All it took were posters of Louis Farrakhan tacked onto trees and telephone poles in the city's poorest neighborhoods. The result: Nearly 10,000 black people jammed inside the D.C. Convention Center on Monday night to hear a man dismissed by most whites as a hateful crackpot.
"Some say Brother Farrakhan has no support, and hope that maybe one day he will dry up and blow away," the head of the Nation of Islam began. "Sorry, but you will have to deal with Brother Farrakhan for all of your natural life."
The crowd clapped and cheered as Farrakhan struck chords of emotion with his theme of defiance. Occasionally, he lowered his voice then prepared for a crescendo that brought the crowd to its feet.
"I have said, I am not before you of myself but I am indeed backed by power that upholds the universe. I speak with humility but also authority when I say I am walking in the valley of the shadow of death but I fear no evil. I am a free black man and I answer to no one but God!"
People bolted from their seats as if struck by lightning. A 66-year-old newspaper distributor shivered and trembled in his chair. "Lord, I been waiting for this for many, many years," he said, mesmerized by Farrakhan's oratory.
Unlike other practicing preachers and politicians today, Farrakhan addresses boldly and bluntly a growing discontent and frustration in poor black neighborhoods. Unfortunately, he is able to do this in much the same way that Adolf Hitler was.
Filled with hatred of Jews, Farrakhan makes his audiences jump to their feet and applaud wildly when he says things like, "Jews know their wickedness, not just Zionism, which is an outgrowth of Jewish transgression." His words are harsh, and he even makes the audience laugh when he mocks the Holocaust.
And he does not stop there.
"I intend to raise the ante tonight," Farrakhan told the crowd. "Black people will not be controlled by Jews. Black leaders will either come out for us -- or get the hell away from us." He said that black people were the "chosen people, the people of God."
Again, the crowd roared as it jumped to its feet.
"Ain't nobody saying what he's saying but him," said Fred Laster, 30, one in a largely male, non-Muslim crowd who had come to hear Farrakhan. "Nobody else is telling the truth like him. They might be thinking it but they don't have the courage to say it."
Farrakhan had recently returned from a tour of the Middle East where he touched base with some of that regions most radical Arabs, including Libyan Col. Muammar Qaddafi, from whom Farrakhan had received a $5 million interest free loan.
That money is slated for use in a new corporation called POWER, People Organized for Economic Rebirth, which is believed to be set up to manufacture a line of consumer products.
Farrakhan drew more raves when he admonished black women not to send their sons into the military. It was a new addition to his rhetorical arsenal, and one that Col. Qaddafi has uttered in years past.
Farrakhan had added other changes to his speeches since returning from the Middle East. For instance, no longer were all whites "devils," as he once preached, and now it was okay for blacks to straighten their hair or even wear dreadlocks if they wanted to.
Overall, his speech was filled with the kind of macho bravado that makes oppressed people feel better about themselves, and he talked of economic coalition building between blacks, Hispanics, Mexicans and Indians.
But as he neared the end of his two-hour speech, it was clear that he had not charted an economic course for his followers -- short of buying video tapes of his speeches and tubes of POWER toothpaste and deodorant.
Yet, Farrakhan remains a force in many sections of this and other cities. But this force can only be destructive in the long run -- not only for Farrakhan, but especially his followers, who have failed to learn the bitter lessons of hate that came out of Nazi Germany a half century ago.