The Hate That Hate Begot

January 11, 1994|By JIM SLEEPER

In the weeks since the Dec. 7 Long Island Railroad massacre, commentators have cited the diversity of gunman Colin Ferguson's grievances against Caucasians, Asians, ''Uncle Tom Negroes'' and ''so-called civil rights leaders'' to argue that he is a deranged loner.

He is. But none of the reports took into account the most compelling explanation for his malevolent worldview: the dangerous political subculture in which he was steeped.

No one, it seems, was willing to entertain even the possibility that Mr. Ferguson's delusions were fed by the politics of Crown Heights, Tawana Brawley, the Central Park jogger, the Korean boycott and other cases -- a politics of paranoia and rage about white and Asian racist conspiracies that has dominated New York City's black media.

Notes found on Mr. Ferguson after the slayings repeat, with an eerie fidelity, the catechism of diverse hatreds taught by, among others, Colin Moore, a black lawyer who was a militant defense attorney in the Central Park, Korean boycott and Crown Heights cases.

Two days after the Long Island massacre, Mr. Moore revealed that Mr. Ferguson had approached him in 1991 about a discrimination suit against Adelphi University. Mr. Ferguson professed admiration for Mr. Moore's handling of the Central Park case (in which he'd charged that the jogger's injuries were trumped up and that her sex life was to blame). Mr. Ferguson ''felt we had a lot in common,'' Mr. Moore reported.

Yet for the next seven days, commentary about the massacre rolled on without a single reference to Mr. Moore's astonishing report -- a remarkable act of collective denial by the media.

If Mr. Ferguson had been white and had, say, sought help from an attorney for David Duke, we'd have heard about it endlessly. When New York's other railway gunman, Bernhard Goetz, shot four black teen-agers in 1984, there was plenty of talk about the ''climate of racism.''

Black activists also cited Goetz's demagogic attorney, Barry Slotnik, as proof that even tormented loners like Goetz aren't really alone in their rage.

Why not give similar attention to Mr. Ferguson's apparent susceptibility to the delusions of omnipresent white conspiracy that have made their way into black protest politics? Why not consider the influence of rhetoric that vilifies members of other groups, elevates rage into a virtue and speaks of fighting the power ''by any means necessary?''

New York's most militant black leaders have traded freely in such rhetoric. As the black boycotters of Korean stores called the shopkeepers ''yellow monkeys'' and their customers ''Uncle Toms,'' attorney Moore prolonged the ugliness by thwarting Mayor David Dinkins' attempts at negotiation. For years, Mr. Moore has been spitting hatred at whites, Asians and certain blacks.

The same goes for the militant black protest politics that transcends Mr. Moore's participation and which is often as delusional as anything Mr. Ferguson conceived. Were the Central Park jogger's wounds really trumped up, as Mr. Moore claimed? Did New York Attorney General Robert Abrams really masturbate over photos of Tawana Brawley, as her ''adviser'' the Rev. Al Sharpton claimed?

There is extraordinary denial at work here. When Louis Farrakhan mentioned Mr. Ferguson at a New York rally on Dec. 18, his audience erupted in an ovation that seemed to startle even Mr. Farrakhan. That recalled the Central Park jogger and the Reginald Denny cases, which seemed open and shut until fantasists transformed the perpetrators into martyrs.

Jim Sleeper is a columnist for the Daily News of New York. This is adapted from an article that appeared in The New Republic.

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