- Founder of the National Action Network
- Helped incite anti-Jewish riots in Crown Heights, New York in 1991
- Convicted of libel for his role in the racially charged Tawana Brawley hoax
- Incited black anti-Semites against a Jewish business establishment in Harlem in 1995
- Democratic Party presidential candidate, 2004
See also: National Action Network
A 2002 telecast of HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel showed a 1983 FBI surveillancevideo in which Sharpton could be seen discussing a money-laundering scheme with mobster-turned-informant Michael Franzese, onetime captain for the Colombo crime family. On the tape, Sharpton appeared to offer to broker a meeting between Don King and a South American drug lord. No indictments were filed.
Sharpton first entered America's national consciousness on a large scale in November 1987, when he injected himself into the case of a 15-year-old black girl named Tawana Brawley, who claimed that she had been abducted and raped by a gang of six whites in Dutchess County, New York. Despite a complete absence of any credible evidence to support Miss Brawley's story, Sharpton (along with attorneys Alton Maddox and C. Vernon Mason) made increasingly wild allegations, culminating in charges that then-Dutchess County assistant prosecutor Steven Pagones had participated in the girl's brutalization. When Sharpton was criticized for accusing Pagones without offering a shred of proof, he retorted: "We stated openly that Steven Pagones did it. If we're lying, sue us, so we can go into court with you and prove you did it. Sue us -- sue us right now."
An extensive and costly investigation eventually proved Brawley’s tale to be without factual basis, and a grand jury dismissed her accusations. When Pagones in 1997 sued Sharpton (as well as Maddox and Mason) for defamation of character, Sharpton, under oath, said he could “no longer recall” having made a number of his slanderous accusations against Pagones and other law-enforcement officials years earlier. Pagones won a $345,000 court judgment against Sharpton and his two accomplices, of which Sharpton was responsible for $65,000. But Sharpton never paid his debt; rather, it was paid (along with $22,000 in interest) in 2001 by a group of wealthy Sharpton supporters.
In 1991 ... anti-Semitic riots erupted in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights section after a Hasidic Jewish driver accidentally ran over and killed a 7-year-old black boy. Delivering the eulogy at the boy's funeral, Sharpton told the mourners:
"Talk about how Oppenheimer in South Africa sends diamonds straight to Tel Aviv and deals with the diamond merchants right here in Crown Heights. The issue is not anti-Semitism; the issue is apartheid.... All we want to say is what Jesus said: If you offend one of these little ones, you got to pay for it. No compromise, no meetings, no coffee klatsch, no skinnin' and grinnin'."
Within three hours, a black mob had hunted down and slain an innocent rabbinical student, Yankel Rosenbaum, in retribution.
Undeterred, Sharpton declared that it was not merely a car accident that had killed the black child, but rather the "social accident" of "apartheid." He organized angry demonstrations and challenged local Jews––whom he derisively called "diamond merchants"––to “pin their yarmulkes back and come over to my house” to settle the score. Stirred by such rhetoric, hundreds of Crown Heights blacks took violently to the streets for three days and nights of rioting. Sharpton reacted to the chaos by stating, “We must not reprimand our children for outrage, when it is the outrage that was put in them by an oppressive system.” Further, he repeatedly bellowed to the rioters, "No justice, no peace!" According to Norman Rosenbaum, brother of the murdered Yankel Rosenbaum, "Based on everything we have seen and read, Sharpton never called upon the rioters to stop their anti-Semitism-inspired violence. He never called on the rioters to go home." Rosenbaum adds:
"The riots were the product of anti-Semites taking advantage of the tragic death of a child to justify inflicting their violence on innocent people -- the Jewish community of Crown Heights -- and murdering Yankel Rosenbaum, a Jew from Australia, amid the cries of 'Kill the Jew!'"
Also in 1994, Sharpton delivered an incendiary speech at New Jersey’s Kean College, where he said:
“White folks was in the caves while we [blacks] was building empires … We built pyramids before Donald Trump ever knew what architecture was … we taught philosophy and astrology and mathematics before Socrates and them Greek homos ever got around to it.”
Sharpton subsequently explained that while his use of the word “homos” may have been “irresponsible,” it “is not a homophobic term”
The Kean College speech also featured Sharpton explaining that America’s founders consisted of “the worst criminals, the rejects they sent from Europe ... to the colonies.” “So [if] some cracker,” he continued, “come and tell you ‘Well, my mother and father blood go back to the Mayflower,’ you better hold you pocket. That ain’t nothing to be proud of, that means their forefathers was crooks.” Sharpton later defended his use of the word “cracker,” calling it merely a “colloquial term used to describe a certain kind of bigot, who hates both blacks and Jews. It’s certainly not a racist term and certainly not an anti-Semitic term, because a cracker hates Jews and blacks.”
In 1995 Sharpton--along with such notables as Jeremiah Wright and Barack Obama--helped organize Louis Farrakhan's October 16th Million Man March.
Also in 1995, Sharpton led his NAN in a racially charged boycott against Freddy’s Fashion Mart, a Jewish-owned business in Harlem. The boycott started when Freddy’s owners announced that because they wanted to expand their own business, they would no longer sublet part of their store to a black-owned record shop. The street leader of the boycott, Morris Powell, was also the head of Sharpton’s “Buy Black” Committee. Powell and his fellow protesters repeatedly and menacingly told passersby not to patronize the “crackers” and "the greedy Jew bastards [who are] killing our [black] people." Some boycotters openly threatened violence against whites and Jews––all under the watchful, approving eye of Sharpton, who referred to the proprietors of Freddy's as "white interlopers." The subsequent picketing became ever-more menacing in its tone until one of the participants eventually shot (non-fatally) four whites inside the store and then set the building on fire––killing seven employees, most of whom were Hispanics.
In 1998 Sharpton was a featured speaker at the Socialist Scholars Conference in New York.
In August 2000, Sharpton held a "Redeem the Dream" rally at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, where one the the featured speakers was Malik Zulu Shabazz. At that event, Shabazz called on black young people, including "gang members," to unite against their "common enemy" -- "white America" and its allegedly racist police departments. He also articulated a "black dream that when we see caskets rolling in the black community … we will see caskets and funerals in the community of our enemy as well."
In March 2008, Sharpton, a strong supporter of Barack Obama's presidential candidacy, stated that he was accustomed to speaking with Obama on a regular basis -- "two or three times a week."
Sharpton often threatens to organize black boycotts of corporations on grounds that they supposedly discriminate against African Americans. Those companies, in turn, commonly try to pacify Sharpton with cash; sometimes they hire him as a consultant. For example:
In April 2009, Sharpton and his NAN were fined $285,000 for having violated election rules during Sharpton's 2004 presidential bid. According to the Federal Election Commission:
- In June 1998 Sharpton threatened to call for a consumer boycott of Pepsi, alleging that blacks were underrepresented in the company's advertising. Less than a year later, Pepsi hired Sharpton as a $25,000-per-year adviser until 2007.
- In November 2003, Sharpton threatened to lead a boycott of DaimlerChrysler over the allegedly pervasive “institutional racism” in the company’s car loan practices. Within six months, Chrysler began supporting Sharpton's NAN conferences.
- Also in 2003, Sharpton complained that American Honda had too few blacks in management positions. Company executives met with Sharpton, and within two months they began to sponsor NAN events.
- According to one General Motors spokesman, NAN repeatedly asked his company for contributions every year from 2000 through 2006, and GM each time declined to pay anything. Then, in December 2006 Sharpton threatened to call a boycott to protest the carmaker’s closing of an African American-owned GM dealership in the Bronx. In 2007 and 2008, General Motors made monetary donations to NAN.
On May 2, 2010, Sharpton addressed a church congregation in Danbury, Connecticut, where he said that the late Martin Luther King, Jr.'s dream "was not to put one black president in the White House," but rather "to make everything equal in everybody’s house."