Jesse Jackson personifies the descent of the civil rights movement from the mountaintop of Martin Luther King to the present morass of racial spoils and demonization. Kenneth Timmerman’s compelling book, Shakedown: Exposing the Real Jesse Jackson, recounts the life of a man who has polluted the racial atmosphere in America primarily to enrich and promote himself and his hand-picked black elites. For those inclined to doubt that Jackson’s story is so sordid, Timmerman seals his case with thorough documentation culled from a wide variety of sources, including his own interviews of Jackson. At home, Jackson has accomplished little on behalf of the millions of underprivileged blacks whose cause he pretends to champion. Abroad, he has befriended Arafat and pedaled his own influence on behalf of thugs who murdered and mutilated thousands of black Africans. His personal and financial high-jinks have ranged from offensive to fraudulent to worse. Yet he perseveres, thanks largely to his proven formula of "intimidation, coercion, and protection" and also to a left-wing and mainstream press either unwilling or unable to say that Jackson, fancy suits and all, is a civil rights emperor who has no clothes.
In his early years and his subsequent autobiographical distortions, Jackson resembles partner-in-slime Bill Clinton. Both men have exaggerated the deprivations of their childhoods. Although Jackson’s South Carolina upbringing was not luxurious, his adoptive father was a steady provider who scoffs at Jackson’s tales of abject poverty.
Jackson emerged nationally in 1968, when he boldly and falsely claimed to have held the dying King and offered a bloodied shirt as evidence. In the first act of a long and disconcerting immorality play, the mainstream press not only failed to hold Jackson accountable but also endeared him to a wider liberal white audience with glowing coverage in Time and Playboy.
Timmerman keenly notes the key role of friendly media coverage in Jackson’s career. Capitalizing on white guilt, fear of racism accusations, and his undeniable charisma, Jackson became "a leader by virtue of the press." Whatever the reasons, the left and the mainstream media have long "treat[ed Jackson] with kid gloves" lest they feel the fury of the very power that they have conferred upon him.
Jackson’s Chicago juggernaut accelerated in the wake of King’s death. Fittingly, the "Reverend" Jackson is not even a real Reverend. He sidestepped the normal requirements and had a friendly minister simply declare him ordained.
Jackson also sidestepped the normal requirements for buying a home; some associates procured one for him through a secretive trust. Thus began a long embrace with the less-than-transparent finances that would eventually run through most of his dealings and extend to his non-profit empire and his children. On this front, Timmerman builds on Bill O’Reilly’s reporting and extensively details monetary shenanigans dating from the 1960’s to the present.
Much like a ballplayer honing his skills in the minors, Jackson refined in Chicago the techniques that he would eventually bring to Wall Street. After Jackson’s hijacking of Operation Breadbasket from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference caused his virtual expulsion from the venerable civil rights organization, he formed Operation PUSH.
Shakedown uncovers the largely untold story of Jesse’s early schemes and his intimate association during this period with one of Chicago’s meanest gangs. Assisted by half-brother Noah Robinson, Jackson forged his racial wheel of fortune: threats of racial strife from Jesse lead to white business concessions to black business cronies who tender generous financial assistance to, of all people, Jesse. Shockingly, Jackson deployed gang members as supporters, "security guards," crowd fillers, opponent intimidators, and only Jesse knows what else (the book’s photo section includes a shot of Jesse with his gangster friends). Robinson’s involvement with the gang led him down the path to multiple life prison sentences. Happily, even with Jackson’s help, Robinson defied the odds and failed to wriggle a Clinton pardon.
In stark contrast to the nation as a whole, the Carter years brought prosperity to Jackson. Administration officials showered what Timmerman calls Jesse Jackson, Inc. with nearly $7 million to implement programs to improve inner city life and education. While yielding negligible results for struggling blacks, the money enabled Jackson to expand his operation enough for Timmerman to assert that "PUSH-Excel helped Jackson to build a national political base at the expense of the taxpayer." Eventually, Jackson parlayed his prominence into a pair of presidential campaigns. Receiving substantial guidance from advisors with Communist inclinations, he consistently espoused far-left ideas and foreign-policy proposals friendly to the Soviet Union.
Jesse Jackson peaked with his ultimate shakedown, the Wall Street Project. As summed up by black securities magnate Harold Doley, Jr., Jackson acted as "civil rights entrepreneur" who "leveraged several million African-Americans … just to benefit a few of his friends," most of whom were already multimillionaires. Threatening boycotts and demonization, Jackson bullied companies into millions in concessions that he "recommended" go to his friends. Middle-class and impoverished blacks derived no benefit.
Shakedown offers one shining example of a CEO who stood up to Jackson. T.J. Rodgers’ Cypress Semiconductor had an excellent race record when Jackson arrived in the Silicon Valley. On the verge of surrender, Rodgers decided to fight. He contacted other black leaders and learned that Jackson used the black many to benefit his own black few. Rodgers decried Jackson’s absurdity and challenged him to a debate. Jackson never answered the call. Unfortunately, most corporate chieftans are cowards.
Evidencing his true values, Jackson has frequently refused to help ordinary, less affluent blacks. By his own admission, Jackson’s game is pay-to-play. For example, farm activist and former NAACP official Eddie Slaughter contacted Jackson seeking assistance in forestalling black farm bankruptcies possibly caused by Department of Agriculture misconduct. Despite such a compelling cause, Jackson insisted on a six-figure payment. Miffed, Slaughter labeled Jackson a "poverty pimp" who exploits black poverty to enrich himself and his cronies.
Not content to sully the American racial landscape, Jackson also disgraced himself by supporting military strongmen who crushed democracy and its supporters in Nigeria. Through his relationship with General Babangida, Jackson "helped spread oil contracts to his friends and associates," according to a human rights activist. After Babangida cancelled free elections in 1993, Jackson kept a low profile, earning himself "scorn from Nigerian pro-democracy groups" convinced that Jackson was hedging to keep his business options open should another military government ascend. While subsequent military ruler Sani Abacha brutally cracked down on democracy, Jackson argued against sanctions and later played the race card to defend Abacha’s execution of a playwright and several other dissidents. Jesse’s son Jonathan later received a Nigerian oil contract, though probably not his first.
Timmerman also describes the blood on Jackson’s hands from his forays into the bloodbaths of Liberia and Sierra Leone in the late 1990s. Betraying startling naiveté, Jackson befriended Liberian strongman Charles Taylor, who provoked a civil war that claimed more than 200,000 lives and who encouraged his armed thugs to murder and mutilate at random. Foday Sankoh, unspeakable butcher and friend of Taylor, benefited from Jackson’s brazen interference in Sierra Leone—that country’s finance minister accused Jackson of "kidnapping" President Kabbah to force him to negotiate with Sankoh—and became head of Sierra Leone’s lucrative diamond industry. Taylor and Sankoh were soon killing again—their victims included U.N. peacekeepers—and reaping nine-figure diamond windfalls. Assessing Jackson’s record in West Africa, African journalist Tom Kamara wrote that "Jackson is considered a civil rights leader in America, but in Africa he is a killers’ rights leader." Predictably, Jackson only feigned accepting responsibility for his errors and faced little U.S. criticism for his part in another African tale of woe.
Despite his disgraceful record, Jackson was enjoying the view from his racial throne when the world learned that Jackson had secretly fathered an illegitimate child with Karin Stanford, a former Jesse, Inc. employee. Incredibly, Jackson brought his pregnant mistress to the White House while he counseled the felon-in-chief on beating the Lewinsky rap! Even more damning, Jackson’s non-profits disbursed substantial sums to Stanford and the financial assistance of Jackson associates pushed the total take well into six figures. Characteristically, Jackson has escaped liability for the blatant misuse of non-profit funds.
Uncharacteristically, Jackson seemed to admit to misbehavior when he announced that he was "taking some time off" to heal familial and spiritual wounds. In a stirring demonstration of sincerity, Jackson returned to public life four days later. One commentator sneered that a twisted ankle would have kept Jesse out of the spotlight longer than his self-imposed excommunication from the "church of instant forgiveness."
Whether the Stanford child was the culmination or catalyst, the debacle finally seems to have eroded his credibility in the eyes of all but the most die-hard and delusional. Nevertheless, Jackson soldiers on, selling civil rights snake oil to his most vulnerable constituent before abandoning them so he can count his money.
In addition to fleshing out the events discussed above, Shakedown feeds the reader a steady diet of other fascinating Jacksonian misadventures. While the star and the subject are occasionally hard to stomach, the writing is a joy to digest. Like Bill Clinton, Mr. Jackson is an imaginative and rather entertaining criminal. By providing such a comprehensive assessment, Timmerman has made a valuable contribution to the historical record and to anyone interested in learning how to defeat future Jacksons by studying the present one. Shakedown gives the reader more than enough ammunition to pepper Jackson apologists into incoherency.