Michael the Black Man, as he calls himself, steps from a brand-new pearl-white Mercedes, ponytail neatly crimped and big black pupils lazily regarding the world after a Sunday spent yachting. Maybe money does buy respectability. Because he now appears far saner than he did two days ago, spewing Old Testament bile as he was dragged from the BankUnited Center by the Secret Service. That is, until he opens his mouth to remind you that Oprah Winfrey has delivered Barack Obama to the cusp of world domination as part of her quest to wipe out mankind.
Last Friday afternoon, Michael Symonette — a.k.a. Maurice Woodside and Mikael Israel — and more than a dozen black minions clustered into a corner of the stands sat impatiently through the first five minutes of an Obama speech in Coral Gables.
Then, with Symonette leading the way, they stood and began chanting, "Barack, go home!" They unrolled signs featuring scrawled messages that seemed inexplicable: "Obama endorsed by the KKK," read one. "Jessie [sic] Jackson hates Obama for federal child support act," read another. Symonette's own sign announced the group: "Blacks against Obama."
"Hey, young people up there," said Obama, craning his neck toward the disturbance as his supporters tried to out-clamor the invaders, "it's no problem for you to put your signs up, but let everybody — let me finish what I have to say."
Prodded down the auditorium stairs by UM security guards and Secret Service agents, the men continued to scream about Obama, the KKK, and abortion. "All right, guys," said the candidate, looking bemused. "See ya."
Video of the protest was broadcast worldwide by MSNBC, CNN, and Fox News, drawing intrigue as an anomaly. The same week, a Sun-Sentinel poll showed Obama garnering 88 percent of the Florida black vote, compared to McCain's two percent.
As with all campaign developments these days, portrayals of Blacks Against Obama depended upon allegiance.
"The smart blacks don't like Obama," wrote a conservative commenter on Propeller.com.
"If they were 50 percent less crazy, I'd be willing to bet their group leader would have been booked on Fox News tomorrow," wrote a pro-Obama blogger.
This isn't nearly the first time 49-year-old Michael the Black Man has made surreal headlines. For 20 years, he has thrived in that dangerous no-man's-land where insanity finds a following.
In the mid-Eighties, he was a budding career criminal with convictions for petty theft and trespassing when he was recruited by Hulon Mitchell Jr., alias Yahweh ben Yahweh, a black supremacist preacher's son turned cult leader. In 1992, Mitchell, Symonette, and 14 others were charged with conspiracy for their roles in several murders. Symonette was tried for his participation in the grisly decapitation of one Yahweh dissenter, Aston Green, and the attempted killing of another, Eric Burke.
Throughout the trial, Symonette was deferential to Mitchell, and remains so to this day. "You know why I wasn't scared?" he says of facing those charges. "Because Yahweh wasn't scared!"
Mitchell got 11 years. Symonette, who denies the cult ever committed murder or taught racial hatred, was one of seven acquitted.
But the weirdness continued. A singer-songwriter, he recorded music with Miami Vice star Philip Michael Thomas. In the early Nineties, he became, he says, the "first black guy to live on Palm Island" — before he was evicted from his $500,000 home in the midst of a 1995 bankruptcy. (He now claims to make a living as a club promoter and yacht refurbisher.)
Symonette commandeered an unlicensed radio station, BOSS 104.1 FM, which attracted a large audience, most of it in the village of El Portal. As an on-air ranter, he showcased an obsessive hatred for Democrats — or as he called them, "Demon-crats," "slave masters" who were aligned with the KKK. He labeled the black El Portal mayor, Daisy Black, a "devil" and called for her to be "set on fire."
During the election debacle of 2000, Symonette and a dozen followers interrupted a Jesse Jackson speech in much the same manner they did Obama's. Jackson was at the West Palm Beach Emergency Operations Center rallying for a chad count when Michael and friends began chanting, "Jesse, go home!" and deeming Jackson a "house negro."
They called themselves the "Black Power Republicans"— but that was mostly just to shock. In fact Symonette is more anti-Democrat, a party he equates with high taxes and atheism, than pro-Republican. Asked whom he voted for last election, Symonette responds, "I voted for God."
And when it comes to this election, Symonette doesn't care whom blacks choose — as long as it's not Obama. "McCain's the closest thing to God," he says, "so I'm going to go ahead and encourage my people to vote for that guy. At least he believes in God."
And now he uses Jesse Jackson as an unwitting ally. He connects an infamous declaration the reverend made during an O'Reilly Factor commercial break — "I wanna cut [Obama's] nuts off" — with the fact that Jackson pays child support. Suddenly, he is on Symonette's side.
This sort of scavenger logic dominates his rhetoric. He calls Obama "The Beast," he explains, because the candidate is an apocalyptic figure warned of in the Bible: a proponent of infanticide and extreme partial-birth abortion "where you stick a needle in a baby's head — partly out of the womb — and suck its brains out and collapse the head!"
Worse even, is Obama's defense of child support, which Symonette considers "legal slavery." Symonette once owed $50,000 for his own kid, and he apparently hasn't shaken the trauma. President Obama, he is convinced, could bring about virtual extinction of the free black male as soon as 2012.
And don't even get him started on Oprah, a "devil" and "hell-bound Jezebel." "If Obama is elected, there will be an international, insane war, and nobody will survive," he says. "And Oprah knows that! She wants everybody to die with her black ass!"
He won't identify the others who protested at UM, but as he led the pack of 20 or 30 followers from the BankUnited Center, a timid-looking man in his forties stayed behind to talk to a reporter. "Harold, get over here!" scolded another member of the entourage, and Harold scurried away, joining the impromptu parade down a quiet street, bewildering all whom it passed.