The Magazine

Jeremiah Wright's 'Trumpet'

The content of the magazine produced by Barack Obama's pastor reveals the content of his character.

May 19, 2008, Vol. 13, No. 34 • By STANLEY KURTZ
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One of Wright's most striking images of American evil invokes Hurricane Katrina. Here are excerpts of a piece in the May 2006 Trumpet:

We need to educate our children to the reality of white supremacy.

We need to educate our children about the white supremacist's foundations of the educational system.

When the levees in Louisiana broke alligators, crocodiles and piranha swam freely through what used to be the streets of New Orleans. That is an analogy that we need to drum into the heads of our African American children (and indeed all children!).

In the flood waters of white supremacy .  .  . there are also crocodiles, alligators and piranha!

The policies with which we live now and against which our children will have to struggle in order to bring about "the beloved community," are policies shaped by predators.

We lay a foundation, deconstructing the household of white supremacy with tools that are not the master's tools. We lay the foundation with hope. We deconstruct the vicious and demonic ideology of white supremacy with hope. Our hope is not built on faith-based dollars, empty liberal promises or veiled hate-filled preachments of the so-called conservatives. Our hope is built on Him who came in the flesh to set us free.

Given Wright's conviction that America, past and present, is criminally white supremacist--even genocidal--to its core, Wright is not a fan of patriotic celebration. Predictably, Columbus Day is a day of rage for Wright. Calling Columbus a racist slave trader, Wright excoriates the holiday as "a national act of amnesia and denial," part of the "sick and myopic arrogance called Western History."

Strangely, given his view of this country, Wright insists that real credit for America's discovery goes to Africans. As evidence for the African discovery of America, Wright cites Dr. Ivan van Sertima's book They Came Before Columbus. (Sertima's work has been severely criticized by scholars and was dismissed by prominent British archaeologist Glyn Daniel in a 1977 New York Times book review as "ignorant rubbish.") Wright concludes: "Giving Columbus the credit is called 'American History' or 'The History of Western Civilization.' Back in the 1960's we called it what it was and is, however, and that is 'a pack of lies.'  "

Contempt for Columbus Day is hardly novel, but in the 2006 July/August issue, regular Trumpet columnist the Rev. Reginald Williams Jr. comes down hard on the Fourth of July, which Williams dismisses as "the national holiday of the dominant culture." Williams invokes Frederick Douglass's famous 1852 Fourth of July address:

What to the slave is the 4th of July? What have I to do with your national independence? .  .  . What to the American slave is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham .  .  . your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless .  .  . your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings .  .  . mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy--a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages.

To Williams, Douglass's words ring every bit as true today as they did before the Civil War and the abolition of slavery. (This column is illustrated with a large picture of slave manacles.) Williams goes on to echo and update Douglass, condemning the Fourth as "nothing more than a day off work and a time for some good barbeque to the millions of African Americans who suffer and have suffered under the policies of this government and this country." Liberation theologian that he is, Williams is particularly hostile to those who "will even invoke religious fervor, and biblical quotes to justify their flawed sense of phony patriotism." No flag pins here.

Hostility to capitalism is another of Trumpet's pervasive themes. As we've seen, Wright blames multinational corporations for conflict and poverty in Africa. Trinity Church urges parishioners to boycott Wal-Mart, and Wright decries what he calls "the "Wal-martization of the world." In another one of his regular Trumpet columns, Reginald Williams criticizes McDonald's for failing to heed leftist advocacy groups by voluntarily raising the price it pays for tomatoes (so as to raise the wages of tomato pickers). Williams apparently wants to replace market mechanisms with a pricing system dictated by "human rights groups."

While the nationally distributed issues of Trumpet in 2006 contained no pieces blaming 9/11 on America's "terrorist" foreign policy (as Wright did in a famous sermon), one remarkable piece defended then-congress-woman Cynthia McKinney's suspicion that the Bush administration knew about the 9/11 attacks before they happened. This column, "The Beloved Cynthia McKinney" (illustrated with pictures of McKinney in model-like poses), decries the fact that McKinney was "tarred and feathered in the press" for raising questions about possible government foreknowledge of 9/11. The "crimes of 9/11," it darkly announces, are "not only unsolved, but covered up by both Democrats and Republicans."

America's justice system is another favorite Trumpet theme. Wright likes to call it "the criminal injustice system." A piece headed "Read Me My Rights: Protocol for Dealing with the Police" decries racial profiling and counsels those detained to refuse to speak to police without a lawyer present. Reginald Williams calls prisons "the new concrete plantations" and likens the inclusion of nonvoting prisoners in state population counts to the official counting of nonvoting slaves in state populations before the Civil War. In other words, the abolition of slavery and segregation notwithstanding, America is still a fundamentally racist nation. Wright likes to call the American North "up South."

Is Wright an anti-white racist? He would certainly deny it. In When Black Men Stand Up for God (a book he coauthored, in praise of Louis Farrakhan's Million Man March), Wright says, "The enemy is not white people. The enemy is white supremacy." There are white members of Wright's church, and black liberation theologians have always, if a bit reluctantly, welcomed support from white radicals. Nonetheless, the problem of reverse racism keeps coming up, abetted by episodes like the assault on "garlic-nosed" Italians.

Wright's swipe at Italians is actually directed toward the Romans who crucified Jesus (in what James Cone calls a "first-century lynching"). Following black liberation theology, Wright emphasizes that the black Jesus was "murdered by the European oppressors who looked down on His people." In a sense, then, disclaimers notwithstanding, Wright turns the crucifixion into a potential charter for "anti-European" anger.

Wright, however, rejects the notion that "black racism" is even possible. That is why he prefers the term "white supremacy" to "racism." "Racism," says Wright, is a "slippery" and "nebulous" term, precisely because it seems potentially applicable to blacks and whites alike. The term "white supremacy" solves this problem, and Wright deploys it at every opportunity.

Wright opposes "assimilation," expressing displeasure with the likes of Condoleezza Rice, Clarence Thomas, and Colin Powell. He dismisses such blacks as "sell outs." Wright's hostility to assimilation goes beyond classic American expressions of pride in ethnic or religious heritage. For example, Wright claims that "desegregation is not the same as integration. .  .  . Desegregation did not mean that white children would now come to Black schools and learn our story, our history, our heritage, our legacy, our beauty and our strength!" This, for Wright, is genuine "integration."

One of the most striking features of Wright's Trumpet columns is the light they shed on his longstanding theme of "hope." Wright's "Audacity to Hope" sermon is built around a painting he describes of a torn and tattered woman sitting atop a globe and playing a harp that has lost all but a single string. In that sermon, Wright's allegory of hope amidst despair concentrates on our need to soldier on in faith amidst personal tragedy. Yet the "Audacity" sermon also features allusions to South Africa's Sharpe-ville Massacre (1960) and "white folks's greed [that] runs a world in need."

In Trumpet, the political context of the "hope" theme is harsher still. Instead of counseling determination amidst personal tragedy, Wright uses "hope" to exhort his readers to boldly carry on the long-odds struggle against white supremacist America: "We deconstruct the vicious and demonic ideology of white supremacy with hope." Here's another passage in the same mode:

[O]ur fight against Wal-Mart's practices has not been won and might never be won in our lifetime. That does not mean we stop struggling against what it is they stand for that is not in keeping with God's will and God's Kingdom that we pray will come every day.

In that earlier striking passage on the post-Katrina flooding in New Orleans, Wright speaks of his determination to "drum into the heads of our African American children (and indeed, all children!)" the idea that America is flooded with the "crocodiles, alligators and piranha" of white supremacy. That image creates the context for one of Wright's most energetic invocations of "hope":

We are on the verge of launching our African-centered Christian school. The dream of that school, which we articulated in 1979, was built on hope. That hope still lives. That school has to have at its core an understanding and assessment of white supremacy as we deconstruct that reality to help our children become all that God created them to be when God made them in God's own image.

The construction of a school for inner city children undoubtedly falls into the category of the "good works" which nearly everyone recognizes as a benefit bestowed by Trinity Church on the surrounding community, Wright's ideology notwithstanding. But is a school that portrays America as a white supremacist nation filled with predatory alligators and piranha a good work?

Wright's status as a father-figure comes through clearly in the pages of Trumpet. In a Trumpet interview, Jesse Jackson characterizes Wright as "between a huge father, pastor, preacher, [and] prophet." Wright's young minister protégés call him "Daddy J" and "Uncle J," and perhaps this latter name prompted Obama's reference to Wright as "like an uncle." Obama's longing for a father figure surely gave him a great hunger to get to know what Wright was about. In their first meeting, Wright warned Obama that many considered him too politically radical, and it is simply inconceivable that in 20 years' time someone as sharp as Obama did not grasp the intensely political themes repeated in so much of what Wright says and does. Radical politics is no sideline for Wright, but the very core of his theology and practice.

There can be no mistaking it. What did Barack Obama know and when did he know it? Everything. Always.

Stanley Kurtz is a senior fellow at the
Ethics and Public Policy Center.