Holy war suspect raised on politics
• Friends of Portlander Lumumba Ford say FBI lied • Father and family had reason to distrust government
At the time of Patrice Lumumba Ford's birth, his parents were all but at war with the U.S. government.
Last Friday, some three decades later, he was one of three U.S. citizens arrested in Portland and charged with conspiring to make war against U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
He wasn't the first Ford to be branded a danger to the nation by federal authorities.
His father, Kent Ford, was the captain of the Portland chapter of the Black Panther Party, an armed group described by the FBI in the late 1960s as the most dangerous threat to U.S. security.
Kent Ford was under constant surveillance and in and out of court on numerous charges around the time of Lumumba's birth, historic police files show. He also won a $5,000 judgment in federal court in 1970 after police officers handcuffed him during a rally, held him down and beat him.
Lumumba's mother, Sandra Ford, now a physician's assistant, was spokeswoman and secretary for the free medical and dental clinics operated by the Panthers in North Portland. She was also the subject of heavy police surveillance, and historic files show that suspicious law enforcement officials conspired to shut down the free clinics she and the Panthers ran in Portland.
In March 1971, the Fords named their new son after Patrice Lumumba, the charismatic anti-imperialist Congolese leader who had been assassinated in 1961 in a plot thought to have been orchestrated by U.S. agents.
Lumumba Ford, 31, pleaded not guilty the day of his arrest. He is one of six people charged with conspiring to wage war on the U.S. in Afghanistan.
Law enforcement officials declare that they have broken up a terror cell in Portland. Ford's friends and family are not convinced.
'I believe that it will come out in trial that the FBI lied,' said Portland businessman James Britt Jr., who has known Ford since childhood and was married to Sandra Ford in the 1960s.
Family members say Ford was trying to reach Afghanistan to help Muslims in refugee camps, not to fight U.S. soldiers. They say the men applied for visas in China and Pakistan to gain entry into the war-torn nation to serve with the Red Crescent, as the Red Cross is known in Muslim countries.
The federal indictment charges Ford with conducting weapons training with his co-conspirators in and around Portland last year, then flying to China in October 2001 to join a holy war against U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
Ford also allegedly wired $983, in two separate transactions, to a Jordanian co-conspirator who is still at large, according to the indictment.
Ford was gone from the United States for just a month, from Oct. 20 to Nov. 19, 2001. The indictment does not allege that he made it any farther than China.
He is being represented by Portland attorney Whitney Boise.
Although the idea of Portlanders rushing to Afghanistan to fight U.S. soldiers may seem unfathomable to some, Muslims from 43 countries were captured during the war against the Taliban government.
But Ford's half-brother, James Britt III, an attorney in Eugene who grew up with Lumumba Ford, said Ford was traveling to Afghanistan to aid humanitarian causes.
'There were a lot of Muslims in desperate circumstances at that time in the refugee camps,' Britt said.
Britt described the terrorism charges as a 'crock.'
He said Ford did not grow up Muslim but converted in the past decade, growing more orthodox in his beliefs over time.
At the time of his arrest Ford lived with his mother, his wife, whom he met in China, and their 18-month-old son, Ibrahim, at a Southwest Portland apartment within walking distance of the Islamic Center of Portland, also called Masjed As-Saber. It's the city's largest and most conservative mosque. Ford prayed there five times daily, but his wife has not converted to Islam.
He sold cell-phone accessories independently and volunteered his time helping Muslim refugees settle in Portland, Britt said.
'He is a devout Muslim and a family man,' Britt said.
A neighbor of Ford's, Adam Drissi, said he was extremely surprised by the arrest.
'He seemed like a very nice guy,' Drissi said. 'This is unbelievable if it's true.'
Father held militant views
In an interview this summer with the Tribune, Kent Ford recalled that his whole life changed the night Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in April 1968.
'That's when I knew that nonviolence was over, and things had to change,' he said.
In building the Portland chapter of the Panthers, Ford said he purposely recruited men with military training, because of their expertise with weapons and explosives.
According to the indictment against Lumumba Ford, he and his co-conspirators trained with Chinese assault rifles before flying overseas.
There is no evidence that Kent Ford indoctrinated his children with militant views. Indeed, Lumumba and his siblings have all gone far educationally and professionally.
Lumumba grew up with his half-brother, James, his half-sister, Cindy, and his brother, Sekou. None of the children has been in trouble with the law. In addition to James, the attorney, Cindy is a marketing director and Sekou recently graduated from Stanford University School of Medicine.
'All of us grew up with the understanding that we would go to college,' said James Britt III. 'We were never wealthy, but we were very rich in experiences.'
He credited his mother, Sandra Ford, for the family's devotion to education. Sandra Ford returned to college after the fall of the Panthers to earn a degree as a physician's assistant from the University of Washington.
Albina Headstart Director Ron Herndon, a longtime Portland activist who knew Lumumba when he was an adolescent, said: 'Given the FBI's campaign to destroy the Panthers, yes, I would say there was some distrust of the government in that household, and with good reason. But that did not translate to the way these children acted toward other children. They were not hostile to white people. They were not belligerent. É
'Obviously Lumumba was aware of injustice and oppression and racism. But that did not mean that he was a warped person,' Herndon said.
Kent Ford would not speak on the record about his son's arrest or his upbringing. James Britt III said Lumumba told him during the weekend that 'he considers his father one of the bravest men he ever met.'
A change in religion
Lumumba Ford attended the Black Education Center in Northeast Portland, a school founded by black activists in the 1970s that has since closed. He graduated from Lincoln High School in 1989 and attended historically black Morehouse College in Atlanta. He graduated in 1998 from Portland State University, with a degree in international studies.
Ford is fluent in Mandarin Chinese and an accomplished martial artist. He also worked as an intern for two Portland mayors, Bud Clark in 1986 and Vera Katz in 1998 and again in 1999.
On the day of his arrest, the mayor's office released a cryptic announcement that Ford had recently had an interaction with a staff member that was deemed threatening enough to tell the police about. The FBI has asked the mayor's office not to give the media details about the matter.
Interviews with Ford's friends and relatives show that he grew more distant from the family after his conversion to Islam.
James Britt Jr. said he had no idea when Ford converted to Islam: 'I didn't notice any change in the man, other than his beard. I just remember his brightness and the respect that he's always treated me with, as his second father.'
Herndon also praised Ford's attitude and demeanor, and questioned the government's case against him.
'Like a lot of other people, I am waiting to see some evidence of wrongdoing. So far I haven't seen it. It's not illegal to travel to countries that have unfriendly relations with the U.S., and it's not illegal to disagree with U.S. foreign policy.'