Who Is Louis Farrakhan? Johnnie Cochran's Security Team Upset Robert Shapiro During The O.J. Simpson Trial
Throughout its dramatized retelling of the O.J. Simpson trial, the FX series American Crime Story has put heavy focus on the tensions between the lawyers arguing the case. As depicted on the show, tensions existed not only between the prosecution and defense, but also within counsel serving on the same side. The power struggle between defense attorneys Robert Shapiro and Johnnie Cochran (John Travolta and Courtney B. Vance) flared up early in the trial. And, in real life, Cochran angered his co-counsel toward the conclusion of the Simpson trial, making a choice that Shapiro denounced publicly. According to The Los Angeles Times, Cochran hired personal security guards from Louis Farrakhan and the Nation Of Islam to accompany him to court after Cochran became concerned by several death threats. But, Farrakhan's involvement in the O.J. Simpson trial, however small, wasn't without controversy. To understand the issues between him and Shapiro, it's necessary to go back and learn a bit more about the man in question.
Spending most of his young life in Massachusetts, Farrakhan was born Louis Eugene Wolcott, according to The Guardian. The paper reported that he was a bit of a violin prodigy in his youth and pursued a career as a calypso singer as a young man. Then, when he was in his early 20s, Farrakhan was drawn to the controversial religious group, the Nation Of Islam, by none other than Malcolm X himself. The movement's leader, Elijah Muhammad, "promised Farrakhan and others like him a separate state within America — and a faith that insisted that black people were not merely equal to whites, but better," according to The Guardian.
The official homepage for the Nation Of Islam hails him as the "Honorable Minister Farrakhan," and reports that he rose up through the organization's leadership ranks to become "a leading Muslim thinker and teacher." While the NOI's literature calls Farrakhan a beacon of "unity and peace," The Guardian reported that he and Malcolm X had a falling out as the organization's profile began to rise (thanks in part to Muhammad Ali's conversion.) Malcolm X eventually quit the church, and he was assassinated in 1965. The New York Times reported that Malcom X's widow Betty Shabazz claimed that Farrakhan was allegedly linked to her husband's death. "Nobody kept it a secret. It was a badge of honor," Shabazz claimed.
According to that New York Times article, Farrakhan denied those accusations. "I never had anything to do with Malcolm's death. But I can't lie to you that I was his friend when he died. I was his enemy because I felt him to be the enemy of black people," Farrakhan said in a speech, the NYT reported. According to CBS News, Farrakhan did later admit to having "helped create the atmosphere" that led to Malcom X's assassination.
As for his relationship with Cochran during the Simpson trial, that wasn't without controversy of its own. During the trial, murder victim Ronald Goldman's father Fred made a statement about Cochran's choice of security team, according to CNN. "[Cochran] walks about for the past days screaming, if you would, in a silent way, that his life has been threatened, and who does he chose to walk with — guards from the Nation of Islam?" Goldman said. "Who does he connect himself with? This man is a horror walking around amongst us."
To understand why the employment of these guards provoked such a strong reaction, you must understand some of the things that Farrakhan has said. The Southern Poverty Law Center has a page dedicated to Farrakhan in its "Extremist Files." The site includes examples of his inflammatory remarks made about Jewish people, white people, women, and LGBT people. "If you think that the kingdom of God is going to be filled up with that kind of degenerate crap, you're out of your damn mind," Farrakhan once said of homosexual people, according to the Anti-Defamation League. According to Politico, he has also praised Donald Trump for "refusing donations from Jewish groups."
The association of Cochran and Farrakhan put an even wider wedge between Shapiro and Cochran than the one that was already there. According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Shapiro took special offense at Cochran employing Farrakhan considering his history of anti-Semitic comments, as Shapiro is Jewish. Shapiro told ABC News in an interview with Barbara Walters, "I do not agree with [Cochran] on hiring the Nation of Islam to protect him. I thought that sent an improper message."
The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Cochran responded to Shapiro's Barbara Walters interview comments with a blanket statement. "I'm aware of what Bob said. I am very sorry," Cochran said. "In this, our happiest day in our whole careers, I feel sorry for him. He's the one who has the problem. I don't."
In 2005, Farrakhan attended Cochran's funeral, according to the Austin Weekly News. According to the New Republic, Farrakhan still serves as the leader of the NOI, and recently adopted some of Scientology's guiding principles. He's 82 years old.