Finger Lake Times, Nov. 1, 2002
Although one of the accused Beltway snipers, John Muhammad, is reported to be a practicing Muslim, a Finger Lakes prison chaplain says it’s more likely he’s a member of a cult offshoot of the religion.
ROMULUS – Deacon Gregory Kiley, the Roman Catholic chaplain at Five Points Correctional Facility, believes Muhammad is a member of a cult founded in the New York state prison system.
“I’m quite sure that he belongs to a cult … called the Five Percenters,” said Kiley, who works with prisoners of all faiths at the maximum security facility.
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“They are not a part of ‘Al-Islam,’ the worldwide Muslim community. The references to ‘I am God’; the five stars on the letters to police; the phrase [used in the letters] ‘Word is bond.’ All these suggest a connection.”
The Five Percenters spun off from the Nation of Islam in the early 1960s. The Nation of Islam was and is a black nationalist group, founded in 1930. Ted Swedenburg, an anthropology professor at the University of Arkansas, says on a Web site about Five Percenters that much of the Nation of Islam ideology is based not on mainstream Islamic beliefs but on theories of black supremacy.
The founder of the Five Percenters was a man who called himself Clarence 13X. Like his mentor, famed black activist Malcolm X, Clarence 13X became disenchanted with the Nation of Islam and decided to form his own organization.
13X adopted most of the Nation of Islam race theory, adding the doctrine of “I am God.” According to this doctrine, a man who masters himself takes control of his own destiny, effectively becoming God. Women are referred to as “Earths,” and the religion itself is commonly referred to as “The Nation of Gods and Earths.”
The name “Five Percenters” refers to the 5 percent of humanity who are believed to be truly divine, or god-like, according to Kiley, who lives in Clyde.
“A true Muslim would never say ‘I am God.’ That would be blasphemy, a horrible sin,” Kiley said. “Even a person who flies planes into buildings would never say such a thing. Muslims say the prayer, ‘There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet.’
“Also, a convert to true Islam would change his first name, not his last name, like Mr. Muhammad did. Changing the last name shows disrespect for the convert’s father, according to Islam.”
John Muhammad’s former name was John Allen Williams.
Kiley said he has worked with Five Percenters, Nation of Islam members, and orthodox Sunni Muslims. He says that today’s Nation of Islam, headed by Louis Farrakhan, is moving closer to the worldwide Islamic mainstream. By contrast, the Five Percenters cling to old black supremacy theories and are mostly made up of gang members who are often violent and specialize in extortion, Kiley said.
Investigators believe that one of the purposes of the sniper killings was to extort $10 million from the government. A note left by the snipers in Manassas, Va., demanded that $10 million be left in the account of a stolen credit card. The same note said, “Your children are not safe anywhere, at any time.”
The Five Percenter ideology has been embraced by members of the modern rap music community, according to Kiley, Swedenburg and the hip-hop music site, www.africana.com. A song by the Jamaican reggae/rap group Brand Nubian has used the Five Percenter phrase “Word is Bond,” a phrase used by the snipers in at least one of their letters, the Washington Post has reported.
Rapper Busta Rhymes, members of the highly influential Wu-Tang Clan, are also reported to be active Five Percenters. Kiley speculated that this is how Muhammad learned of the movement and adopted some of its teachings.
When reached yesterday at the command center in Montgomery County, Md., where the investigation into the sniper case is headquartered, Capt. Nancy Demme said investigators had no knowledge of Muhammad’s possible connection to the Five Percenters.