WASHINGTON — Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan said Thursday that Libyan strongman Moammar Kadafi is giving him a $5-million interest-free loan to help him start a "self-contained economic system" for blacks in America, the Caribbean and Africa.
Farrakhan said in an interview that he will use the money, part of which has already been delivered, to start a marketing organization called POWER (People Organized and Working for Economic Rebirth). Through this organization, members will obtain toothpaste, soap, mouthwash, skin oils and other personal care products and sell them, he said.
He said that the Chicago-based Johnson Products Co. will be the "principal manufacturer" of the products, which will be sold through churches and the Nation of Islam.
Center of Controversy
Farrakhan, who was the center of controversy last year because of his disparaging remarks about Jews, acknowledged that accepting money from the unpredictable leader of an anti-American country could bring more criticism.
"We expect that there will be some flak," he said, "but getting our people up out of the condition that they are in is our No. 1 priority."
At one point, Farrakhan suggested that the U.S. government also should contribute funds, saying that would ensure that "we won't be a burden on this society or anywhere else."
The Muslim leader asserted that "every intelligent American would rather see black people doing something for themselves than to see black people burning down the cities. America cannot afford internal combustion with a growing legion of enemies on the outside of the country."
Saw Kadafi in Libya
In describing how the loan came about, Farrakhan said that he met in Libya last year with Kadafi to discuss "theological differences" between black Muslims and orthodox Muslims. Later, he said, Kadafi offered to help blacks if Farrakhan could develop an economic plan.
Farrakhan described Kadafi as empathizing with blacks and allied against what Kadafi called the "racist mentality" of Americans. The Libyan leader declared: "I am your brother in blackness, your brother in Islam and your brother in struggle," Farrakhan said.
A staunch supporter of Democratic presidential candidate Jesse Jackson last year, Farrakhan acknowledged that his defense of Jackson and criticism of Jews had raised his stock in Libya.
When he spoke out "forcibly against what I saw the Jews doing to Jesse, this was reported by the--if you will--Zionist-controlled media, and it got worldwide attention," Farrakhan said. "And, naturally, this increased my influence in the Arab world."
Farrakhan said that he will solicit loans from other Arab countries after he has demonstrated effective use of the Libyan money.
Won't Be a Puppet
However, he denied that the money will make him a puppet of any foreign government. Farrakhan said that he "appealed directly to the leader for a loan for this specific purpose," adding: "There are no strings attached to that loan."
He said that he will begin repaying the money in 18 months and that he does not have to register the transaction with the U.S. government. A State Department spokesman said "it would not appear" that U.S. laws prohibit the transaction.
Meanwhile, Farrakhan said, he is speaking across the nation, seeking support in large cities for POWER. Those who join pay $10 for a taped message, and Farrakhan said 40,000 persons have contributed $400,000 in this fashion already. Also, he said, he has raised an additional $250,000 through collections from the Nation of Islam, a loan from Independence Bank in Chicago and funds from the Wellington Group, a black marketing-research firm in Philadelphia.
Farrakhan, who holds the title of minister, said that he will not head POWER because he is "a spiritual man, and I will continue to deal in the spiritual arena." Officers of the group have not been chosen, he said.