Black Muslim leader Louis Farrakhan, whose threats against a Washington Post reporter have become an issue in Jesse L. Jackson's political campaign, yesterday defended himself here in a second controversy, having called Adolf Hitler a "great man."
He said he thinks Hitler was also "wicked. Wickedly great."
In his first news conference in 12 years, Farrakhan assailed the media for what he called "wicked and malicious tampering with my words" in a March 11 radio broadcast, in which he called on blacks to ostracize Post reporter Milton Coleman. In that broadcast, he warned Coleman, a black, that "someday we will punish you with death" for reporting Jackson's reference to Jews as "Hymie" and New York as "Hymietown."
During the same radio sermon, which was broadcast nationwide, Farrakhan said, according to the Chicago Tribune: "Here, the Jews don't like Farrakhan, so they call him Hitler. Well, that's a good name. Hitler was a very great man. He wasn't great for me as a black person, but he was a great German, and he rose Germany up from the ashes of her defeat by the united force of Europe and America after the first world war.
"Now, I'm not proud of Hitler's evils against the Jewish people. But that's a matter of record. He rose Germany up from nothing. Well, in a sense you could say there's a similarity in that we're rising our people up from nothing. But don't compare me with your wicked killers."
Asked about those comments, Farrakhan said, "I don't think you would be talking about Adolph Hitler 40 years after the fact if he was some minuscule crackpot that jumped up on the European continent. He was indeed a great man, but also wicked. Wickedly great."
About 200 people turned out to hear Farrakahn here, including many supporters who punctuated his comments with applause or cheers. The most enthusiastic response came when he warned that "the judgment of God is fast approaching the Fourth Estate" and said that "there is a real fear, it seems to me, among white people when black people show solidarity."
After shunning reporters and politics through most of his career as leader of the Nation of Islam, Farrakhan moved into the political arena this year to back Jackson by providing bodyguards, warming up crowds and helping register thousands of black voters.
In the past week, Jackson has spent much of his time in interviews trying to keep at arms length from Farrakhan's March 11 remarks without alienating Farrakhan's following.
"In the case of Mr. Farrakhan, a man I respect very much, I disassociate myself from any form of violence or threats of violence," Jackson said yesterday. "And yet, I have no moral right to try to bury someone with their eyes wide open."
Asked how he would react if a member of the Ku Klux Klan announced support for Walter F. Mondale, Jackson said, "There are extreme elements supporting everybody. You can only separate the sinner from the sin."
"Why should Rev. Jackson have to answer for what I believe?" Farrakhan asked in a prepared statement at the beginning of his news conference.
The Post reported last week that Farrakhan had told Coleman April 5 that he did not intend his remarks March 11 as a death threat against the reporter or his family.
Farrakhan said yesterday, "Although my clear statement that no physical harm should come to Milton Coleman was ignored by most of you to further your own purposes, I want the world to know that lives of Milton Coleman, his wife and family are sacred to me. A living Milton Coleman--reformed--is an asset to us as well as to America."
Saying that he "may be a little paranoid," Farrakhan suggested that "all of this furor . . . about my remarks" may be part of a conspiracy by "big labor" to discredit Jackson and, thus, help Mondale.
Farrakhan said, "In this matter, I have been treated as a criminal. And yet no criminal charges have been placed against me. Why? If I, in fact, threatened the life of Milton Coleman, I should be arrested and charged and have the right to defend myself in a court of law."
A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Chicago said that he was "reviewing" Farrakhan's March 11 statements to determine whether the minister had violated a federal law prohibiting the interstate broadcast of a threat. Conviction for making such a threat carries a maximum penalty of a $1,000 fine and 5 five years in prison.
The spokesman added, "There's not much there to investigate . . . . It's just a question of what he meant."