[Editor’s note: The following text is from a press conference by Minister Louis Farrakhan at Mosque Maryam in Chicago. The press conference addressed the Washington, D.C.-area sniper case.]
In the Name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.
Ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, members of the press, community leaders, thank you all for coming.
We have called this press conference to answer some of the many inquiries that we have had over the last few days about John Allen Williams, also known as John Muhammad.
Naturally, we, like most of you, were horrified watching the news of the murder of innocent persons as they were going about their daily affairs. I was mortified and greatly hurt to learn that one of the victims was a Mr. Ken Bridges, whom we have known for nearly 18 years.
I know that I can speak for myself and the members of my family, and all the Muslim members of the Nation, and all Muslims and people of good will everywhere, that we are in sympathy with the victims of this horror. And we are in sympathy with the families of these victims. And we, like you, can only offer them condolences and our deepest sympathy on their loss.
Most of us, like you, were speculating who could this be? I was in Alexandria, Virginia, just last Saturday. And many of those who follow me begged me not to go because this sniper was still on the loose. But I made a commitment and I went. And many of the brothers came to Alexandria, Virginia, and they were in the woods, and they were in the trees, and they were in automobiles, hoping that we could catch whoever this person might be, and arrest that person, and bring him to the authorities.
We were blessed to get in and get out with no hurt or harm. And as we listened to those who were the profilers who said it’s somebody young and somebody White, never would we have believed that it would have turned out to be two Black persons, and certainly not a Muslim.
With the name Muhammad, many Muslims in the country already hurt, already damaged, stigmatized by the horrific events of September 11 and the aftermath of that, now to have a sniper, an alleged suspect named Muhammad, then all Muslims feel the pain again of such stigma attached to the religion of Islam.
We searched our own files. This young man, John Allen Williams, while he was in the armed forces in Ft. Ord, California, began listening to the teachings of Islam as taught by the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. And when Ft. Ord was closed, he then moved to Ft. Lewis in Tacoma, Washington, I believe it is, and he visited the Study Group in that area from 1994 and 1995. And in 1997, July 17, he became a registered member of the Nation of Islam.
Sometime thereafter he was in a domestic problem with his wife, and took his children and left the city and the state. Some of our staff were counseling the husband and wife in their domestic problems. And she requested our help in trying to retrieve her children, which we were unable to do. But it appears that after a year, those children were returned to his wife. And she left that area to come to Washington or Maryland where she is a regular member of the Washington mosque.
We lost contact with John Allen Williams, also known as John Muhammad, sometime in the year 1999. But all of those who have known him, both in military service and in the mosque, have never said ugly things about his conduct or behavior.
We have rules and regulations that govern our mosques, and to the best of our knowledge he was in compliance with those rules and those regulations, but only fell into disfavor with us over his domestic situation and the taking of the children and fleeing the state. So he was not in good standing with us until we could get him back and talk to him about his behavior where his wife and his children were concerned. But we never got that chance because we never saw him again.
It is horrific for us to learn that someone who once was a part of our ranks may be involved in something as horrific as this. But I respectfully say to the members of the media and to the American people, Timothy McVeigh confessed that he was a Christian but nobody blames the church for his misconduct. Ninety-five percent of the nearly two million inmates in the prison system in the United States will tell you, if you ask them what is your faith, they will say, I’m Christian. But no one would blame Jesus or their pastor for their behavior that is contrary to the teachings of Jesus. And no where in the teachings of Islam, no where in the teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, would we countenance any man taking the lives of innocent human beings. That is against our law. In fact, all of us who are members of the Nation of Islam have been instructed not to carry any weapons—not so much as a penknife—not on our persons and not in our homes. So any member of the Nation that may be found with such, is in violation of our teachings. We do not rely on weapons of war to defend us. We rely on our belief and our faith in Allah (God).
Mr. John Allen Williams, also known as John Muhammad, was never personal security for me. I don’t believe I have ever met him. And if he were attending the Study Group in Tacoma in 1995, I toured this country and I spoke to about 130,000 or more Black men personally about their role in the Million Man March. I spoke to gangs and gang leaders and I told them that if you’re going to be a part of this march, then you must not bring any weapon at all on that Mall. And all of us–the male members of the Nation of Islam and male members of the church and male members of fraternities that we talked to–were all security to keep the peace on that day. And you have to admit that it was the largest gathering in the history of the United States of America and the most peaceful.
Again, I and we grieve for the senseless loss of life. I and we grieve with all the families that lost loved ones for we were touched in grief as well. But we also grieve for John Allen Williams’, also known as John Muhammad’s, first wife and his son and his second wife and their three children who will have to grow up in an environment and live with whatever comes from the trial of these two persons. If they are found guilty, that will affect every member of his family.
In closing, members of his family said, this is not the John that I knew. And this is not the John that we knew. What happened to him, what caused this, remains, at present, to me and to us a mystery. But it’s something that must be probed and it must be found. What turns a person into a cold killer of innocent people–from a family man, a husband, and a father, and a soldier who fought for his country and a soldier who became a sergeant in the infantry where you know he’s trained to kill? And what happens when these men come back from a tour of duty and the circumstances that surround their lives personally and financially and otherwise? So I thank all of you for coming and my brothers and sisters in the community who have come out to show support for us in an hour like this. And so I would open for questions from the media. Anything that you wish to ask of me, I shall try to answer.
Sarah Downey (Newsweek): We were trying to figure out what mosque he attended in Tacoma or the place where he went to the study group?
Minister Louis Farrakhan (MLF): It was not a mosque as such. It was a study group, very small, in Seattle, Washington. But I understand that he first attended study group in northern California when he served as a soldier at Ft. Ord, wherever that is in northern California.
Rob Elgas (NBC-Channel 5): Do you know if he attended the Million Man March? Do you believe he was actually there?
MLF: No, I do not of personal knowledge know that he was there. But if he was affected by my visit in that area calling for Black men to come to Washington, he might very well have been there, but he had no official role as a security person for Louis Farrakhan. Every Black man that was there was entrusted with the responsibility to keep the peace.
Theresa Guitierrez (ABC-Channel 7): Although you just answered it reverend, I was going to ask you if he had a formal role, a security role, in the March, and you just said that he didn’t.
MLF: No ma’am, he did not.
Alita Haytayan (CBS-Channel 2): You said that you had spoken to his family and they said that this is not the man that they remember. Who is the man that they remember?
MLF: No, I did not speak to his family. I saw on the news, which you all have done a terrific job in really bringing this whole drama before the American people and the world. So I think someone spoke to his cousin and his cousin said, this is not the John Muhammad that they knew. And those in the mosque who knew him, those who were with him in the service, they are shocked by this behavior that he’s charged with.
Mary Frances (CLTV News-Channel 10): How much damage do you believe he’s done to the Nation of Islam with his affiliation or supposed affiliation?
MLF: Well, no I think that’s a good question. You know, what appears sometimes to be very negative can oft-times be turned into a positive. At first there is damage. There are Muslims who wear the name Muhammad who are being stigmatized, who are suffering some kind of alienation. Some have had their tires slashed. Some are suffering things because they may be named Muhammad. Or, and as the media has been saying that he’s a member of the Nation or he had some affiliation with the Nation, and (some say) somebody who knows the Nation’s teaching (that) it’s automatic that he would be a sniper, this is ridiculous. The FBI knows us better than most of you and they’ve been watching us very, very, closely for many, many, many years. They know our teachings sometimes better than the ministers who teach it. They know that we are not teaching our people to go out and harm anybody. And if it were in fact a Black-White hate thing, why would he shoot five persons of color–one an Indian and four Blacks and one a child? That does not make sense. And certainly, none of that is our teaching at all. And to say that he sympathized with 9/11, I don’t know where that came from. But if you go back and get my press conference of September 16 (2001)where I had police and fire persons sitting in this mosque, White and Black and Hispanic, we offered our sympathy and our condolences to the firemen that were lost, to the police persons that were lost, to the emergency medical teams that lost their lives and to all the families that lost their lives because that was an attack, not only on the World Trade Center, that was an attack on all of us ,and we would be silly to rejoice over something as ugly and heinous and horrific as 9/11. So he couldn’t be a follower of mine and rejoice over what we never rejoiced over.
Lorenzo Martin (Chicago Standard Newspapers): Do you believe that the national press has been fair in the linkage of Mr. John Williams Muhammad and the teachings of Islam?
MLF: Well, I don’t want to necessarily judge the press. They do their job. There is a natural bias in human beings, and there is, I believe, a tendency to lambaste, malign Islam. You have criminals, people that do horrific things, but we never know their religion. Who was that man that murdered all the nurses? What was his name? (Richard) Speck and (there was Ted) Bundi. What was their religion? John Gacy, Jeffrey Dahmer, we don’t know what church they attended. It’s not important because religion does not teach their behavior. Their behavior is in aberration. Their behavior is violation. Their behavior is absolutely rebellion toward what God teaches through the mouth of His prophets. And there is so much misunderstanding in the American public about what Islam really is. So much so that you would have Franklin Graham, a respected member of the Christian clergy, and Rev. Fallwell and Rev. Pat Robertson and others taking to the airwaves saying very ugly things about the Prophet Muhammad and ugly things about Islam and the God of Islam, as though Christianity has no spots or blemishes. Or those who claim to be Christians have not done evil and ugly things to members of human family in the name of God.
God is the most bedeviled with people who do their evil in His name and justify their absolute wickedness and say that it is in defense of their faith in God. So God has to do something to clear His own name from the madness of those who claim to work on His behalf.
Juan Carlos Fanjul (WGN-Channel 9): Just wondering, is Mr. Muhammad then still technically a member of the Nation of Islam or has he been kicked out?
MLF: He has not formally been kicked out of the Nation of Islam. But certainly if he’s found guilty of something like this, he would not be considered at all a member of the Nation of Islam. And we would all ask that anyone whose guilty of such be punished to the fullest extent of the law.
Karen Mellen (Chicago Tribune): Min. Farrakhan, what is the Nation of Islam’s teaching on military service?
MLF: On military what?
Karen Mellen: Service in the armed forces.
MLF: Most of us would not take part in wars that take the lives of human beings. But we do have Muslims that are in the service. And they try to be good servicemen and women and good Americans. And while we are on that subject, I would add my voice to the voices of all of those today who are demonstrating against war in Iraq.
We do not believe that we should take part in wars that take the lives of human beings. For us, human life is sacred. And the violation of human life is a violation of God, Himself, because He’s the giver of life and He’s the ultimate cause of death. But He doesn’t give us the right to kill innocent people just because we’re displeased or angry or hurt. That is our teaching. So a pre-emptive strike by the government of the United States and the greatest armed force in the world, to us, is aggression. And we would not countenance aggression because God forbids us as Muslims to be aggressive in word or deed, for Allah (God) hates aggression and is not with the aggressor. This is our teaching.
I hope that it would not come to our government making a pre-emptive strike in the name of disarming somebody that has no power to threaten his neighbors or certainly no power to threaten this Nation. And then to learn that North Korea already has such weapons and for our president to use the word when he learned, he said it was troubling and sobering, and I wondered who was drunk.
Now a point of clarification. You know, a person may be a member of the Nation, but when they walk away from us and their duty, they are not considered in good standing with their Nation. They can as they come in of free will, they can leave with the same free will. We have not seen or heard from this brother in three or more years. So it’s not absent without leave. It’s just absent. He is not in good standing with the Nation, But he, himself, would have to renounce his membership in the Nation. But if he’s guilty of this kind of activity, then we would consider removing him from the rolls.
(Question): Minister Farrakhan, so you say he has not renounced. Do you know if he continued practicing Islam after 1999 or if there was any sort of, if he stuck with the religion at all? Or if you have any more details about how he left?
MLF: I can not answer for his personal practice. But if he is guilty of what he’s charged with, that is as far away from the practice as I guess the far planet Pluto is from the Earth and I think it’s 4,600,000,000 miles.
Any other question? This will be the last question.
Niena Drake (FOX News): You mentioned Ken Bridges who you said that there was some known for18 years. Can you say a little bit more about that?
MLF: Ken Bridges worked with the Wellington Group and they were responsible 18, 16 or so years ago, of bringing to the Nation of Islam the program called P.O.W.E.R., People Organized and Working for Economic Rebirth. Ken Bridges was a part of that group and we have known him and we know him to be a very beautiful human being, a very wonderful person. And it grieved us much to hear that his life was lost as a result of these snipers.
I thank you all for your attendance and may Allah (God) bless us all to go through this period. And oh, let me say this to the members of the press. In  at our annual Saviours’ Day convention I gave all of the believers who were present the right to wear the name Muhammad as a son or daughter or child of the father of the Nation of Islam, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. But I made them all take a pledge that that name Muhammad, (which) means one worthy of praise and one praised much, that if we were to wear such name, we should always act in a manner that would bring honor and praise and credit to such name.
His wife attended that convention and she took the name Muhammad. Sometime after that, according to records that I just saw, he went to the court in California I believe or in Washington and had his name legally changed to Muhammad. But certainly if he is guilty of such a charge, it’s certainly is not worthy of praise and it certainly will never be praised much. In fact, it will be condemned. And the person who did these things will live a life of condemnation until God removes them from our planet.
Thank you very much and I greet all of you in peace. As-Salaam Alaikum.