CAIR: Miami Cult not Muslims
For one thing, they are vegetarians!
It seems pretty obvious that they are just a local African-American cult which mixed Judaism, Christianity and (a little bit of) Islam. It seems to be a of vague offshoot of the Moors group founded by Dwight York. I heard on CNN that one of them talked of being Moors. And Batiste, the leader, called whites “devils” in the tradition of the original Nation of Islam and York’s Moors. Now CNN is saying one member said they practiced witchcraft [likely meaning Haitian voodoo or perhaps Santeria-like rituals]. One former member is called Levi-El, suggesting he might be associated with the Black Hebrew movement or an offshoot. Now a relative of one of the members, Phanor, said that they wore black uniforms with a star of David arm patch and considered themselves of the Order of Melchizadek. I wonder if it is “Seas of David” or “C’s of David”, with “c” meaning commando or some such?
I define cult as a religious group that has values that put it in a high state of tension with the norms of mainstream society, and that has a leadership that imposes high levels of discipline and demand for control of adherents’ lives.
This Seas of David group primarily seems to have been studying the Bible. The mother of one insisted that he is a Catholic. Then there is all that Jewish symbology and terminology, even in their names. Islam was nothing more for them but a set of symbols they could pull into their syncretic local culture. The group drew on poor Haitian immigrants and local indigent African-American youth. If this were the 1960s, they’d have been Black Panthers or Communists.
American folk religion, pursued in small groups with charismatic leaders, is replete with such groups, from Father Divine to Jim Jones of the People’s Temple to David Koreish.
The group never got past the stage of talking big, and violently. They talked dangerously, and some sort of intervention was warranted. Since they begged the FBI informant for “shoes,” they weren’t exactly a well-heeled group that seems very dangerous in actual practice. And, to what extent did the FBI informant press an al-Qaeda connection on these otherwise clueless but imaginative zealots?
But contrast the grandstanding of Alberto Gonzales on this group of poor unarmed ghetto folk with the way in which the Robert J. Goldstein case was treated. He actually had the bombs in his house and was going to blow up Floridians. No press called him a “Jewish” terrorist and no questions were ever raised about his possible international links.
Imagine the horror of an urbane Arab-American professional with university higher degrees, steeped in Islamic culture and contributing to American society, at being lumped in by the American press and officialdom with these cultists who appropriated his religion for their violent religious fantasies.
The other thing to say is that American law is soft on cultic practices, of dirty tricks against and smearing of critics, enforced third-party shunning, manipulation, and group coercion. These things are not protected by the First Amendment and I think one part of our counter-terrorism strategy must be to develop legal strategies to make it easier to disrupt the workings of cults before they accumulate a critical mass for violent action. The practice of just letting the head of the Internal Revenue Service decide if a group is a tax-free religion should also be revisited. In the past, some IRS heads appear to have been blackmailed by cults into granting them that status, which allows them to accumulate more wealth.
Whereas most terrorism is a form of educated, middle class politics, this particular group clearly grew out of the grievances and resentments of race and class inequality in the United States.
The sister of one was just on MSNBC saying that he deeply resented Bush spending money to drop bombs on poor people who could not defend themselves, while depriving the poor in the United States of any support. “We are not capable,” she said. This is a theory of class war, connecting the poor of Kut with the poor of Miami’s inner city. The city, by the way, has horrific levels of unemployment.
The position of the poor and workers in particular is deteriorating in the US, as more and more of the privately held wealth is concentrated in the hands of a white, privileged, few. The unions have been gutted, the minimum wage is inadequate, and racist attitudes are reemerging on a worrisome scale. Cities such as Detroit, New Orleans and Miami continue to witness enormous strains coming mainly from racist attitudes. In this case, the best counter-terrorism would be more social justice.