The Nation of Islam (NOI) held its annual Saviours’ Day conference in Chicago the weekend of February 24–26, serving once again as a platform for vitriolic antisemitism and anti-LGBTQ+ bigotry.
Saviours’ Day 2023 marked the annual event’s return to a large-scale arena setting for the first time in three years; the NOI held smaller, semi-virtual conferences during the intervening pandemic-era years. NOI speakers injected familiar antisemitic and conspiratorial rhetoric into the weekend’s activities, capped off by longtime NOI leader Louis Farrakhan’s keynote address on Sunday afternoon.
The NOI has targeted Jews extensively during Farrakhan’s 40-plus-year tenure as the group’s leader and repeatedly dismissed accusations of antisemitism. The NOI made this focus particularly clear in recent months as the organization sought to insert itself into the national debate over antisemitism following the Ye and Kyrie Irving controversies, promoting content about Jews and antisemitism in their social media posts, weekly sermon broadcasts and newspaper articles.
Farrakhan directly addressed the NOI’s long history of antisemitism in his speech on Sunday, demonstrating his obsession with Jews and affirming the NOI’s position as a leading promoter of antisemitism in America today.
Farrakhan’s keynote address
Farrakhan’s wide-ranging, hours-long address, titled “The War of Armageddon Has Begun,” featured a relentless stream of antisemitic commentary accusing Jews of controlling world governments, the media, and financial institutions. He promoted the false idea that Jews seek to manipulate and exploit Black people, deceive and destroy America, and engage in other nefarious or illicit activities.
Throughout his speech, Farrakhan spoke about the “Synagogue of Satan,” a phrase from the Bible that the NOI and other antisemites often use to refer to Jews in a derogatory manner. Much of the speech read like a laundry list of age-old antisemitic tropes and conspiracies about alleged Jewish power as Farrakhan decried the nature and activities of this so-called Synagogue of Satan. “The Synagogue of Satan has destroyed the country,” he said.
Farrakhan seemed to suggest that Jews, motivated by greed, orchestrated the assassinations of former U.S. presidents Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, William McKinley, and John F. Kennedy because each of them “threatened the international banking system” that had been set up to serve Jewish interests. He also appeared to rationalize Adolf Hitler’s actions toward Jews in Nazi Germany by commenting that “Hitler went against usury and Hitler attacked pornography that the Jews had put on the Germans.”
Farrakhan highlighted longstanding NOI claims about how Jews allegedly exert power over Black celebrities. He defended both Ye and Kyrie Irving, praising Ye as “a very great brother, a genius,” and “a young god.” He warned Black comedians to be wary of “who’s writing your script,” claiming that “behind the scenes, they give you a writer who’s Jewish” and working toward “taking you down.” Farrakhan commented that Jewish people “have control of so much that shapes thinking and the human mind” and added that “these demons, at every door that leads to power, they have a sentinel on watch.”
The speech included multiple anti-LGBTQ+ statements, with Farrakhan commenting that LGBTQ+ people “have been deceived by Satan” and that they are “living a life that ultimately is destructive to [their] very being.” He blamed Jews for promoting homosexuality in both the U.S. and abroad. Farrakhan described same-sex marriage as “the most horrible behavior” and commented that under the influence of the Synagogue of Satan, America has “become the dwelling place of devils…You can go in any city, you see them walk in the street — boys with boys, girls with girls, men with men, women with women — and they say they’re happy. The country has become a cesspool.”
Echoing remarks from previous speeches, Farrakhan claimed that “Africa had never been a homosexual continent” until the Jews who allegedly control international political and financial institutions exerted their influence. “They’re not only breaking the divine law, they’re selling the wickedness of their sinful life following after the teachings of the Talmud,” Farrakhan said of these supposed Jewish powers and in reference to an ancient Jewish religious text that antisemites often vilify.
Farrakhan repeatedly portrayed himself as the “Messiah” anointed by God to expose and break the control of the supposed satanic Jews. “Somebody has to take on the Synagogue of Satan…They’re gathering their forces,” he said. “We cannot let them take the country…They got a stranglehold on America.” As in previous speeches, Farrakhan likened himself to Jesus and claimed that Jews seek to kill him, recalling the centuries-old antisemitic deicide myth.
Toward the end of the speech, Farrakhan addressed the “Synagogue of Satan” directly and explained that he was “going to close by telling you what your future is.” Referring to the speech’s titular War of Armageddon, he alluded to the Holocaust and insinuated that Jews would burn in ovens once again, as punishment for their “wickedness:”
- “A Jewish man said to me, ‘You know, we say never again. Never again will we be in the oven. Never again.’ I said, ‘Hold it.’ You can say that to men, but you can’t say that to God. Because the Bible says, behold the day cometh that shall burn — as a what? —as an oven. And those who do wickedly, He will slay them and leave them neither root nor branch…The War of Armageddon is to decide who will live on this earth.”
- “I’m saying to the Jews: if you want salvation, if you want to get back into the paradise of God, come with the Messiah, that’s your ticket. Some of you have already recognized your brother as that. But that’s an invitation to them to break them apart from those who are about to be destroyed. God is not unjust; when he kills you, you know you deserved it.”
Earlier in the weekend, prominent NOI figures — including Student National Assistant Minister Ishmael Muhammad, Nation of Islam Research Group (NOIRG) member Demetric Muhammad, and MGT and GCC (Muslim Girls Training and General Civilization Class) Vanguard member Tairah Muhammad — also shared antisemitic statements during their remarks.
While introducing Farrakhan prior to the keynote address, Ishmael Muhammad referenced Farrakhan’s deeply antisemitic 2013 lecture series, “The Time and What Must Be Done,” to allege that Jewish people use the charge of antisemitism as a “trick” to manipulate and control others. Commenting on Jewish opposition to and labeling of Farrakhan as antisemitic, Ishmael Muhammad alleged that Jews’ “ultimate aim is to kill the Messiah” and detailed supposed Jewish plots to kill Farrakhan.
During an earlier plenary session, Demetric Muhammad promoted the claim that Jews exploit Black people for financial gain. Discussing the NOI’s early history under its former leader Elijah Muhammad, he commented that “those old nefarious enemies of our beloved Minister today were present and on the scene in Detroit in the early 1930s…Life was difficult for most of our people at that time. And so instead of helping us, instead of uplifting us—things that you think you would do if you are the Chosen People of God—but they were busy helping us to have that miserable state of affairs.”
Impact and influence
While this year’s Saviours’ Day conference did not feature any high-profile guest speakers — past conferences have included prominent anti-vaccine conspiracy theorists, Holocaust deniers, and 9/11 “truthers” — multiple non-NOI figures were in attendance. Longtime Farrakhan allies and regular Saviours’ Day attendees including Father Michael Pfleger, Reverend Willie Wilson and Reverend Al Sampson were seated on stage during Farrakhan’s address.
The event also drew support from individuals and other accounts with significant social media followings. Grammy-nominated artists and NOI members Jay Electronica and Raheem DeVaughn both posted about Saviours’ Day. Singer Stacy Francis also shared a quotation and photograph from Farrakhan’s address with her 146K Twitter followers. NOI members and social media influencers Rizza Islam and Jibrial Muhammad (aka 19keys) were in attendance and both shared clips from inside Wintrust Arena with their hundreds of thousands of Instagram followers.
Multiple Saviours’ Day-related hashtags, including #SD2023 and #Farrakhan, entered Twitter’s trending topics on Sunday afternoon. Both Louis Farrakhan’s Twitter account and the NOI’s official account, which was recently reinstated following Elon Musk’s takeover of the platform in late 2022, shared clips from the speech. As in years past, content from Saviours’ Day 2023 is likely to continue to spread online in the coming days and weeks, demonstrating the reach of Farrakhan’s pervasive antisemitic and bigoted beliefs.
Farrakhan’s virulently antisemitic and anti-LGBTQ+ address was enabled in part by various mainstream entities which, despite the established history of hate and bigotry espoused at past Saviours’ Day events and by the NOI more broadly, failed to take steps to limit the reach of Farrakhan’s words before, during, or after the event.
A coalition of local Jewish and LGBTQ+ organizations, including the ADL Midwest, Equality Illinois and the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Chicago, wrote to the leadership of the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority (MPEA), the owner of Wintrust Arena, ahead of Saviours’ Day to share information about Farrakhan’s history of hate and bigotry and called on the MPEA to speak out against the harmful views expressed at the event. To date, MPEA has not made any public comments. Ticketmaster, which hosted online ticket sales for the event, also did not take any action ahead of Saviours’ Day.
When Farrakhan delivered his keynote speech to the packed crowd of cheering supporters at Chicago’s Wintrust Arena, NOI leaders claimed that the venue, which seats approximately 10,000 people, was sold out. Online, tens of thousands of viewers tuned in across various streaming platforms. Mainstream sites like YouTube and Facebook both failed to take action against these livestreams, despite the violative content promoted in Farrakhan’s speech.