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Top Aide to Farrakhan Cites D.C. March as an Endorsement

By Hamil R. Harris and John F. Harris
The Washington Post

The top aide to Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan said Thursday that anyone who attends Monday's Million Man March on Washington is expressing support for Farrakhan and his beliefs, contradicting recent statements by Farrakhan himself and other march leaders.

Leonard Muhammad, Farrakhan's chief of staff, said at a Washington news conference that the march will serve as a barometer of support for Farrakhan and confirm his position as "a leader of black people." In recent statements, Farrakhan and other organizers have described the march as a "broad-based event" not designed to proselytize for the Nation of Islam or endorse Farrakhan's beliefs.

Muhammad's statements came at the same time he called for a meeting between Farrakhan and a prominent Jewish leader who often has accused Farrakhan of antisemitism - an invitation that was quickly declined - and only hours after a spokesman for President Clinton expressed hope that the march would produce "a positive outcome." The White House previously had been less optimistic about the demonstration.

At the news conference, Muhammad disputed the notion - advanced by many analysts - that the march's call for solidarity and self-help among black people outweighs widespread concern about Farrakhan. "The people that are coming to Washington, D.C., whether they are in a position to say it or not, are coming because they support the Honorable Louis Farrakhan, and that's a fact," he said. "I assure you, if they didn't support Louis Farrakhan, they wouldn't be in Washington."

As recently as this week, in an interview broadcast on the Phil Donahue television show, Farrakhan described the march in different terms. He called it ecumenical and said it "was never intended to be a Muslim thing. It was intended to be just what it is, a broad-based march." He repeatedly quoted the biblical passage, "Whosoever will, let him come."

A recent Washington Post-ABC poll found that black people who are aware of the march draw a clear distinction between the demonstration and its originator. The poll found that while 84 percent of those blacks surveyed thought the idea of the Million Man March was good, nearly half had a negative impression of Farrakhan.

Muhammad also said Farrakhan had asked for a meeting with Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, to ease festering racial tension between blacks and Jews. But Muhammad also attacked the ADL for recently criticizing the march.

"I would say to the Jewish people who continue to attack Minister Farrakhan that with Minister Farrakhan's growing influence, it is unwise to take out full-page ads to attack this man and call him names," Muhammad said.

Foxman said Thursday night that he would meet with Farrakhan only if he drops rhetoric that Foxman considers deeply offensive and racist. "If the change is public, specific and consistent, then there will be nothing that separates us,"

Muhammad's effort to link the march closely to Farrakhan came shortly after a spokesman for President Clinton spoke hopefully about the march, in part because it has not been portrayed as a referendum on Farrakhan.