and researcher off track for decades. In 1992, I wrote in The Judas Factor that Butler and Johnson were not there because Karim said so. Peter Goldman wrote the same thing in 1973 and Kondo reiterated it in 1993. “If Butler and Johnson were there,” Kondo said in “Brother Minister (1994),” I was there.”

The fundamental problem with Karim’s affidavit is that he did not witness the assassination, so how could he possibly swear that neither Johnson nor Butler was present?

Ironically, the woman with whom Karim was having an affair in 1965 was also inside the Audubon. After the shooting, she and a group of women were the first people who rushed to help Malcolm. Most of the men were either hiding backstage or hiding under the chairs. Two of the women, a nurse named Yuri Kochiyama and Sharon 6X Poole, a former member of the Harlem mosque who quit to join Malcolm’s new group, positively identified Butler as one of three assassins.

 

Sharon was Karim’s mistress. He never mentions that she identified Butler, and he never mentions her in his autobiography. Again, the problem of the half-truth.

Karim doesn’t mention that Malcolm’s security was compromised by former members of the Newark mosque. Nor does Manning Marable mention that James 67X Warden, a former Harlem mosque member who left with Malcolm, was overheard on February 19 by a member of the security detail threatening to have Malcolm killed.

“We,” Warden said, “will kill you.” Two days later, Malcolm was killed. Warden was a key adviser on Marable’s biography of Malcolm X.

A positive scene in this act is the entrance of Eugene “Gene” Roberts, a member of Malcolm’s security detail who was an undercover detective for the New York Police Department’s Bureau of Special Services and Investigations (BOSSI).  He describes how quickly he was hired by BOSSI and how he was essentially a paid informant.

Another note of interest is Arthur Fulton’s admission that the FBI had at least nine informants in the Audubon Ballroom when the assassination occurred.

Act Six

From the opening scene with Malcolm in Africa, we finally think that the series will discuss the revolutionary’s lasting impression on African, Asian, and Latin American leaders. They show a photo of him with Prince Faisal of Saudi Arabia, but they fail to show him with Fidel Castro or Kwame Nkrumah and other prominent Third World leaders.

Instead, they return us to Garrow’s house, where Rahman, the greatest expert on Malcolm X in the universe, is being educated again by Garrow. Garrow has been amassing files on Malcolm X for over a decade. Presumably, his glowing adulation of Rahman is in anticipation of a biography crediting both of them as the authors.

In a return to the “Hunt for William Bradley” subplot, Rahman is shown in Newark again. Just as he was about to confront Bradley, he receives a phone call telling him that Bradley had died.

Rahman attends the funeral, or at least stands outside. He then interviews the same groups of Muslims for the fifth or sixth or tenth time. They assure him that Bradley was a changed man when he died, that he made the hajj and had all of his past sins wiped away.

“I have given so many decades of my life to unveil who killed him,” Rahman says wistfully. He sacrificed his career (he works as a tour guide in Washington and has held other jobs) and time with his children in his quixotic journey to find the killers.

As the scene closes, Rahman meets again with Butler. He vows to do everything in his power to get him exonerated.

If that happens, Butler can sue the city of New York for wrongful conviction and get millions and millions of dollars. The lawyers representing him will take their cut, and everyone lives happily ever after.

Except those like me who know that Butler was guilty and deserves every day he spent in prison and more.

Below are photos from the footage shown in the series. They show Bradley and Hagan outside the Audubon shortly after the assassination.

These photos are from the same footage. It shows Butler at the Audubon as he attempts to view Malcolm’s body to make sure he’s dead. This is the footage that Ark Media deleted. The company purports to seek the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about the assassination.

But what it delivers is a half-truth. A half-truth is the same as a whole lie.

The full footage begins at the 16-minute mark in this YouTube film.

Last modified on Monday, 09 March 2020 16:25
Karl Evanzz

Karl Evanzz is the author of six books, including The Messenger: The Rise and Fall of Elijah Muhammad (Random House, 1999). His latest book is The Judas Factor: The Life and Death of Malcolm Shabazz  (XIS Books, 2017). He was on the newsroom staff of The Washington Post from 1976-2008.

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