Controversial Nation of Islam leader Minister Louis Farrakhan spoke to an enthusiastic crowd of 5,000 people at the Washington Convention Center last night, introducing a line of household products he said his organization is making and selling to help blacks become economically independent.
Farrakhan's two-hour speech was titled "Politics Without Economics is Symbol Without Substance," and included gibes at black elected officials and other black leaders, but was without the remarks considered anti-Semitic that provoked an outcry after his 1985 appearance here.
Admission to that appearance was free, but tickets to last night's speech cost $5 each.
Farrakhan said the money would be used "to defray the cost" of the event.
While many blacks have advanced in politics, he said, the black masses are "going backward politically . . . economically . . . and socially."
He said politics alone was not the answer.
About a dozen members of the Maryland Federation of College Republicans marched outside carrying signs protesting what they called Farrakhan's racism.
Farrakhan reserved his harshest words for black leaders who he said "trotted out like trained seals" to denounce him after his remarks were criticized as anti-Semitic.
He ended the evening by passing out some of the six "Clean 'N' Fresh" products he said were being distributed by his economic program known as POWER, or People Organized to Work for Economic Rebirth.
He said the goal is to employ 100,000 people and raise money to build schools, hospitals, farms and other businesses. Farrakhan received a $5 million interest-free loan from Libya during a trip in 1985 that he said he would use to market products.