Evidence for the suspected participation of Norman 3X Butler (aka Muhammad Abdul Aziz) and Thomas 15X Johnson (aka Khalil Islam) in the 14th February 1965 firebombing of Malcolm X’s East Elmhurst residence is of the same ‘open secret’ character as that which ultimately led to the successful identification of Newark Temple #25 shotgun assassin Al-Mustafa Shabazz (William X Bradley) by Abdur-Rahman Muhammad in April 2010.
Where Was Norman 3X On Valentines Night ’65?
As Fruit of Islam (FOI) lieutenants and trusted members of the Nation of Islam (NOI) ‘specialty squad’ to which Malcolm referred during his 15th February 1965 press conference at the Audubon Ballroom (while seated alongside a former member of said squad, Leon 4X Ameer), Butler and Johnson would have likely been among the FOI 'soldiers' whom Captain Clarence X Gill of Louis Farrakhan's Boston Temple #11 enlisted to carry out actions against Malcolm following Gill’s 28th June 1964 ‘promotion’ over Captain Joseph X Gravitt of Harlem Temple #7 by Assistant Supreme Capt. Elijah Muhammad Jr.
In Jack Baxter’s 1994 documentary ‘Brother Minister’ mention is made of Captain Joseph’s confession, before his death in 1993, of his role in the firebombing of Malcolm’s home. This admission was reportedly issued in connection with the publication of Spike Lee’s 1992 book ‘By Any Means Necessary: The Trials and Tribulations of the Making of Malcolm X’ to which reference is made in this 1993 article in the NYT. And in this 1984 interview with William Buckley of the National Review, Butler affirms (at 15:55 on the video) that, in his capacity as a member of ‘NOI security’, he took his instructions from Capt. Joseph. It is therefore inconceivable that Capt. Joseph would not have enlisted proven Temple #7 enforcers such as Butler and Johnson to aid him in carrying out the Valentine’s Day arson attack on Malcolm’s home.
Many have found it noteworthy that neither Butler nor Johnson, whenever faced with questions about their role in Malcolm’s murder, hardly ever mention the shooting of Benjamin Brown for which they were awaiting trial at the time of their arrest for Malcolm’s murder – not even as a ‘circumstantial alibi’ that would have rendered them unlikely participants in Malcolm’s killing.
That is just one example of the guarded way in which both Butler and Johnson had become practiced when discussing their violent pasts and of just how adept they were at concealing anything that might extinguish the halo of their presumed innocence.
In all of their numerous TV interviews over the years with Mike Wallace, Tony Brown, Gil Noble and others neither Butler nor Johnson (who died in 2009) ever so much as mention the name ‘Benjamin Brown’ nor allude to the fact that they were both awaiting trial for his shooting (likely ordered by Capt. Joseph) at the time of their arrest for Malcolm’s killing. Far more puzzling is the fact that the topic never seems to occur to those interviewing them as one worthy of raising.
Indeed, one of the most infuriating aspects of the various efforts to resolve Malcolm’s cold case has been the lack of investigative or interrogatory rigour on the part of those placed in a privileged position to question the likes of Butler, John X Ali, Larry 4X Prescott and the other characters involved in this saga.
Were Temple #7 Muslims Present At the Audubon?
Evidence for a Temple #7 presence at the Audubon on 21st February 1965 derives from a number of sources. One such source is Sharon 6X Poole who was present at the Ballroom on the day Malcolm was slain, was later interviewed by the news media in the immediate aftermath of the shooting and to whom she disclosed the presence of Temple #7 members at the venue. Her interview can be found in the UCLA newsreel archive and can also be briefly heard in one of the ‘Who Killed Malcolm X’ episodes.
Another source is to be found in a Thomas 15X interview on Tony Brown’s Journal (from 6:55 on the video) where Johnson provides details of a meeting which took place at the 119th street offices of the Muhammad Speaks newspaper in NYC, organised by NOI National Secretary John X Ali and attended by five FOI lieutenants and two FOI ‘investigators’. The fact that this meeting occurred (according to Johnson) “a few days” before Malcolm was murdered suggests that (1) the attendees were likely made aware of the imminence of Malcolm’s killing and may have even been briefed on the exact date and (2) the New York FOI were expected to participate in some capacity. This would corroborate the Sharon 6X claim of a Temple #7 presence at the Audubon.
Yet another source was an anonymous 14 November 2009 online post by a ‘Bill X’ celebrating Malcolm’s murder and about which a number of things stood out. (1) The poster of that vile comment was praiseworthy of Malcolm’s assassination and complimented Talmadge Hayer for his role in the killing. (2) The poster claimed that there were ten participants in the murder plot and not merely the five shooters from Temple #25 who were identified by Hayer in his 1977-78 affidavits to Kunstler. (3) The poster implicated Temple #7 in the crime. (4) The poster provided some manner of military-style codename for the hit squad (‘Task Force Fard’) that murdered Malcolm – the first time I had ever encountered any such designation for the team that carried out Malcolm’s killing. And (5) but not least, the poster went out of their way to praise FOI lieutenant ‘Linward X’ (aka Linward X Cathcart aka Abdul Karriem Muhammad) in connection with the assassination – but remained silent regarding whatever role Cathcart may have played in the crime and that made his name worthy of mention.
This I found odd. The guarded manner in which the poster referred to Cathcart suggested to me that, as praiseworthy as they were about Malcolm’s murder and as willing to share little-known details about the crime as they seemed to be, they nevertheless knew enough not to say too much regarding Cathcart’s own role. This made the post stand out as not just another routine piece of online trolling but as the likely musings of someone with direct knowledge of Malcolm’s assassination and its participants.
And viewers of the Netflix docuseries ‘Who Killed Malcolm X’ saw enough in the evasive behaviour and responses of Newark Temple #25 veterans like Qasim Nathari, Wali Muslim, Earl Siddiq and others questioned in the program to glean that Malcolm’s murder was a crime the details of which appear to have been known to a wider circle of people than was previously supposed.
Could Butler and Johnson Have Entered The Ballroom?
An 8th April 1965 witness statement from a George Matthews debunks the enduring hypothesis that neither Butler nor Johnson, as Temple #7 members, could have succeeded in entering the Audubon on 21st February 1965 because Malcolm’s security guards “knew them well” and would have turned them away.
As can be seen in the Matthews statement to Detective James Rushin (2244) of the NYPD, Butler along with twelve men from Temple #7 were present at a 12th December 1964 Harlem Youth Opportunities Unlimited (HARYOU) rally that Malcolm held three months prior to his assassination.
Butler and his gang, who were clearly up to no good, were spotted in the audience by Malcolm himself but permitted to remain at the event. Why then should anyone believe that either Butler or Johnson would have encountered any more resistance upon their visit to the Audubon three months later unless there was a specific and unique threat they were deemed to pose to Malcolm’s life?
Malcolm’s security guards were drawn not merely from the New York area but some of them, like Charles 26X Blackwell and Robert 35X Smith, were from New Jersey and had recognised Jersey City FOI lieutenant Linward X Cathcart upon his arrival at the Audubon. Cathcart was searched, ordered to remove his NOI lapel pin but permitted to remain at the venue. Nothing would therefore support the contention that either Butler or Johnson would have been treated any differently had they sought entry into the Audubon on 21st February 1965.
We can thus dispense with the fallacy that Malcolm’s murder was purposefully assigned to the New Jersey FOI since they were unlikely to be recognised by Malcolm’s New York guards who, by contrast, were purportedly on notice to bar Temple #7 members from entering the venue. Malcolm had no such policy in place at any of his previous meetings and there is nothing to indicate that such a policy was in place on the day he was killed.
Indeed, at this 15th February 1965 rally at the Audubon held on the evening that followed the Valentine’s Day fire-bombing of his home, Malcolm alluded to the presence of members of the FOI at that same rally when he stated: “(Elijah Muhammad) Junior stood up and told the Fruit, many of whom are here now also, that I should have been killed, that my tongue should have been put in an envelope and sent back to Chicago by now...”
Malcolm had clearly spotted members of the FOI in the audience at his event and, notwithstanding the fact that he deemed the NOI responsible for the arson attack on his home the previous night, continued to hold out the (false) hope that they could be won over were they afforded an opportunity to hear him for themselves.
Paul Bitakaramire is a freelance writer and filmmaker based in Manchester (UK) who has previously been published in Britain’s Spectator magazine and has launched a petition to secure the release of the FBI files on the Malcolm X assassination. That petition can be found here.