Team Jackson and the Nation of Islam

The instant that two top officials of the Nation of the Islam were spotted at a closed-door meeting of Michael Jackson's advisors at a ritzy Beverly Hills hotel, his legal woes quickly got lost. The buzz is that the Muslims are handling his security, running his business affairs, and even plotting his legal strategy. Jacko -- some even put an X after his name -- supposedly is their total captive. The Nation's kind of, sort of denial, and the even more vehement denial of Jackson attorney Mark Geragos are brushed off.

Nation officials have been prominent at team Jackson's press conferences, the advisor's meeting, and Muslim bodyguards will probably surround the Pop King at his court appearances. But there's no evidence that they are anything other then one more ornament in Jackson's traveling ménage. In the past decade, Jackson has had a penchant for drawing into his circle anyone that he takes a momentary liking to, and believes can be useful. Despite the cast of quirky characters that pop up from time to time in Jackson's camp, the same handful of mostly white, wealthy, and connected music industry insiders remain team Jackson's core players and call the big ticket legal and business shots.

Whatever role the Nation may play on team Jackson, it's on the team for a reason, and that reason has nothing to do with racial altruism. Though the black Muslims have long drawn public fire for their past black separatist, anti-white, anti-Semitic rhetoric, the Nation is run as a top down, hard-nosed corporate structured, money making operation.

It provided security for political, entertainment, and sports figures Jesse Jackson, P. Diddy Combs, and O.J. Simpson attorney Johnnie Cochran. It has brokered contracts with various municipal agencies to provide security and run anti-drug and anti-gang prevention programs. (These contracts have raised howls of protest from conservative groups and demands that they be rescinded). It has established numerous farms, stores, and restaurants. The Nation has waved its rugged, capitalist business prowess as an emblem of black pride that other blacks should emulate. Jackson has a keen eye on the dollar, much evident when he allegedly stuck up CBS for a fat payoff and the airing of a previously shelved special, in return for a 60 Minutes interview. He would find the Nation's business acumen appealing.

But this isn't their only possible appeal to Jackson. There's the issue of race. Jackson was arrested by a white sheriff, will be prosecuted by a white DA, tried by a white Judge, and if tried in Santa Maria, California will likely be judged by a mostly, if not all, white jury. Polls have shown the predictable racial divide on the case with more blacks then whites saying that Jackson is innocent. Also, brother Jermaine angrily called the charges against Jackson a legal lynching, and there was Jackson's racially-tinged outburst at a Harlem press conference with Al Sharpton a couple of years ago in which he charged that Sony records cheated him out of millions.

If Jackson grabs at the race card, the Nation would give him a cover. But Jackson is in deep legal hock. He will need top legal experts, jury consultants, and public relations spin masters to get him out of it and salvage whatever he can of a badly tarnished reputation. Screaming racism would be tantamount to committing legal and public relations suicide. Jackson is also an international icon, with thousands of trance like fans, most of who are white. He also has a staple of loyal celebrity pals such as Elizabeth Taylor and Liza Minnelli who have rallied behind him. Playing the "I'm persecuted because I'm black" angle would hopelessly alienate them.

For his part, Jackson has not made a single utterance that the charges against him are racially motivated. He has certainly had ample opportunity to make the case for racial persecution on his website, in his 60 Minutes interview, and when he claimed he was manhandled by Santa Barbara Sheriff's when he was booked. Police abuse is virtually code words for racial victimization. Many in the media that hang on his every word would giddily run with that line. But it wouldn't work. The Nation's notorious race-baiting rep would back fire on him. And while many blacks claim race fuels the charges, they also slam Jackson for bragging about sleeping with children, and question his judgment if not his morals. Comedian and activist Dick Gregory, who has known Jackson for a quarter century and sees dark plots when prominent blacks are dumped on the legal hot seat, maintains he's innocent but has publicly sidestepped race as the driving force in the case.

When Jackson finally lands in the trial docket, the cast of characters that guided him to the pinnacle of success in the entertainment world will likely still be slogging along visibly and behind the scenes at his side. If the past is any indication, don't bet that the Nation will be on team Jackson with them.


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