D.C. campaign finance officials have asked council member Trayon White Sr. for more information about a $500 donation he made to a Nation of Islam event in Chicago where leader Louis Farrakhan declared “powerful Jews are my enemy.”
White (D-Ward 8) made the Jan. 29 donation, disclosed in filings this month, from his constituent services account — private money raised by lawmakers for community causes. The funds must benefit D.C. residents, according to campaign finance law. They are often used for things such as helping a constituent in a bind pay a utility bill or to send flowers to someone in mourning.
The Nation of Islam has long performed community service for black residents in the poorest parts of the city that are represented by White.
But the lawmaker’s contribution went to the group’s Saviours’ Day, an annual weekend convention where Farrakhan has denounced Jews in caustic terms.
A spokesman for the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance said agency officials requested additional information about the Nation of Islam donation and other spending listed in White’s most recent report. If they determine the spending was improper, White could be fined.
White defended the Nation of Islam’s work in the District, which goes back to the 1980s when members patrolled drug-plagued neighborhoods.
“The Brothers from the Nation are of the few men that show up to help . . . us address crime and social ills in Southeast. They also run a feeding program in several public housing communities in ward 8,” White wrote in a text message. “I’m a Christian but I support a lot of people and all religions who support my community.”
He said he did not know about the $500 donation.
But the fund’s treasurer said the lawmaker personally ordered the payment.
“He said to me, ‘I want you to make a payment to the Nation of Islam for Saviours’ Day,’ ” Darryl Ross, the treasurer, said in a phone interview. “So I went on the website to get the information I needed in order to make the payment.”
Campaign finance officials have given White until May 3 to explain the donation to the February event, where Farrakhan said Jews controlled the FBI and “were responsible for all of this filth and degenerate behavior that Hollywood is putting out turning men into women and women into men.” He said the government and “powerful Jews” were his enemies.
D.C. Council member Brianne K. Nadeau (D-Ward 1), one of two Jewish members of the council, called the use of constituent service funds to support the Nation of Islam event “appalling.”
“With today’s revelations, I believe we have crossed a threshold,” Nadeau wrote in a statement. “I believe the council should censure Council member T. White for his misuse of funds in support of anti-Semitism and homophobia.”
“To the people of Ward 8, who know too well how hard it is to rise up from bigotry, hate and dangerous stereotypes,” the statement said, “I ask that you understand how hurtful this has been, and that you, too, hold your council member accountable.”
Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) echoed Nadeau and called for censure.
The city’s inquiry comes as White has been trying to mend fences with the Jewish community after he claimed the Rothschilds — a European banking dynasty often at the center of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories — control the climate, the federal government and the World Bank.
After his comments were publicized in March, White said he did not realize he had offended Jews and committed himself to a better understanding of anti-Semitism. He embarked on an atonement tour that included a Passover Seder, a bagels-and-lox breakfast with Jewish leaders at the D.C. government building and a visit with a rabbi to the U.S. Holocaust Museum on Thursday — a visit he left abruptly.
Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, who leads a modern Orthodox synagogue in the District, said White’s ties to the Nation of Islam reveal that his earlier comments regarding the Rothschilds were not a momentary error and that Jewish leaders should not have accepted his apologies so quickly.
“The Jewish community let him off easy because he never explained how he came to have these views. He has never denounced the people with whom he’s associated,” Herzfeld said. “Him giving that money to Farrakhan is basically endorsing the vicious anti-Semitism that we all heard.”
African American politicians and civil rights leaders have toed a careful line with Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam. Some in marginalized black communities have seen the group as a force for good and community improvement, but incendiary comments made by Farrakhan and other leaders have drawn widespread condemnation.
Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) was dogged by past support for Farrakhan when he ascended to a leadership role in the Democratic National Committee. Tamika Mallory, co-president of the Women’s March, drew a firestorm after she attended this year’s Saviours’ Day event, where Farrakhan denounced Jews.
Farrakhan has made occasional visits to Washington, leading the Million Man March in 1995 and marking its 20th anniversary in 2015.
He eulogized former mayor Marion Barry in 2014 and sometimes speaks at Union Temple Baptist Church in Anacostia — where White is close to the pastor, Willie F. Wilson, and where the council member delivered his State of the Ward address last year.
Council member Elissa Silverman (I-At Large), the other Jewish member of the council and a critic of the Nation of Islam’s local influence, said she was disappointed by White’s donation but still had faith in his efforts to learn about anti-Semitism.
“I have been very clear with him that Minister Farrakhan is hateful and an anti-Semite,” Silverman said, “and I think we should work together to stamp out hate.”
Peter Jamison contributed to this report.