IT'S AN OLD device of demagogues, and Louis Farrakhan is using it to defend his hate-mongering: Any black person in a position of responsibility who doesn't like what he says -- or concludes, as more and more black elected leaders have, that his anti-Semitic tirades are repugant -- is characterized as trying to "placate the Jews." In addition to the bigotry Mr. Farrakhan revels in spreading about Jews, Judaism and Israel, he is now insulting the intelligence and public service of blacks who don't accept his every word.

People are free to listen to Mr. Farrakhan's rantings, of course -- give or take some unpleasantly selective detention searches and pushing around by security guards at these rallies -- but critics are free to speak up intelligently and morally for tolerance. So it is that Rep. Mickey Leland of Texas, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, and three members of the D.C. Council -- John Ray, John Wilson and Charlene Drew Jarvis -- were among those last week who criticized Mr. Farrakhan and defended Mayor Barry's condemnation of Mr. Farrakhan's speech in Washington in July.

Too many Americans of all colors have strong personal reasons for bristling at the kind of talk Mr. Farrakhan insists is not bigotry. They're not fooled. They're not impressed. And they're not silenced.