I am getting excited over my upcoming east coast trips around Killing the Messenger. The Newseum in DC on 6/3 is especially interesting because I haven’t been there for years. In fact, it was still in Arlington at the time long before it moved to Washington proper. It now has permanent exhibit to murdered journalists Don Bolles and Chauncey Bailey. Several of us on the Bailey Project helped gather artifacts for it, including Bailey’s laptop and notes from early project meetings. The Newsuem is promoting the appearance strongly at http://www.newseum.org/ so I am hoping for a decent turn out. Quick trip though, coming right back the next day before heading out for a longer trip to Boston, NY and the Midwest the following week.
David Cotner, Book reviewer David Cotner lives in Santa Barbara
April 22, 2012 5:16 AM
KILLING THE MESSENGER
By Thomas Peele
Sometimes the roots of murder are planted decades before the victim is even born. In investigative reporter Thomas Peele’s riveting new book, “Killing the Messenger: A Story of Radical Faith, Racism’s Backlash and the Assassination of a Journalist,” the story of murdered Oakland journalist Chauncey Bailey lies at the end of a historical road littered with malice built up far before he even knew what was coming.
The story centers on Oakland-based Your Black Muslim Bakery, which became a small baked goods empire under founder Yusuf Bey, who reportedly became a Black Muslim while living in Santa Barbara, where he ran a hair salon.
A string of murders led to the bakery operation changing hands until son Yusuf IV took it over in 2005, at which point assault, vandalism and fraud constantly flowed out of the confines of the formerly well-respected bakery. In 2007, murders connected to the bakery were committed that echoed the racially motivated Zebra Murders of the early 1970s. That year, Mr. Bailey — the broken-down, aging editor of the Oakland Post — began writing about the pending bankruptcy of the bakery. This incensed the inner circle at the bakery, which began making plans to eliminate Mr. Bailey.
Devaughndre Broussard, a teenage handyman working at the bakery, was the fall guy given the order to kill — and on the morning of Aug. 2, 2007, three blasts from his Mossberg shotgun killed Mr. Bailey as he walked to the offices of the Post.
In August 2011, Mr. Broussard, who admitted shooting Mr. Bailey three times at point-blank range, was sentenced to 25 years in state prison. Co-conspirator and former Your Black Muslim Bakery leader Yusuf Bey IV (who took over from his father) was convicted of three counts of first-degree murder, in the killings of Mr. Bailey and two others. A third defendant, Antoine Mackey, was sentenced to consecutive life terms without parole in Mr. Bailey’s murder.
“Killing the Messenger,” outwardly about a murder in the inner city, reveals itself instead as a masterpiece of contemporary historical narrative. Mr. Peele takes the murder of a journalist and explodes it out into a cavalcade of historical precedents and ramifications. Tracing Mr. Broussard’s indoctrination back to racial turmoil in the black community that coalesced in the early 20th century, Mr. Peele weaves together a massive barrage of divergent historical threads.
The book isn’t simply an exposé of Mr. Bailey’s murder. It’s an attempt to understand how faith and compulsion transform a crime of passion into something infinitely more problematic. The legacy of violence and deceit that filtered down through the years — connecting Moorish Science Temple founder Noble Drew Ali to enigmatic Nation of Islam founder W.D. Fard to his successor Elijah Muhammad to Yusuf Bey and the killer Mr. Broussard — is substantial and exhaustive.
The effect of the killing of Chauncey Bailey continues to resonate: The publisher of the Oakland Post has continued to restrict Mr. Bailey’s final story about Your Black Muslim Bakery, which remains unpublished. And yet as down-and-out as Mr. Peele depicts Mr. Bailey, let it not be forgotten that this man went to the mat for the First Amendment — cut down in much the same way as was Hustler publisher Larry Flynt in 1978, or Mafia-assassinated investigative reporter Don Bolles in 1976.
In “Killing the Messenger,” Thomas Peele has told a vital, compelling story of what happens when belief and truth collide — and what casualties are thrown up in the resulting explosion.
Here is the full version
Killing the Messenger
A Story of Radical Faith, Racism’s Backlash, and the Assassination of a Journalist
By Thomas Peele
(Crown; 441 pages; $26)
When journalist Chauncey Bailey was shot to death on a downtown Oakland street corner in broad daylight on Aug. 2, 2007, he became the first American journalist in a generation who was murdered stateside for doing his job.
But as Thomas Peele argues in his urgent new book “Killing the Messenger: A Story of Radical Faith, Racism’s Backlash, and the Assassination of a Journalist,” Bailey’s death isn’t primarily a story about journalism. Instead, his murder was the inevitable end to a three-decade reign of terror perpetrated on the people of Oakland by the Nation of Islam offshoot cult that ran the health food store called Your Black Muslim Bakery.
To understand how Your Black Muslim Bakery came to be, Peele takes readers back to the post-World War I migration of Southern blacks to Chicago and Detroit, where they hoped to find work (many in Henry Ford’s factories), and a life away from the constant terror wrought by white Southerners.
But racism was alive and well north of the Mason-Dixon Line, and Peele writes that angry, traumatized blacks were perfect pickings for W.D. Fard, a mysterious little man probably born in Afghanistan who, after a stint in San Quentin, made his way, around 1930, to Detroit, where “the misery surrounding him was nothing but wide-open opportunity.”
Fard espoused a bizarre but carefully crafted theology consisting of what Peele describes as just enough orthodox Islam to seem legitimate. He cast himself as divine and preached that whites were devils created by a mad scientist. Fard welcomed former criminals into the fold and instructed followers to eschew pork and dress in suits (which he sold them), and gave them the courage to stand up to authorities eager to trample on their rights.
After World War II, the Nation of Islam’s message spread to California. And in 1964, after seeing Fard’s protege Elijah Muhammad speak, a Santa Barbara hairdresser named Joseph Stephens joined the movement. Stephens, who changed his name to Yusuf Bey and eventually relocated to Oakland, was a criminal at heart. He claimed to have opened the bakery to provide jobs for young black men, but Peele writes that Your Black Muslim Bakery was really a front for Bey’s basest instincts. He had multiple “wives,” as many as 42 children, and was arrested on charges of child rape in 2002.
And people who crossed him had a bad habit of dying.
But dangerous as Bey was, it was his son Yusuf Bey IV (known as Fourth) who took the cult his father built and turned it into a wild urban army. Like those before him, Fourth recruited ex-cons: “As long as California did so little for offenders,” writes Peele, “jails were a pipeline for the Beys, an employment service.”
One of those former offenders was Devaughndre Broussard. Broussard grew up in various foster homes around the Bay Area and fell in with the Beys after serving time for assault. When Fourth learned that Chauncey Bailey was writing a story about the bakery, he ordered the 19-year-old Broussard to kill him.
While it was Bailey’s reporting that was the direct reason for his murder, according to Peele there were other factors at work. Peele savages Oakland authorities, writing that the police employed a “don’t search, don’t find” policy toward the bakery for years and that city leaders kowtowed to the Beys, willfully ignoring their growing menace.
The author’s relationship with Bailey is more complicated. Peele, himself an award-winning investigative journalist, describes Bailey on the first page of the prologue as being “by no means an overly talented writer or reporter.” Later, he writes that he had a reputation for “hasty reporting, poor writing and questionable ethics.” Peele also points out that the article that got Bailey killed – an article that never ran because the publisher of the Oakland Post was apparently afraid to print it – was the product of a single, anonymous source inside the bakery. Bailey, writes Peele, couldn’t be bothered to seek out available documents or records that would back up his story.
Despite his disdain for the way Bailey practiced his profession, Peele felt moved enough by his murder to join with a group of journalists who banded together soon after Bailey’s death to do what Chauncey Bailey himself did not: dig for data and eventually report the ugly truth about Fourth, the bakery and the half-cocked law enforcement effort to bring them to justice. They called themselves the Chauncey Bailey Project.
“Killing the Messenger” will be a revelation to many readers, detailing 100 years of American history that simply isn’t part of the mainstream lexicon. Peele masterfully draws a line from the “radical faith” that the scars of slavery and Jim Crow helped popularize to the bullets that turned Chauncey Bailey into “a First Amendment martyr.”
Julia Dahl is a contributing editor to the Crime Report. firstname.lastname@example.org
I was told last week to expect a review in the San Francisco Chronicle on 2/26 and also that one was in the works at the Boston Globe, but without a publication date as yet. The Chronicle does not put book reviews on line immediately, letting print be their exclusive domain for a day. But the paper also published a bulldog of its Sunday edition on Saturday. There was a pile of them in the great magazine store Issues very near my house when I walked past around 11 a.m. Saturday, but I had a reading two hours later at Orinda Books. I didn’t want a poor review to ruin the event, so I let the papers sit there. It turned out that I drew a nice crowd at the store – 15 people at 1 p.m. on a Saturday is a good turnout – and I signed about a dozen copies. Then I went and bought the paper, which mentioned the book on the front page, which was nice. Given the rather odd review the book got in the LA Times two weeks ago, I was unsure what to expect. But the reviewer for the Chronicle nailed what the book is about, calling it “urgent” and writing that it is not primarily about journalism, but rather that I portrayed Chauncey Bailey’s murder as “the inevitable end to the three-decade reign of terror by the nation of Islam offshoot cult that ran the health food store called Your Black Muslim Bakery.” The reviewer also wrote, “Killing the Messenger will be a revelation to many readers, detailing 100 years of American history that simply isn’t part of the American lexicon. Peele masterfully draws a line from the ‘radical faith’ that the scars of slavery and Jim Crow helped popularize to the bullets that turned Chauncey Bailey into a ‘First Amendment martyr.’”
I guess I could have read it before the event in Orinda. As soon as the review is on line, I will post a link.
Yusuf Bey’s television show, True Solutions, was sort of a Bay Area legend. He paid to broadcast it on local cable stations in Oakland and San Francisco, always pitching his baked goods first, then going off on his screeds that parroted Elijah Muhammad’s rhetoric of the 1960s. Bey remained convinced that W.D. Fard, a former San Quentin inmate and religious huckster, was God, often referring to him as Master Fard Muhammad. Bey also preached self-sufficiency , but peppered it with hate and violence threats, He railed about slavery every week, but for more than a decade kept two teenage sisters as his sex slaves, forcing them to have five of his children.
Few copies of the show remain, but I have obtained two of them from November 2002, less than a year before Bey’s death. They are posted under the “selected source documents” portion of my web site. The second is particularly interesting because it was filmed the week after rape charges pending against Bey were amended to include more than twenty additional counts and he was jailed briefly before posting $1 million bail. He denies the charges and goes off on a rant about how he will fight to the end and order his men, his “soldiers” to protect him. It is a chilling look at a monster trying to defend himself. Take a look.
What does the author do when his cell phone goes off in the midst of a reading?
When it happened to me last night, all I could do is laugh along with everybody else. It was my fault, too, I had set the timer to run for 40 minutes and then didn’t mute it. Great. There were about 60 people there and everyone laughed. Good thing I had loosened them up with a couple of jokes. Other than that, it was an excellent night at Books Inc. and dinner after with friends. We even ended up at one of my favorite San Francisco dive bars, Edinburgh Castle.
It was also cool to see some friends there who helped shape the book, Andy Raskin, who worked with me on the proposal in 2009, and Lewis Buzbee, who was one of my graduate professors at the University of San Francisco writing program who taught to literature classes that influenced me greatly.
Tonight, I am at Book Passage in Corte Madera, one of the Bay Area’s great indy bookstores. This will be a bit of a test, as I am relying mostly on the store’s promotions and some mentions in my recent radio interviews to attract people. Book Passage has a very loyal customer base and I expect to be another well-attended event. It starts at 7 p.m.
When I spoke at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism on Tuesday night, a woman sat in the back of the room, often staring at me, her face deeply sober, even stern. I couldn’t help but keep glancing at her. When it came time for questions, she asked about the victims of Yusuf Bey’s rapes and beatings, especially two sisters who bore children by him as teenagers and who he enslaved in his compound, forcing them to work in his bakery, keeping them out of school. Her question allowed me to briefly delve into the sister’s horrible story, which is told in chapter 13 of the book, entitled A Boy in Seaside. I took that title from the answer one of the sisters gave a county social worker when he asked who fathered her baby. The girl’s response was a lie – she said she was visiting her grandmother in Monterey County when she was 13 years old and had sex with “a boy in Seaside” whose name she didn’t know. The truth was that Bey was the baby’s father and that she feared he would kill her – and the infant – if she told the truth. As I related this to an audience of about 75 people, the woman in the back of the room nodded affirmatively. I knew then that she was one of the sisters about whom I had devoted the chapter.
Soon her hand was pressed into mine as she told me her name. In the book I call her “Nancy,” a pseudonym to protect her identity as a victim of terrible crimes. (Her sister is called “Jane”). So many years earlier, Nancy had told the social worker that “a boy in Seaside” fathered her baby and the social worker accepted the answer and fled, leaving her and her sister to endure years more of Bey’s rapes and beatings.
I had attempted to interview the sisters for Killing The Messenger; both declined and their lawyer thought it best not to press them. Each had a son who became caught up in Yusuf Bey IV’s schemes and crimes and was arrested, one remains in state prison. Without access to the sisters, I drew details of their lives in the bakery from depositions they and others gave in a lawsuit and from police reports detailing Bey’s arrest when his victims came forward in 2002. For the chapter’s epigraph, I quoted a line from Harriet Jacob’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl: “When he told me that I was made for his use, made to obey his command in every thing, that I was nothing but a slave, whose will must and should surrender to his, never before had my puny arm felt half so strong.”
As Nancy and I talked, several people who attended the signing stayed and listened. Several women hugged her. She spoke openly about the horrors she endured, her continuing search for justice and the day to day violence within the Bey’s cult. Her strength and confidence were immense, and she expressed gratitude for the work of the Chauncey Bailey Project and for the book. It was humbling to me to be in her presence. She was, in fact, along with her sister and others, a Bey “slave girl,” and like Harriet Jacobs, she somehow survived.
Killing The Messenger has been in stores for five days and my first public appearance about the book drew a standing room only crowd and was filmed by CSPAN’s Book TV channel. Diesel Books, a wonderful independent store, sold out its allotment of copies, dozens of which I signed. And an Oakland activist named Marvin X showed up, yelling “snow job!” and promoting his claims that Chauncey Bailey’s real killers were the Mexican Mafia and corrupt cops.
Oakland Post publisher Paul Cobb and Marvin have claimed Bailey was really working on a story about police and political corruption and that the Beys were just pawns in a grad conspiracy. Thursday was the first time I have heard that this alternative theory includes drug cartels. Marvin fancies himself the leader of the “Black Chauncey Bailey Project” as if we are the white Chauncey Bailey Project. Cobb has always been resentful that money that went to the CBP from the Knight Foundation and others funders did not instead go the Post to offset revenue declines after Bailey was killed. And he has claimed police ignored statements he says he gave to detectives that Bailey was working on a corruption story at the time of his death. Marvin’s appearance and subsequent blog posts about the book make for added theatre. It will be interesting to see what, if anything, Cobb writes in this week’s Post. Cobb’s lawyer, Walter Riley, was at Diesel and when I signed his copy for him he told me I had “trashed” Cobb in Killing The Messenger, which is not accurate. Cobb, who wouldn’t publish Bailey’s story about Your Black Muslim Bakery, and who anyone who has encountered him can attest, can be a very difficult person to deal with. Some of his conspiracy theories about Bailey’s murder and what Bailey was “really” working on are in the book. They speak for themselves.
I will be on KQED Public Radio’s Forum with Michael Krasny at 10 a.m. Monday discussing the book and then at 6 p.m. speaking and signing copies at the Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism library at North Gate Hall on the Cal campus. That event is open to the public.