Last November, Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia tweeted about the “common ground” shared by the GOP and the Nation of Islam (NOI). It was a surprising pronouncement, given that the far-right politician and social media star has risen to prominence on her Christian nationalist and, at times, anti-Muslim rhetoric. Her personal Twitter account was later permanently suspended over spreading misinformation about Covid. But before that, she had come across the Nation’s newspaper, according to her since-deleted tweets and The Hill newspaper, and some of the NOI’s vaccine skepticism resonated with her own. She noted that she knows a lot of people who don’t trust the government, including the Nation of Islam.
Greene wrote, “I also found out that the Nation of Islam sees the use and benefit of Ivermectin and is very angry that our media, Democrats, and Dr Fauci have attacked the drug and refuse to save people’s lives by not promoting it and shunning the use of it.” (The FDA does not approve or recommend Ivermectin for treating or preventing Covid-19 because its effectiveness has not been proven.) In the same thread, Greene said that while she opposes “radical Islam,” she supported the Nation of Islam’s stance. Knowing that the NOI opposes the vaccines, along with “many Christians,” she called for ensuring religious exemptions from vaccine mandates.
For its part, the Nation of Islam has not publicly responded to Greene’s message. But as of March 2, its online newspaper The Final Call still strongly opposed Covid-19 vaccines. The newspaper has peddled conspiracy theories about the vaccines, comparing them to the Tuskegee medical experiments, while touting the unproven benefits of Ivermectin.
At first glance, it may seem odd that Nation of Islam’s ideas would align with a Christian nationalist like Greene. After all, the NOI is unpologetically pro-Black and combines elements of traditional Islam with Black nationalism. Meanwhile, Christian nationalists believe that Christianity defines the United States’ nationhood and that the government should actively maintain laws that favor Christians and support their teachings. In some corners of the movement, Christian nationalists often define Muslims as un-American (Greene did so last year), and some, like Greene, have aligned themselves with white power movements. The Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled the Nation of Islam a “hate group” for their anti-white theology, antisemitism, and other issues.
And yet, this is not the first time a Christian nationalist has aligned with the Nation of Islam. As far back as the 1960s, the NOI was connected to white Christian nationalist groups like the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party. The NOI participated wholeheartedly in conversations and sought partnerships with these groups to obtain their own goals—racial separation and Black autonomy. While neither Louis Farrakhan, the NOI’s current head, nor other NOI leaders spoke out in support of Greene’s comments, it’s important to remember that the NOI’s own goals sometimes align with white Christian nationalists. Both groups fight to be free from authoritative structures—but for very different reasons. The Nation of Islam pushes back against centuries of white supremacy by practicing a religion that rejects white influence and power in favor of an Islamic Black nationalist state. At the same time, Christian nationalists often rely upon the organizations and movements that created, cemented, and maintain white supremacy in the United States. While their end goals don’t align, religious motivation and political opportunism can create strange bedfellows.
W.D. Fard founded the Nation of Islam in Detroit’s “Black Bottom,” near the Detroit River in 1930. Working as a peddler, he held meetings in the homes of Black migrants who had come to the Motor City in the Great Migration. Fard’s original contribution to Black American religion is his founding myth of Allah’s “Original People” or the Tribe of Shabazz. He taught that Allah designed Black people as his greatest creations (also called the Tribe of Shabazz or Asiatics) and in his image. However, an evil scientist named Yakub began breeding the lightest-skinned Asiatics to create a monstrous new species—the white man. When the Original People discovered Yakub’s betrayal, they banished him and all his ungodly creations. Those who were banished settled in “the caves of Europe,” created Christianity as a bastardized form of Islam, and built power to subdue the Original People. In the words of one convert, Fard taught that white people had stolen Black people’s “language, their nation, and their religion” and forced Christianity upon them as they subjected them through colonialism and slavery. However, in His mercy, Allah promised that he would return and restore Black people to power.
Allah would only liberate Black people if they followed the precepts taught by Fard. These teachings included caring for Black health on the individual and societal level. Fard insisted that Black people stop eating “poison animals” such as “ducks, geese, possums and catfish” and abstain from alcohol and other intoxicants. Crucially, Black people had to separate from white society, refusing to rely on governments and churches that had failed to care for them in the Great Depression’s depths. Fard and his successor, Elijah Muhammad, also castigated Black Christians as pawns of white oppression. Later, NOI leaders explained that their adherents did not want segregation; they wanted “separation,” choosing to live separately from whites rather than live under Jim Crow’s racist structures.
The convert most responsible for bringing the Nation of Islam to the mainstream was, of course, Malcolm X (el-Hajj Malik el Shabazz), whose dazzling oratory and searing pen presented the Nation of Islam’s teachings to America and the world. While Malcolm’s rhetoric attracted attention and fanned controversy’s flames, Muhammad fundraised to build Black-owned businesses and hospitals so that the dream of Black separation from whites could be achieved. The Nation of Islam, concomitantly, opposed integration, decrying it as unnatural, demonic, and a tool of white supremacy.
Muhammad’s focus on separation led to a shared understanding and limited partnership with white Christian nationalists. A “Christian Knight of the Ku Klux Klan” named J.B. Stoner wrote Elijah Muhammad a threatening letter in 1959, demanding that Muslims “stay in their place” and declared that Black people lacked the pride necessary to achieve civil rights. However, the letter recognized that the Klan and the Nation of Islam both wanted the same thing: racial separation for Blacks and whites. In a response to Stoner published in the Pittsburgh Courier, Muhammad argued that Black people who cowered in the face of whites had been trained by whites to hate themselves. The Klansman’s Christianity did not make him a better person or lead to peace—”You beat and kill [Black Christians] day and night and bomb their churches,” Muhammad wrote. Stoner would later be convicted for bombing a Black church in 1958.
Despite his public response, Muhammad did not stop working to create links with organizations committed to racial separatism. As fleshed out by the late Les Payne in his recent biography of Malcolm X, the Klan contacted Ministers Malcolm X and Jeremiah X when they were speaking in Georgia, likely because their locally distributed pamphlets called for racial separation and attacked Martin Luther King, Jr., whom both sides despised for his integrationism. Muhammad directed his subordinates to “meet with them devils.” He explained that the Klan wanted what the Nation of Islam wanted but that the ministers must explain that the Muslims wanted separation and not segregation. As Jeremiah X recalled in Payne’s book, Muhammad said, “We want to be totally separated from you. Give us ours and you have yours. We want ours more or less free and clear. Give us something we can call our own.”
In their meeting with the NOI, Klan members made it clear that they felt Muhammad was “the most sensible black man in America,” according to Payne. However, they did not see the point of calling their shared goal racial “separatism” rather than “segregation.” Eventually, after an exasperated Malcolm X was about to give up on the negotiations, one of the Klansmen said, “Call it whatever you like. As long as you stay over there and you’re glad to be black, good.” Although the meeting ended without any formal agreements or programming, it became clear that the Klan viewed the NOI’s designation of “separation” rather than “segregation” as a moot point, a distinction without difference.
Muhammad was not done trying to build bridges with white Christian supremacists—though later, he moved to the public arena. In 1961, he organized a rally in Washington, D.C., with George Lincoln Rockwell, the leader of the American Nazi Party, where Rockwell and ten other Nazis sporting swastika armbands came to the front of the arena. According to historian Manning Marable, when the press asked Rockwell why he was there, he replied, “I am fully in concert with [the Nation of Islam’s] program, and I have the highest respect for Mr. Elijah Muhammad.” Rockwell donated $20 to the Nation of Islam’s cause and received a short round of applause from Muslims in the audience. The NOI had publicly accepted money from a Nazi who, like the Klan, viewed racial separation as their shared goal.
In Muhammad’s mind, the American Nazi Party revealed white people for their evil natures—highlighting their odious racism against the backdrop of the Nation of Islam’s calls for peaceful separation would only prove the rightfulness of Muslim teachings. That isn’t to say that Muhammad disagreed with all of Rockwell’s hateful views. Muhammad scorned Jews and propagated antisemitic tropes. The American Nazi Party and the Klan both recognized the Nation of Islam as sympathetic with their antisemitic beliefs. Like these other nationalists, Marjorie Taylor Greene has recently spoken at a conference sponsored by an antisemitic white supremacist.
Rockwell believed that Muhammad had improved Black lives “to the point where [converts] are clean, sober, honest, hard-working, dignified, dedicated and admirable human beings in spite of their color.” Perhaps more importantly, he reveled in the press attention that Nazi/Muslim meetings brought to his group. The American Nazi Party could point to a Black movement as sympathetic with their aims. For the Nation of Islam, the public meetings with Nazis did not lead to many conversions or much positive press, despite Muhammad’s intentions. Furthermore, even if the Nation of Islam had meant to show the depravity of white America, it instead showed the country that their goals aligned with avowed white supremacists.
Like white nationalists in the 1960s, Marjorie Taylor Greene latched onto specific aspects of the NOI’s theology and subsequently asserted unity to damaging ends. Religious identity is a tapestry of beliefs. By isolating one belief and divorcing it from its historical context, white nationalists misrepresented the Nation’s vision, taming their accusations against white supremacy under the guise of shared interests. The NOI, for instance, invoked in its online statement Tuskegee’s unethical and illegal medical experiments as proof of medical racism before asserting conspiracy theories as truth. Greene claimed opposition to the vaccine on the nebulous grounds of religious freedom and false claims about its effectiveness.
The common ground that Marjorie Taylor Greene found with the Nation of Islam over Ivermectin and vaccine skepticism echoes the previous alliances that the Nation of Islam and white Christian nationalists formed in the 1960s. However, as in previous decades, white Christian nationalists like Rep. Greene gained more from associating with the Nation of Islam than the Muslims she connected herself to. White Christian nationalists have long been willing to point to the Nation of Islam as Black people who agreed with them, even as their organizing and messages were antithetical to the Nation of Islam’s broader goals and aims.
Joseph Stuart is a historian who writes and researches on race, religion, and masculinity in twentieth-century Black Freedom Movements.