For Nisi Jacobs, the final straw was when Women’s March co-leader Tamika Mallory received a shoutout in February from Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan at his Saviours’ Day speech.
A week later, Ms. Jacobs helped start feminist advocacy group WoMen For All as charges of bigotry and anti-Semitism roiled the leadership team of Ms. Mallory, Bob Bland, Carmen Perez and Linda Sarsour.
“We formed … in March 2018 very much in response to the homophobia, transphobia, anti-Semitism and misogyny of Farrakhan’s preaching that was being normalized by Women’s March leaders,” Ms. Jacobs said.
Even as the Women’s March celebrates progressive gains in the Nov. 6 elections and prepares for its third annual march on Washington Jan. 19, the future of the 2-year-old protest behemoth has never been more in doubt.
The turmoil came to a head a week ago when founder Teresa Shook called on the leaders to resign, saying they had “allowed anti-Semitism, anti-LBGTQIA sentiment and hateful, racist rhetoric to become a part of the platform.”
Mercy Morganfield, who once ran Women’s March DC, followed up with a devastating critique accusing the four leaders of providing “zero accountability” on the prodigious fundraising while staying in five-star hotels with a “glam squad” of family, friends and a Nation of Islam security detail.
Ms. Morganfield, a daughter of blues legend Muddy Waters, said she repeatedly denounced Ms. Mallory’s “anti-Semitic rhetoric in public and private,” but “I was shushed by Bob Bland as she protected Tamika.”
“They are not only noninclusive of certain segments of women, but Tamika and Linda have betrayed all women by their subservience to radical religious beliefs that do not believe in equal rights for women,” Ms. Morganfield said in a Facebook post.
Meanwhile, Hollywood actresses Alyssa Milano and Debra Messing have indicated that they may skip the signature march on Washington over anti-Semitism concerns.
Ms. Mallory, who said she has attended Nation of Islam events since she was a child, posted a photo of herself and Mr. Farrakhan from 2015 calling him the “GOAT,” for “greatest of all time.” Ms. Perez and Ms. Sarsour also have praised and appeared with Mr. Farrakhan.
At the Feb. 25 speech attended by Ms. Mallory, Mr. Farrakhan declared that “powerful Jews are my enemy.” The Anti-Defamation League has called Mr. Farrakhan “one of the leading anti-Semites in the United States.”
The Women’s March has issued multiple statements in recent months denouncing anti-Semitism and Mr. Farrakhan’s comments without specifically condemning the Nation of Islam leader.
“We have been CLEAR that Minister Farrakhan has said hateful and hurtful things and that he does not align with our Unity Principles of the Women’s March that were created by Women of Color,” Ms. Sarsour said in a Monday statement. “Minister Farrakhan will tell you himself that he does not belong to nor adhere to our progressive movement or yours.”
She partially blamed white supremacy. “As a Muslim, I know all too well that I am expected to answer for other Muslims’ actions when white folks never have a second thought about having to do that — this is a feature of white supremacy.”
Even so, Ms. Jacobs and other feminists who once enthusiastically supported the Women’s March increasingly are making the break.
Her New York City-based organization belongs to a coalition led by March On, founded by several organizers of the high-profile 2017 and 2018 protests who split from the Women’s March over issues with the leadership.
One recurring problem: The groups are often confused with the Women’s March — and not in a good way.
WoMen For All, originally was called Women’s March for All, “but we had to change our name because we were being attacked for being anti-Semitic for eight straight months because people didn’t read the ‘for all’ after it,” Ms. Jacobs said.
Katherine Siemionko, founder of the Women’s March Alliance, which has organized the New York City marches for two years, said she lost nearly 5,000 followers this month over anti-Semitism in a case of mistaken identity.
“We get hate mail daily, no matter how much we post out that we have no correlation to [the Women’s March],” said Ms. Siemionko. “It’s like Coca-Cola and Pepsi. We’re getting the backlash for somebody else’s company.”
March On and the Women’s March Alliance issued statements last week emphasizing that they are separate from the Women’s March.
Is the Women’s March damaging the progressive women’s movement?
“They are absolutely hurting,” Ms. Siemionko said. “It’s very unfortunate.”
After Ms. Shook called for their resignations, the Women’s March leaders fired back on Facebook by slamming “armchair critiques from those who want to take credit for our labor.”
“Today, Teresa Shook weighed in, irresponsibly, as have other organizations attempting in this moment to take advantage of our growing pains to try and fracture our network,” the statement said. “Groups that have benefited from our work but refuse to organize in accordance with our Unity Principles clearly have no interest in building the world our principles envision.”
The response drew a heated backlash on social media from liberals who accused the leadership of harming the feminist cause.
“You need to resign and let other people take over the next phase of the movement,” advertising executive Josephine Son said on Facebook. “You are doing more damage to this group by being so obstinate. Shaming women for speaking their minds, how dare you!”
Kathryn Xian, a spokeswoman for Ms. Shook, a retired lawyer who lives in Hana, Hawaii, described the four as “mean girls.”
“They tried to minimize [Ms. Shook], they tried to imply that she doesn’t have a part to play in this movement that she started,” Ms. Xian said. “It’s super brave of her to just take a stand because they are a group of mean girls, and she’s just an aging grandmother who’s living in the boonies of Hana.”
Ms. Sarsour sought to mitigate the damage last week with a more conciliatory post praising “our incredible Jewish and LGBT members” and apologizing “for the harm we have caused.”
“It’s become clear, amidst this media storm, that our values and our message have — too often — been lost,” said Ms. Sarsour. “That loss caused a lot of harm, and a lot pain. We should have been faster and clearer in helping people understand our values and our commitment to fighting anti-semitism. We regret that.”