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Ex-Panther Claims Conspiracy

The 1960s black militant H. Rap Brown, arrested in the killing of a Georgia deputy, declared himself a victim of a “government conspiracy” Tuesday as he appeared in federal court in handcuffs and ankle chains.

Brown, known as Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin since converting to Islam, was arrested Monday night west of Montgomery after fleeing a shed in a burst of gunfire and being pursued through the woods by federal and local law officers.

He is accused of killing Fulton County, Ga., Deputy Ricky Kinchen and wounding Deputy Aldranon English in a shootout in Atlanta last Thursday. The deputies were trying to serve Al-Amin with an arrest warrant at his store.

Al-Amin, 56, made no comment in court Tuesday. But asked if he had anything to say as he was being led out of the courtroom, he responded: “Yes. It's a government conspiracy.”

He will be held pending an extradition request from Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes.

Al-Amin, who in recent years been a Muslim spiritual leader and grocery store operator in Atlanta, could be returned to Georgia as soon as Wednesday, U.S. Attorney Redding Pitt said.

Civil rights lawyer J.L. Chestnut, who said he represents Al-Amin, didn't say whether he would seek an extradition hearing. He told U.S. Magistrate Susan Russ Walker he had had limited time to speak with his client.

Al-Amin, briefly the justice minister of the Black Panther Party, once exhorted blacks to arm themselves, saying, “violence is as American as cherry pie.” He later served five years in prison for his role in a robbery that ended in a shootout with New York police.

The deputies shot last week in Atlanta were trying to serve Al-Amin with a warrant stemming from an incident last May, in which he was allegedly stopped in a stolen car and flashed a police badge.

Authorities said that Al-Amin was wearing a bulletproof vest when he was arrested Monday night and that a rifle and two ammunition clips were also found nearby.

The arrest stirred up memories of a time when tiny Lowndes County claimed a prominent role in the civil rights movement and the clamor for black power.

Brown was captured in the same backwoods region where he helped lead a voting rights push in the 1960s.

His return as a fugitive raised a question of whether he is the black power rebel of old or a wrongly accused Islam convert who began as a peaceful voting rights advocate.

“He's a religious leader now,” said Sharif Al-Malik, a Muslim who recently moved to White Hall from nearby Selma. “Instead of saying, 'Burn, baby, burn,' he says if you don't do right hell will burn you.”

Al-Amin tried to form a mosque in White Hall about a year ago, Mayor John Jackson said. Several Muslim families live in the town, and friends of Al-Amin ran a restaurant called Bismallah Cafe, or “In the Name of God,” where no pork or alchol was served.

The restaurant is now closed.

“They didn't even allow people in the restaurant who were drinking and smoking,” Jackson said. “Young people couldn't believe that.”

“They were really good for the community.”

Al-Amin's legacy in Lowndes County is mixed.

In the 1960s, the voting rights protest led Al-Amin and others to form the Lowndes County Freedom Organization, which took the black panther as its emblem, in sharp contrast to the dominant local Democratic Party's white rooster.

“They all were interested in grass-roots organizing,” said Clayborne Carson, a Stanford historian and director of the university's Martin Luther King Jr. Papers Project. “Particularly in developing independent, black-controlled political organizations. That became the Lowndes County Freedom Organization, and then they took the symbol.”

“We knew the panther was a noble animal and didn't bother anybody, and we didn't bother anybody,” said John Hulett, a black man who went door to door fighting to bring blacks to the polls and who eventually became Lowndes County's sheriff. “But when you put a panther in a corner, he's not going to run away, and that's why we chose them.”

But when Al-Amin and fellow civil rights activist Stokeley Carmichael left the Lowndes County area, they formed a militant group dubbed the Black Panthers, which veered some of the civil rights crusade down a violent path.

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