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Gary Younge
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But there can be few less likely places to hear Wanniski's name mentioned than from the lips of the leader of the Nation of Islam and pariah of the political establishment, minister Louis Farrakhan, at a hip-hop summit in Los Angeles attended by, among others, the mad, bad and ever so dangerous Suge Knight. Here, in the Four Seasons Hotel, at the cutting edge of black street fashion and musical achievement, Farrakhan is literally spelling Wanniski's name out for the audience. Here, where the seats of the jeans hang so low they scrape the ground and the afros, complete with afro-comb, stand so high that it would make Don King blush, former gang members scramble for pens to take down the website address of one of the key proponents of Reaganomics.

White, catholic and arch conservative, Wanniski, who is now a political and economic consultant, has become one of Farrakhan's most ardent and least likely supporters. You can see him on the big screen on St Saviour's day - the Nation of Islam's equivalent to the Labour party conference - all smiles, having handed over a cheque for $2,000 (£1,400). A white face in a sea of black, a neck tie among an array of bows. If there is a contradiction in his support for an organisation whose doctrine includes the belief that white people were made out of germs and originally had tails before they evolved, then it is not obvious to him.

Sitting in his suite in the exclusive Jonathan club - a camera crew with jeans on had to make its way to his room through the trader's lift - he talks of defending Farrakhan as though it is his vocation. "I've lost clients in Wall Street on this - but if I don't do it, who does?" he says.

At times his devotion appears almost unseemly in its reverence. "He's closer to living the life of Jesus Christ than any man I've ever known apart from my father," he says, without a hint of irony.

Wanniski not only adores Farrakhan but believes he is uniquely positioned to effect a reconciliation between Farrakhan and Jews. Raised in Brooklyn, New York, his father was a caretaker in a building inhabited principally by Jews. Over the road, in a similar apartment, the caretaker was black. Wanniski grew up playing with the other caretaker's son. When he went to university in Los Angeles, being a poor white meant sharing rooms with blacks.

"I have grown up understanding the perspectives of the Jewish community and the black community," he says.

He studied journalism and went on to write for the Wall Street Journal as he completed a journey from leftwing youth to a rightwing adulthood that coincided with the rise of Reagan. He first contacted the Nation of Islam during the 1996 presidential election, after his old friend, Kemp, was excoriated for saying he wished he'd gone on the Million Man March - the large demonstration in Washington that has, so far, been Farrakhan's finest moment. He then called after the election to continue the discussions and was invited to Chicago to have dinner with Farrakhan. "We sat for five hours," says Wanniski, who is based in New Jersey. "And since then we have several meetings for four or five hours and we've talked about how the federal reserve system works, how the tax system works."

At the liberal weekly magazine Nation, they say Wanniski is "as crazy as he is endearing... Like Howard Stern, the man is unembarrassable, which is a great gift in American political life". At the rightwing Wall Street Journal, an editorial describes "our old friend and colleague" in similarly fond but dismissive terms. "St Jude being the patron saint of lost causes, Mr Wanniski soldiers on with great gusto despite all discouragement."

Wanniski may be a maverick, but he is not stupid. His support for Farrakhan stems from a desire he has to see a fundamental realignment in American politics to win African-Americans over to the Republican party. Farrakhan, he believes is the key.

The Nation's conservative message of self-reliance and family values and volunteerism chimes well, he believes, with the core values of the Republican party. "He spoke at a conference I sponsored in Florida," recalls Wanniski. "He said if the government gives the family free food, free clothing, free housing and free transport, what's left for the father to do?" He got a standing ovation, and half of the audience was Jewish."

Clinton, Farrakhan complained in one interview, "[kissed] little black babies - but took the black vote for granted". While Farrakhan was in Florida he spent around two hours dining with Senator John Ashcroft of Missouri, who is now the US attorney general.

African-Americans were once devoted supporters of the party of Lincoln. Martin Luther King's father famously only took off his Nixon badge and backed John F Kennedy after Kennedy called Coretta Scott King to offer words of sympathy after her husband was jailed for opposing segregation. Since the late 30s they have been vital to Democrat success - the party has only ever won one election with the majority of the white vote since the war. Today only 9% of African-Americans vote Republican. This devotion to a single party has long been a concern. "Do not let any political party feel they are always sure of your vote," says George Cable, an African-American author. "Nor let any party feel they can never get your vote." He continued. But then he fought for the confederacy during the civil war.

With Farrakhan's help, says Wanniski, the Democratic stranglehold could be broken. "My friends want black leaders they can choose, but they can't have that and they have to understand that," he says.

If this does happen it will not happen any time soon. Republicans are still wary both of Farrakhan's unpredictable message and, most of all, his reputation among the Jewish community. Wanniski denies Farrakhan is anti-semitic. "I've offered $1,000 for anyone who can find something that he has said that is disrespectful towards Judaism or the Jewish religion," says Wanniski.

On this subject, Wanniski thinks Farrakhan's importance is not just national but global. "I believe he's the most important muslim in the world. If the Russians had won the cold war the most important muslim would be the imam of Moscow.

"Muslims need someone to unify the Islamic world. At the moment all they have is a bad guy, Osama bin Laden."

Farrakhan, he insists, is the good guy. "They need someone who recognises the state of Israel and also wants justice for the Palestinians. That's Farrakhan."

· An exclusive interview with Louis Farrakhan will appear on BBC Corrrespondent in the autumn.

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