Anarchist Democracy by Darius James
New York Press, November 12-18, 1997
A Review of A.D. by Saab Lofton with interview of Saab Lofton
"The Black Panther Party takes the position that we must accept the reality that this country is a pluralistic country, ethnically speaking and culturally speaking," Huey Newton said in the Jan. 1971 issue of the magazine Scanlan's-its "Guerrilla War in the USA" issue. "We want an end to the class system and all of the distinctions that would make one group over another... We think there's a beauty in the many ethnic cultures, rather like a bouquet, and that if it's viewed this way, the world will be a much happier place, a more interesting place, and there will be a coming together and a unity of man... When our Minister of Information, Eldridge Cleaver, said we will have an 'essential miscegenation', he wasn't speaking entirely of race miscegenation, but he was speaking of that complex whole with every other living thing in the universe. And this would be the mingling and the transformation of everything from the prisoner that he is within himself, from the division and the loneliness, into a whole person and into what man can really be."
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Huey Newton died a crackhead, quoted the mentally-diseased Eldridge Cleaver and once horse-whipped the Scared-of-Ike-Turner Bobby Seale. He also had a voice like Mickey Mouse's castrate. But fuck all that bullshit. The man spoke some righteous and inspiring rhetoric in his day. You have to admire a cat who once stepped to Minister Louis Farrakhan by asking: "Are you a man?"
"Why, of course," Farrakhan is said to have responded.
"Well," Huey began, coming in for the kill, "if a man is what he eats, and you are a man, what part of the man do you eat?"
In spite of all the problems, glaring contradictions and outand-out bullshit associated with the Black Panther Party over the years, the original Panthers had a substantial, inclusive and humanistic vision--a vision that has been coopted and obfuscated by academia in recent years. The ideas espoused by the Black Panther Party have been taken off the streets, redressed in Ivy League tweeds and are now no longer accessible to the people they were originally intended for. One of the key elements of the early Black Panther Party's ideology was its rejection of the racist mythologies associated with black cultural nationalism. In the ideology of the Black Panther Party, black cultural nationalism was as absurd and grotesquely racist as white supremacy. It was this point of contention that led to rivalries between Black Nationalist groups like Ron Karenga's "United Slaves" (or U.S.) organization and the Black Panther Party, a rivalry that culminated in the murder of Black Panther John Huggins at UCLA.
The exposure of the inherently corrupt nature of nationalist ideologies, and the revival of the spirit of the original Black Panther Party, lies at the heart of A.D., an informed, obsessively researched and highly entertaining first novel by the 28-year old Saab Lofton. A blend of pulp and politics structured in two sections, A.D. re-imagines both the creation mythologies of the Nation of Islam and the dystopias of George Orwell's 1984 and Animal Farm as a racially segregated America ruled by the Nation of Islam and White Aryan Resistance.
If you've ever walked along the street and wondered--as I have--why Afrocentric booksellers were hawking white-power press propaganda like the Henry Ford-financed The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, A.D. will provide ample insight. In the year 2030 A.D., Elijah Isaiah, a citizen of the Lost/Found Nation of Islam, is fired from his job as a typist in the historical revisionist firm, Mustafa Enterprises. Later, as a result of trailing after his young son, Elisha, who wanders off to pluck an apple from a tree, Elijah finds himself in the company of a guerrilla resistance movement dwelling in the tunnels of the Chicago subway system. The guerrillas give him a copy of The Autobiography of Malcolm X. His wife, a strict Muslim, discovers the book and turns him in. Elijah is put on trial and banished from the Lost/Found Nation (well, actually, he's cryonically frozen by a big-headed scientist, Yacub). And, faster than you can say Rip Van Winkle, Elijah is revived in the year 2410 A.D. It is at this point we learn the title refers to "Anarchist Democracy." Within the framework of his plot, which pays pretty strict attention to the conventions and devices of science-fiction storytelling, Lofton sheds' a great deal of illumination on the many unsavory ideological connections between the Nation of Islam and the white-power movement, and he succeeds in doing this in a highly accessible and thought-provoking fashion.
A.D. is as much popcorn-chomping entertainment for the people as it is astute political screed. Some might find it a bit too didactic in spots, but Lofton compensates for this by telling an engaging and often amusing story with all the features one comes to expect after the Star Wars trilogy. And it's got something one rarely sees in the Star Wars trilogy--black people! Early last month, I spoke with Saab Lofton by telephone. Apparently, his luck had run out in San Francisco, where he had been living, and he was back with his mom in Washington state. Saab Lofton was conceived the night Bobby Kennedy was shot, and just within walking distance of the hotel where Sirhan Sirhan fed Bobby the bullet. His mother says she always thought that this was an omen. According to the tale his mother told, his father appeared at her door, crying crocodile tears. He sobbed that he was distraught over Kennedy's death, and only she could provide that extra-special comfort to calm his troubled soul.
"It was a case of two ships passing in the night," Lofton says, somewhat sadly. He adds that his mother "registered folks to vote, marched with King and volunteered with the Black Panthers' free-breakfast program." Lofton spent his early years in the LA of the late 60s and early 70s. By the mid-70s his mother had married a drill sergeant for financial security--a drill sergeant who'd completed three tours of Vietnam. "Shell shocked as hell," Lofton explains. "He was the basis of the character Robert Duvall played in the movie The GreatSantini. My stepdad was it, okay? Robert Duvall came by the house and followed my stepdad around for two weeks, taking notes." "He did?" "I'm joking. But he might as well have. In the end, all my stepdad proved to be was someone to pay the bills. It was like having an ATM card for a stepdad, except there were limits, fees and fines. More so than usual. It was essentially all about financial security."
"As a radical activist, how did your mother justify marrying a drill sergeant?"
"That's the sad thing," he answers. "While, on the one hand, the Bill of Rights allows you to protest in the streets, on the other, when it comes down to basic survival, the very state that provides those freedoms makes sure that at some point your protesting is priced out of existence. This is exactly what my mom ran into. This is why she had to strike this Faustian marriage with my stepdad."
Sad, too, was the fact Lofton had no contact with his natural father. "I never really knew my father," he says. "I have one memory of him. This was after he tried to rob the Bank of America. I remember seeing him in one of those rooms where you go and talk to whoever is behind the glass with the phone. He had on these dark John Lennon shades, a huge afro and a purple and gold dashiki with gold and silver medallions around his neck. He wasn't in there for long. He got out early on good behavior."
Even sadder still, his natural father was killed on the streets of South Central L.A. by three teenagers who wanted to join the Crips. "AIl three jumped my father with lead pipes and beat him to death. That was a big turning point in my life." 'The fact of the matter is most of the family was never that close. My father's younger brother is James Lofton of the Green Bay Packers and the Buffalo Bills. But the thing is, James is a black Republican, a super-Christian and more than likely a Freemason. Also, Sapphire, the author of American Dreams and Push, is my father's little sister, Ramona Lofton. They have very little, if any, contact with each other."
From the mid-70s on, Lofton was a military brat. From California his family moved to Idaho and then to Panama. "1 was down in Panama during probably the best time to be there, 1979-1981. A man by the name of Torrijos was in charge. He was the ideological equivalent of a lukewarm Jesse Jackson. It was the only time in my entire life I ever trusted a cop. The Panamanian police are known as La Guardia. And they would pass out candy to little kids. The average La Guardia member looked like Michael Jordan. It was such a shock to me because I was so used to the pigs being the enemy. And there I was in Panama, seeing all these dark-skinned faces in uniform who are sworn to protect me and loved kids."
"Let's get to your novel. Why did you write it?"
"I never trusted the Nation of Islam. Because the Nation of Islam will point out instances of genocide in American history, the black community assumes that they're left wing. But this is as incorrect as a skinhead saying the Holocaust never happened. Or as incorrect as a history teacher claiming that Columbus was no more than an intrepid explorer when, in fact, Columbus did the kind of genocide that Farrakhan regularly speaks of. Farrakhan and Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam have always been as far to the right on the political spectrum as one could possibly imagine. "When I did the homework, the footwork and the research on the Nation of Islam, I found a lot of things that the black community is still very much in denial over. I found out that the Nation of Islam has had a 37-year-long working political coalition with the white supremacist movement. Just as the Black Panthers hung out with the SDS, the Weathermen and theYippies, the Nation of Islam hung out with the Klan and the Nazis. "No one knows that the Nation of Islam is right wing. Or, at the very least, no one acts as though they know. 1 had to begin A.D. with a history lesson. The history lesson talks of how the Nation of Islam found babies in a bathtub in Kareem Abdul Jabbar's house in January of 1973. This can be drowned in the New York Times. Or that Malcolm X confessed to dealing with the Klan. A.D. reprints an excerpt of Malcolm's speech given Feb. 15,'65 at the Audubon ballroom. In 1960, Elijah Muhammad ordered Malcolm X to cut a deal with the Ku Klux Klan. Malcolm X spoke of this exactly one week before he died in the Audubon Ballroom. My guess is that this was a stronger motivation for Malcolm leaving the Nation than Elijah Muhammad's adultery."
Meanwhile, Lofton says, in 1962 George Lincoln Rockwell, head of the American Nazi Party, "was invited by Elijah Muhammad to come and speak at the temple in Chicago. George Lincoln Rockwell appeared. He save the big thumbs up and the seal of approval and the endorsement of the American Nazi Party to the Nation of Islam. "Flash forward to 1985, when Farrakhan was at a rally in L.A., he accepted a $100 donation from White Aryan Resistance's Tom Metzger. In 1992, on the short-lived Whoopi Goldberg Show, Metzger endorsed Farrakhan and said his advice to any young black man out there was to join the Nation of Islam. This is a Nazi! This is a former Klansman saying,'Hey, black men out there! If you're young, bored and ain't got nothing to do, join the Nation of Islam.' That's not an endorsement that I want. Only a fellow fascist would endorse a fascist group like that, especially on national television. Yes, the Nation of Islam is a fascist group. Lofton relates how the small Berkeley paper Slingshot photoed Nation of Islam bodyguards with David Irving, the Holocaust revisionist, in Oct. '96.
'This is one year after the Million Man March. Anyone out there asking'What has the Nation of Islam done since the Million Man March?'-that's what they've been doing, bodyguarding Nazis." The black community, Lofton insists, continues to buy into the myth that the Nation of Islam is "the ideological heir to the Black Panthers. Because the black community is continually operating under these delusions, I wanted to write an Orwellian cautionary tale showing just what the hell would happen if black people continued this into the 21st Century. If the Nation of Islam actually were able to get the allblack separate state they've been clamoring after for decades, you would have a society that would be very similar to what George Orwell wrote in 1984. Basically if you take the pig from Animal Farm and replace him with a Black Muslim, you've got my novel."
By the end of our conversation, Lofton and I have agreed on two things: (1) Mumia AbuJamal and all political prisoners must be set free. (2) Lofton's novel deserves a far broader audience than it has accumulated thus far.
We differ, however, on the issue of why his book is not better known. He claims that he and his book are being suppressed by both the black and white corporate-owned media (in fact, this claim is stamped right on his book's front cover, a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy). I believe simply that his novel was published by a small house with no marketing budget and poor distribution. But who knows? Mebbe it's really dat ol' debbil whyte man's fault after all. In the spirit of Anarchist Democracy, I say go out and buy Lofton's book and settle the matter for us.