Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan said Thursday that backers of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama shouldn't be dissuaded by the senator's denunciation of Farrakhan during a Democratic debate.
His statement comes after Obama was asked during Tuesday's televised debate with Democratic presidential rival Hillary Rodham Clinton about Farrakhan's support for the Obama campaign. Obama said he denounces Farrakhan's past anti-Semitic remarks and rejects his support.
Farrakhan sent an unsolicited statement Thursday to The Associated Press that he said was meant to respond to "outrage expressed by many" over Obama's comments.
"Those who have been supporting Sen. Barack Obama should not allow what was said during the Feb. 26 presidential debate to lessen their support for his campaign. This is simply mischief making intended to hurt Mr. Obama politically."
Farrakhan, through a spokesman, later clarified that by "mischief making" he was referring to the questions posed by debate moderator Tim Russert, host of NBC's "Meet the Press."
The issue arose Sunday, when Farrakhan praised Obama before a large Nation of Islam gathering, even comparing him to the religion's founder, Wallace D. Fard Muhammad, who Farrakhan claims also had a white mother and black father.
"A black man with a white mother became a savior to us," Farrakhan said Sunday. "A black man with a white mother could turn out to be one who can lift America from her fall."
The Obama campaign moved quickly to distance itself from Farrakhan. Just hours after the address, the campaign said, "Senator Obama has been clear in his objections to Minister Farrakhan's past pronouncements and has not solicited the minister's support."
Farrakhan has drawn widespread attention in the past for making anti-Semitic remarks, including calling Judaism a "gutter religion." In recent years, officials with the Nation of Islam have said they favor unity and tolerance among religions, and Farrakhan now often quotes the texts of other religions in his speeches.
Officials with the Nation have long argued that Farrakhan's comments are often taken out of context.
During Tuesday's debate, Russert pressed Obama about whether he accepts Farrakhan's support. The senator responded that while both he and Farrakhan live in Chicago, that's where their ties end.
"I have been very clear in my denunciation of Minister Farrakhan's anti-Semitic comments. I think that they are unacceptable and reprehensible," Obama said. "I did not solicit this support."
Following an exchange with Clinton, he then added: "There's no formal offer of help from Minister Farrakhan that would involve me rejecting it. But if the word 'reject' Senator Clinton feels is stronger than the word 'denounce,' then I'm happy to concede the point, and I would reject and denounce."