CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Speaking in Charlotte on Sunday, Louis Farrakhan had this advice for President Barack Obama: Fight.
“Mr. President, you’ve got to realize you’re fighting for your presidential life,” the leader of the Nation of Islam told an estimated crowd of 6,000 at Bojangles Coliseum. “You’re fighting for your vision of the Democratic Party and the country.”
In marking the 17th anniversary of his 1995 “Million Man March” on Washington, D.C., Farrakhan was scheduled to talk about the economy and a Muslim “blueprint for ending need and want.”
But with Nov. 6 election three weeks away, the 79-year-old Muslim leader changed his mind, instead offering advice to the president and country, describing a United States still ruptured by race.
Then Farrakhan spent two hours hammering at racial – some critics will call them racist – themes.
For the outset, the highly controversial Farrakhan accused Republicans of having “overt” racist motives in their opposition to Obama, the country’s first black president. He attacked a political process that he says is controlled by monied interests and wants “to keep America white.”
And while he claimed Romney had lied about his real positions on most major issues throughout the first presidential debate, he criticized Obama’s low-energy response.
He asked his listeners if they were disappointed in Obama’s performance, and hundreds of hands rose throughout the coliseum.
“Feels like your champion didn’t show up for the fight,” Farrakhan said. “If you lose the first round or two, you go to your corner. It’s called ‘adjustment time.’ Every good fighter knows how to make an adjustment. You don’t get lost.”
He said he thinks Obama and his advisers worried about the president appearing like “an angry black man.” The reasoning: “You can’t go out there and beat up on a white man. You’re going to lose the white vote.”
He then turned his comments back to the president. “You aren’t going to win any more white votes by being kind and gracious,” he said. “Be a little black.”
Farrakhan’s injection of race into the presidential campaign comes as both parties trade accusations, direct and implied, of racist intent. Obama received 95 percent of the black vote in 2008, and more than 2 million blacks voted for the first time.
Democrats say Republican-led Voter ID moves in several key states are aimed at holding down the black vote. Some conservatives say support for Obama by many African-American voters starts and ends with color. They say they oppose the president on philosophical grounds, not racial ones.
Ron Christie, a black conservative who worked for President George W. Bush, told the Huffington Post that black people support Obama out of “a straitjacket solidarity.”
Farrakhan did nothing to dissuade that support, accusing the Republicans of using a strategy to defeat Obama “so overtly hateful and racist in nature that it has polarized America on the basis of race.”
The Nation of Islam leader has made a career out of such harsh rhetoric. He has been accused of fueling dissent among the races, anti-Semitism and homophobia. He denied the accusations Sunday, saying he speaks truth as he sees it.
While saying that he “loves my homosexual brothers and sisters,” he said they are disobeying prohibitions set out in the Bible and Koran. “Now you want to change God’s ways so God doesn’t know what he’s doing.”
He also addressed an audience largely absent from the room: white America.
“What have I done that you could hate me so?” he said.
He then answered his own question with harsh words that had the arena on its feet: “You can’t buy me, and you can’t make me into your n-----.”
Farrakhan’s audience was largely local but drew African-Americans from across the country – old and young, Muslim and Christian, dark suits and elegant dresses, sweatshirts and jeans. Ticket prices ranged from $20 to $100. Security was tight, with male reporters being vigorously frisked.
He was backed on stage by members of his family, out-of-town African-American Muslim leaders and several of Charlotte’s prominent black religious and political figures, from the city’s NAACP President Kojo Nantambu to the Rev. Dwayne Walker, pastor of Little Rock AME Zion Church, and Mecklenburg County Commissioner Vilma Leake.
During his weekend visit, he spoke to students at Johnson C. Smith University and taught a leadership seminar at Walker’s church. He said he had been treated well by the city, and “Charlotte could be our second home.”
Farrakhan, wearing a deep tan suit, showed no signs of his age (he turns 80 next May). His voice ranged from a rasp to a roar. He frequently pounded his podium, and while his topics veered from politics to race to international affairs, his words at times brought thunderous responses.
He said the U.S. “War on Terrorism” had morphed into a “War on Islam” that had left the Middle East more unstable than ever. He also criticized Muslims who would subjugate women. “Educate your women,” he said. “Allah is not pleased.”
He spoke of rising tide of diversity that America must embrace or “you will die.
“But you won’t take us down with you.”