Muammar Qaddafi's Chicago Connection

How the feds used the Libyan dictator to bring down the infamous El Rukns gang from the city's South Side.

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Jeff Fort (Ernie Cox Jr./Chicago Tribune/MCT via Getty Images)

From keeping crack cocaine off Chicago's streets in the mid-1980s to becoming the first Americans convicted of domestic terrorism, the El Rukns have had one of the most fascinating gang stories with global reach.

They sold synthetic heroin. They prayed in a mosque. They held community meetings. They got arrested for murder. In the 1970s and '80s, the El Rukns teetered among contradictions. Leader Jeff Fort, aka Chief Malik, sat on a throne at the South Side headquarters. Law enforcement and federal prosecutors zealously pursued them.

But their real legacy is a federal conviction that tied them to Muammar Qaddafi. Twenty-five years ago, the U.S. government indicted members of the El Rukns for plotting domestic terrorist acts on behalf of Libya for $2.5 million.

Lance Williams and I explore the domestic terrorism trial in our new book, The Almighty Black P Stone Nation: The Rise, Fall and Resurgence of an American Gang. Our purpose is to tell a story that looks at the social and political underpinnings of the notorious street organization. 

As a youth, Fort flirted with the struggle for civil rights and black power as a Blackstone Ranger (the Stones), but he also had a predilection toward criminal activity. The Stones evolved into the secretive, selective El Rukns after Fort emerged from prison in the mid-1970s with an orientation toward Islam.

El Rukn is an Arabic term that refers to "foundation." Law enforcement didn't relent despite the name change. Prosecutors tried out new "war on drugs" policies on the El Rukns, and Fort got sent to federal prison yet again in 1983.

That didn't satisfy federal authorities. They got a wiretap put on his prison phone, determined to further disrupt the El Rukns. But agents listened in on coded language that caught them by surprise.

The U.S. government contended that they heard Fort on tape belittle Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan for getting money from Qaddafi. In turn, Fort yearned for some of that Libyan largesse for the El Rukn Nation. Farrakhan had received a $5 million loan from Qaddafi in the early 1980s to start a line of black personal-care products.

The feds set up a sting in which an undercover agent approached a group of El Rukns with the prospect of selling an M-72 Series Light Anti-Tank Weapon.

For many, the consensus was that Fort wanted to find a way to procure, or con, money from Qaddafi. But the El Rukns gave the feds fodder by having contact with a country on the enemy list. The 1987 terrorism trial proved to be highly sensationalist.

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