In a sprawling speech made from the Mall on the anniversary of the Million Man March on Saturday, the allegedly retired Nation of Islam leader, Louis Farrakhan, held forth on a list of topics so long that they are difficult to capture.
For more than two hours.
Farrakhan advised against abortion and arrogance. He praised the Black Lives Matter movement. He lambasted socially acceptable forms of bribery, along with child abuse, the corrosive nature of colonialism, corruption, and edits made to Jefferson's initial draft of the Declaration of Independence. Farrakhan decried foul language, human trafficking and squandering one's inborn gifts. He took a position against integration that may have been missed in his rather large and amplified word cloud.
Farrakhan attested to the damage caused by Native American mascots, mass incarceration and materialism. He talked about natural disasters and the natural rights of man. There was mention of the universal nature of our mortality, misogyny, narcissism, and the wealthy puppets and puppeteers at the center of the presidential election.
Farrakhan lectured about the responsibilities of parents, police and other leaders who are, of course, male; the personal strength that can be derived from faith; and what he regards as the poisonous capacities of fear, pork and vanity. He also had much to say about racism, reproduction — sperm, seed, eggs and wombs — slavery and the value of diversity in flora and mankind. Farrakhan rebuked what he considers vapid acts of racial contrition as well as violence and offered a prayer for the unborn.
And that was just the first hour. Farrakhan's remarks amounted to the oratorical equivalent of a bulk-size can of mixed nuts.
Farrakhan's speech also included some passing references to the dietary guidelines, gender roles, groups with permanent residence on the nation's do-not-trust list, as well as the numerology and creation myths that have prompted a million pop culture references and landed the Nation of Islam on the Southern Poverty Law Center's list of hate groups.
He denied any role in the 1965 murder of Malcom X. In fact, he implied that it was more likely a government-backed assassination with terrorist aims and offered his own brand of pity for those who believe something different. His proof: his own freedom despite aggressive and disproportionate prosecutions in cases involving slim evidence and black suspects. Also, Farrakhan noted the presence of at least one FBI agent in the room where Malcolm X was shot in front of an audience that included his children.
Both are shop-worn but sadly plausible even in 2015. And Farrakhan's comments on the killing will almost certainly seed a new farm of conspiracy theories, Web sites and tomes dedicated to the Malcolm X's death.
But in both the expansive subject matter and what was not said during Farrakhan's time on stage, his speech ultimately registered more like a focus-grouped list of all that ails many segments of America than a full-scale polemic or declaration of political or cultural war.
If that description strikes you as harsh, remember: The marketing minds behind Saturday's event opted to call it the "Justice or Else" rally.
In 1995, the Million Man March captured the nation's attention and launched multiple counter-protests precisely because it claimed to include a clear and deceptively simple solution to a range of complicated social phenomenon. Men — black men — needed to come together, atone for their alleged individual and collective failures, and claim or reclaim morally centered leadership roles in their families and communities, the Million Man March's organizers said.
On Saturday, the list of those welcome on the Mall was far broader. The list of issues and challenges facing every participant in the American experiment was long — very long. And, perhaps as such, the implied solutions would amount to nothing short of wholesale and exceedingly unlikely revolution.
The long and interconnected history between oppression and inequality shouldn't be reflexively and quickly dismissed. Atonement has social, psychological and sometimes economic value. It is not an activity in which America has ever fully engaged. On these issues, the facts are on Farrakhan's side. But his insistence that exploitation, oppression and denial alone explain natural disasters took the speech into the realm of doomsday prophesies and late-night televised pyramid schemes masquerading as evangelism.
For those inclined to attach tremendous value to Farrakhan's every word and missive, there was a lot there. For those inclined to question but not dismiss him, there might have been enough material in the two-hour address to distract from that which was missing at the first Million Man March and that which was absent again Saturday. For those expecting to depart either with a set of goals toward which quantifiable progress might be made, the speech was probably a dizzying and disappointing miss.
And, those who came to the Mall on Saturday or arose Sunday expecting to read of some sort of linear and unmistakable connection between Farrakhan's Saturday remarks and the Million Man March at the same site 20 years ago will probably have to wait for the book or the carefully crafted independent movie.
Twenty years after Farrakhan first summoned black men to the Mall for the Million Man March, all were welcome, many were critiqued. And only a few can probably claim they heard clear and practical direction.
The apex of the Justice or Else rally was certainly Farrakhan's speech. But it featured a mix made by Farrakhan, 82, a man in a long line of complex and flawed public figures. That the speech happened on the Mall — a space surrounded by monuments to great and dead men whose contradictory practices and principles have made them the subjects of debate for centuries — was probably the only clear indicator of Farrakhan's central aim.