Actress Alyssa Milano, who has become an active voice for feminist causes over the past two years, says that she's "disappointed" with the way the high-profile leaders of the Women's March have failed to adequately condemn Nation of Islam (NOI) leader Louis Farrakhan and his anti-Semitic, homophobic, and transphobic rhetoric.
“Anytime that there is any bigotry or anti-Semitism in that respect, it needs to be called out and addressed. I’m disappointed in the leadership of the Women’s March that they haven’t done it adequately,” Milano told Advocate last week.
Milano went a step further in response to a question about whether she would participate in future events with the activist organization, by saying: “I would say no at this point. Unfortunate that none of them have come forward against him at this point. Or even given a really good reason why to support them."
Milano's distancing from Women's March is the latest development in ongoing fissure in progressive circles over what many see as rising anti-Semitism on both the right and the left and a failure to take it seriously. This has become particularly pronounced after a noted rise in anti-Semitic hate crimes since Donald Trump became president of the U.S. — a 57% increase in 2017, according to the Anti-Defamation League — culminated in a mass shooting that stole the lives of 11 people at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh last month. Robert Bowers, who is in custody as the alleged perpetrator of the Tree of Life Shooting, had posted on social media multiple far-right white supremacist conspiracy theories.
The shooting led to an outpouring of support for the Jewish community, including from Women's March leaders. But controversy over the Women's March leaders ties to the Nation of Islam have lingered for many. These concerns have trailed the organization since it was founded by a core group of organizers of the Women's March on Washington in 2017.
Tamika Mallory, Linda Sarsour, and Carmen Perez, three of the four high-profile co-chairs of the original march, have not hidden their past work with Minister Farrakhan.
Farrakhan is respected in certain activist circles for his charitable and organizing work supporting Black men. He was the lead organizer of the historic 1995 Million Man March for economic empowerment and justice for African-Americans. Despite this, the NOI, which has been led by Farrakhan since 1978, has been labeled a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Centre (SPLC) for a long history of propagating anti-Semitic, homophobic, and transphobic rhetoric and conspiracy theories. Farrakhan has most recently been in the news for a visit to Dubai and for appearing to compare Jews to termites in a speech in Detroit last month.
Repeatedly, Women's March leaders have dismissed concerns over their ties to the group. “In regards to Minister Farrakhan, I think that is a distraction. People need to understand the significant contributions that these individuals have made to Black and Brown people,” Perez told Refinery29 in January. “There are no perfect leaders. We follow the legacy of Dr. King, which is Kingian non-violence. We say we have to attack the forces of evil, not the people doing evil. We never attack people.”
Last spring the controversy reached a fever pitch when Mallory attended the NOI annual Saviour’s Day convention in Chicago. Minister Farrakhan gave a speech full of anti-Semitic rhetoric; he referred to the “powerful Jews” running the U.S. government and controlling Hollywood, blamed the Jewish people for apartheid, and claimed that “the Jews were responsible for all of this filth and degenerate behaviour that Hollywood is putting out turning men into women and women into men.” It took days for Mallory and the organization to respond, and when they did, many felt their statement was not forceful enough.
"I have heard the pain and concerns of my LGBTQAI siblings, my Jewish friends and Black women (including those who do and those who don’t check off either of those other boxes). I affirm the validity of those feelings,” Mallory wrote in a response for News One. "It is impossible for me to agree with every statement or share every viewpoint of the many people who I have worked with or will work with in the future. As I do not wish to be held responsible for the words of others when my own history shows that I stand in opposition to them, I also do not think it is fair to question anyone who works with me, who supports my work, and who is a member of this movement because of the ways that I may have fallen short here or in any other instance."
Since its founding in 2017, Women's March has participated in or led many of the major direct actions in protest of the Trump administration policies, from the travel ban to the zero tolerance policy that led to the ongoing family separation crisis to Brett Kavanaugh's nomination. Following the Tree of Life shooting, the Women's March held a vigil to protest anti-Semitism and xenophobia, and Linda Sarsour's organization, MPower Change, helped raise $150,000 USD for the victims and their families.
In response to the controversy, the organization offered the following statement to Refinery29: “Women’s March wouldn’t exist without the leadership of women of colour, and we stand with Linda Sarsour and Tamika Mallory. Women's March leaders reject anti-Semitism in all its forms. We recognize the danger of hate rhetoric by public figures. We want to say emphatically that we do not support or endorse statements made by Minister Louis Farrakhan about women, Jewish and LGBTQ communities. It's important to remember that many on the right are thrilled to use any tool they can find to divide and undermine our movement -- one that inspired the #WomensWave we saw this week in the midterm elections."
It continues, "Our women of colour leaders at the Women’s March have risked their safety to build a bold direct action strategy that addresses the real threat against our communities and country - the threat of white nationalism, which is fueled by anti-Black racism and anti-Semitism. We all know the real cause of violence and oppression of our communities. This is well-documented and inspired by vile rhetoric coming from the Trump administration and from members of the Republican Party."
This story was originally published at 3:32 p.m. It has since been updated.