'The Enemy Within'
Jackson's closest friends are, according to Timmerman, members of the Arab League, Louis Farrakhan, Yasir Arafat and Chicago street-gang members. No matter that some of those gang members bullied Jackson, engaging in true extortionary tactics; or, more poignantly, were kids to whom Jackson tried to extend his ministry of social action. The fact that some gang members were neighbors and family members, or the fact that numbers of them ended up in jail, including Jackson's own half-brother, is never evidence of the stresses, the sad scripts, the human loss of ghetto life; in this book, they're all just part of "Jesse's World." Based on association alone, street toughs become his accomplices, his cohorts, his henchmen. Timmerman writes that Jackson "boasted of his ties to the gangs: 'I get a lot of them to go to church.'" Boast it may be, but it is not the ordinary or fair understanding of "ties" to gangs. To describe it so implies something more sinister, suggests much more.
Indeed, Jackson's mere family relation to Noah Robinson, his half-brother and a gang member doing hard time, is like a bone that Timmerman can't stop gnawing. It gets told and retold every few pages. His no-good, murderous, jailed gang member of a brother. Ten paragraphs later, Robinson is resurrected, still murderous, still jailed and still working overtime as Jackson's "link" to gang life.
Similarly troubling is Timmerman's description of Jackson's association with Jeff Fort, the jailed head of the Blackstone Rangers--none other than the same Jeff Fort who recently made news as leader of the gang with which the FBI says José Padilla, the alleged "dirty bomb" conspirator, once hung. Indeed, Shakedown's appendix contains a 1983 wanted poster of Fort, then on the run from a narcotics charge. The sarcastic caption reads: "The 'Reverend' Jackson's Best Pupil." Beneath Fort's picture is the following legend: "Jackson--a seminarian dropout who never even had his own church or congregation--" (perhaps the twentieth time Timmerman repeats that) "claims to have 'baptized' Jeff Fort in their early days together. Perhaps Fort should have sought the services of a real 'Reverend.'"
This kind of indictment by suggestion occurs in almost every sentence of the book. In one particularly troubling chapter, Timmerman tries to implicate Jackson in funding Al Qaeda by something resembling "six degrees of separation": In early 1999 Jackson negotiated a settlement between Deutsche Bank and Kevin Ingram, one of the bank's top five executives, who claimed he'd been fired because of his race. Ingram, who never saw Jackson again, was arrested two years later for brokering a sale of weapons on behalf of an Egyptian neighbor of his. The would-be buyer was a Pakistani national, who, Timmerman implies, represented the Pakistani military. Since September 11, "federal investigators have been interrogating Ingram...about possible ties between the ultimate buyers of the weapons in Pakistan and renegade Saudi terrorist Osama bin Laden." Why? Apparently Ingram was once spotted in Sierra Leone by a Florida diamond dealer who said as much while he was being questioned by federal investigators regarding unrelated fraud charges. What's that got to do with anything? Well, Libyan, Hezbollah and bin Laden operatives are known to have traded diamonds in Liberia. Liberia, you ask? Hey, Sierra Leone and Liberia are right next door to each other... What has this got to do with Jesse Jackson? Ah. That goes back to President Clinton (who, as the spawn of Satan and first American President ever to have traveled to any part of sub-Saharan Africa, is dismissed by Timmerman as having gone "on safari"). Clinton sent Jackson along as part of a State Department team that tried and ultimately failed to negotiate a peace in the diamond wars between Liberia and Sierra Leone.
As Timmerman leads readers down this tortured trail, Jackson's "race-baiting tactics" in Ingram's case against Deutsche Bank give the illusion of him being directly tied to Al Qaeda's illicit trade in diamonds, a trade that has "flourished under the Lomé Accord Jackson negotiated on behalf of the State Department."
In an era when our vast, unspecified war against terror has been used to justify detaining José Padilla, an American citizen arrested on American soil, in a military brig with no charges and no lawyer, one does begin to worry about what those vague Al Qaeda and Blackstone Ranger "links" will bring down upon inner-city Chicago and other communities already so beleaguered by careless suspect profiling. At a time when due process is fast being shelved as quaint and improvident, one only hopes that criminality and political heresy will be measured in some other forum than Timmerman's overwrought court of public opinion. In an era when politicians and talk-show hosts speak openly of assassinating a broad range of America's enemies by way of "pre-emptive" strategy, one worries about Timmerman's recurring theme of Jackson's alignment with those enemies; of Jackson's affairs being a matter of national security; of Jackson as threat to the stability of America's political and corporate culture. Indeed, Timmerman notes ominously, "No flags or patriotic banners are found at Jackson's PUSH meeting held September 15, 2001, just four days after the terrorist attack on the United States. But there was room for a gigantic portrait of himself."
John Ashcroft recently asked us to trust that the days of J. Edgar Hoover are gone forever; I would like to imagine that he means it. But who needs Hoover if Timmerman's book reflects a national backlash rushing to fill the breach? If Shakedown represents anything like a popular or dominant view not just in the country but specifically in the intelligence community (and Timmerman does thank "many" in academia, law enforcement and intelligence "who have asked not to be named"), we are in deep, deep trouble. This is a paranoid book, an ignorant book, a book that posits aggressive disrespect for an immense spectrum of African-American concerns as some sort of brave moral stance. It is a book that takes us right back to the 1950s and argues, in effect, that the South was right about that Negro problem. Indeed, I suppose there's really no need to read this book at all--one could just go see Birth of a Nation and wallow in all that panic about insurrection and uppity, overdressed black politicians who, as D.W. Griffith put it, "know nothing of the incidents of power."
Call me a Nervous Nellie, but will FBI and CIA agents, with their expansive new powers, be as subject to mocking and stereotyping black people as the careless Mr. Kenneth R. Timmerman? To put it another way, if the FBI and CIA see each other as enemies, do testy, overdressed, big-spending people of African descent even stand a chance against a popular culture so racially freighted?