Muhammad is commander of the New Black Liberation Militia, a black separatist organization based in Augusta. Last year, as protests over the Trayvon Martin shooting and Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law were escalating, Muhammad called for a “citizen’s arrest” of Zimmerman.
Thursday afternoon, just as assistant Florida state attorney Bernie de la Rionda began presenting the state’s closing arguments against Zimmerman, FBI agents detained Muhammad in an abandoned Augusta home, his friends say.
But rather than take him into custody themselves, Deputy Bradley Eagler of the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office was called to the Eve Street address in Augusta to make the actual arrest. He arrested Muhammad on an outstanding warrant for a misdemeanor probation violation from Fulton County, 150 miles west in Atlanta, according to sheriff’s office records in Augusta and Fulton County.
“The FBI called us and we did the transport from here to there,” said Sgt. M. McDaniel, public information officer of the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office in Augusta. “Beyond that, we weren’t involved.”
Investigators first surrounded the home of Latoya Raiford, 25, in Augusta on Thursday, with whom he had been staying for a while, demanding to know where Muhammad was, she said. Agents wore ATF insignia on their uniforms, Raiford said, but the ATF field office denies their involvement in the arrest.
“He was squatting in an abandoned house around the corner,” Raiford said.
Raiford said that Muhammad had been a source of “chaos” in her home in the weeks before he left. An element of that had been the strange people – presumably undercover police officers – in the neighborhood since Muhammad’s arrival. Before that, people had little police activity, she said.
“I’ve seen them on bicycles, I’ve seen them on foot,” Raiford said. “People in the community, showing them pictures, asking questions. … In this neighborhood, don’t no black men ride those cross-country cycling bikes,” she said.
The Fulton County jail has temporarily stopped taking visitors – probably while they fix the locks on the cell doors, the court website is a stunning unsearchable gallimaufry of failure and no one picks up the phone after regular hours. His arrest left him effectively incommunicado for the weekend.
“We’re still trying to figure out what happened, what the charges are,” said Minister Drew X, acting commander of the group. “He had an open warrant, and just now he got arrested? Why are the leaders who were prominent getting arrested?”
The timing is curious. So is FBI involvement in a misdemeanor probation violation arrest. Stephen Emmett, the FBI’s spokesman in Atlanta, is seeking additional information about the arrest for comment.
But the more radical black leaders who have been speaking out about the Martin shooting and the Zimmerman trial say it fits a pattern of intimidation – the legal means to pull the worst malcontents off the streets for violations of probation or parole or bond to limit the perceived risk of post-verdict violence.
“It is no secret that the New Black Panther Party and its national leadership are targeted, jailed, and slated for removal,” said Chawn Kweli, the group’s spokesman. “We have been painted as the virtual cancer of America.”
When President Barack Obama commented that “if I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon,” last March, many conservatives immediately concluded that the administration wanted to inject its politics into the case for partisan gain. That view metastasized during the trial, with the idea that the Obama administration might be fomenting race riots ahead of the verdict gaining currency in the right-wing blogosphere.
Monday, two days after the verdict, it’s become plain that the fears of Rodney King-style race riots in the wake of a not-guilty verdict were badly misplaced.
But sites like Judicial Watch and Breitbart.com linked the Department of Justice’s Community Relations Service – a federal group tasked to prevent riots – to protest organizers. The Daily Caller, Fox News and the Heritage Foundation picked up the thread from there. Breitbart’s Lee Stranahan reported on Thursday that the Department of Justice never contacted the New Black Panther Party over threats to Zimmerman made during the rising protest in March last year as apparent evidence of the DoJ’s complicity in the fomentation of riot.
The pattern of arrests speaks to exactly the opposite supposition: that the Obama administration and law enforcement officials have been eager to crack down on potential riot instigators, creating the legal basis ahead of time to remove those most perceived to be inciters from the street.
Najee Muhammad is not alone among other potential post-verdict troublemakers who have found themselves in legal trouble of late.
Hashim Akhennaten Nzinga, a New Black Panther Party leader in Atlanta who went on CNN shortly after the shooting to offer a $10,000 bounty for the “capture” of George Zimmerman, was arrested by DeKalb County sheriff’s office deputies two days later for violating probation by allegedly possessing a handgun as a felon after allegedly selling a piece at a pawn shop across the street from Pine Lake in DeKalb County. He is out on a $10,000 bond and awaiting trial, said his attorney Mawuli “Mel” Davis.
Shortly after his arrest in March last year, FBI agents approached Nzinga in jail and asked him questions about his political activities, Davis said. “He definitely believes his arrested was politically motivated and that there was an effort to get him off the street.” Nzinga has been given permission in the past by his probation officer to travel out of state, but officials denied his request to travel to Florida on Friday, Davis said.
(Fun fact: Nzinga was part of U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney’s campaign security entourage, and was among the folks hurling anti-Semitic slurs at news reporters during her concession press conference in 2006.)
Minister King Samir Shabazz, a field commander for the New Black Panther Party in Philadelphia who has called for white babies to be killed – and also, notably, one of the fellows with a nightstick at a Philly polling place during the 2008 election – was arrested on June 20 in Harlem for possessing an unlicensed handgun. Shabazz, whose legal name is Maruse Heath, is sitting in a jail cell at the George R. Vierno Center awaiting a July 18 court date, according to New York jail records.
Mikhail Muhammad, a New Black Panther Party leader who called for “eye for an eye” justice in the wake of the shooting, was arrested at his home in Jacksonville, Florida in May when police came to investigate allegations of false imprisonment in a domestic dispute with his wife. False imprisonment charges were subsequently dropped, but he was also charged with resisting arrest without violence when he barred police from a room in the house. He pled no contest to the misdemeanor in exchange for six months of probation according to Duval County court records.
Notably, Michelle Williams, a New Black Panther Party leader in Florida who made the most visible public threats against Zimmerman – including a racially-abusive “dead or alive” tirade in a radio interview for which she subsequently and tearfully apologized – was arrested in October on second degree grand theft charges related to a real estate transaction. She pled guilty in May and is on probation until 2028.
The Southern Poverty Law Center identifies the New Black Panther Party as “a virulently racist and anti-Semitic organization whose leaders have encouraged violence against whites, Jews and law enforcement officers.” Sunday, mixed with calls to attend a march in New York on September 7 and racial invective toward white people and the justice system, the group’s Twitter account posted statements including “It’s silly and immoral to call for peace when war has been declared,” and “If you are taking to the streets, you have a right to do so, by all means take to the streets-stay there. We’re at war.”
The leader of the New Black Panther Party, Malik Zulu Shabazz, has not been arrested and also remains active on social media. Sunday, among other statements on his Facebook page, he wrote, “Do what you feel do what you please. I’m not a fireman and not a policeman.”