Special Reports

Letter has some '5 Percent' language

NEW YORK - The letter left at the scene of a sniper shooting contains phrases often associated with a group that believes the black man is God and spreads its message through prison recruitment and popular hip-hop music.

An FBI spokeswoman declined to comment Saturday on whether authorities were looking into the possibility that the writer borrowed from the language of the Five Percent movement, which teaches that education and family are of central importance. It rejects drinking, drugs and fornication, as well as most accepted history, authority and religion.

The 39-year-old movement started as an offshoot of the Nation of Islam, but Five Percenters say they are not Muslims. The group teaches that black men are to be called "God" and black women "Earth," and that only 5 percent of the population is enlightened.

The letter found near a steak house in Ashland, Va., where one of the shootings occurred, demanded police refer to the author as "God," and a tarot card left near a shooting outside a school declared, "I am God."

"I'm not saying he's a Five Percenter. I don't know that. Only that 'I am God' is something a Five Percenter might say," said Robert Walker, a private consultant based in Columbia, S.C., who helps police identify gangs. "All black men who are followers and members of the Five Percenters refer to themselves as God and will even refer to someone else who is a Five Percenter as a God also."

The letter also included the phrase "word is bond," also widely used by Five Percenters, who often call their movement the Nation of Gods and Earths.

The letter, which was reprinted in The Washington Post on Saturday, had five stars on the title page. Walker said the stars were similar to ones that symbolize children to followers of the movement.

A man who answered the phone at the Allah School in Mecca, the national headquarters of the movement, located in New York, said members of the group had no comment. He would not give his name.

FBI spokeswoman Debbie Weierman said she could not comment on an ongoing investigation.

Walker, a former prison security coordinator and Drug Enforcement Administration agent, stressed that most people involved in the movement have nothing to do with crime.

But prison officials in several states have censored the group's teachings despite complaints by inmate advocates that they are trampling on freedom of religion. Some prison systems have labeled all Five Percenters as gang members.

The Five Percent movement is so influential in hip-hop music that "word is bond" and other popular Five Percent phrases are ubiquitous in songs by such artists as Busta Rhymes, the Wu-Tang Clan and Brand Nubian.

John Allen Muhammad, who along with teenager John Lee Malvo was charged Friday in the six sniper slayings in Maryland, converted several years ago to Islam and changed his name from John Allan Williams.

Many Muslims have said that a follower of Islam would not say "I am God," because it would be sacrilegious.

Walker said Five Percenters often change their names, but usually pick from a list that does not include the name "Muhammad."

He also said Five Percenters typically end letters with the word, "peace," which group members mean as an abbreviation for "please elevate all children everywhere."

The letter's postscript had no such good wishes: "Your children are not safe anywhere at anytime."