Ranger Nation: Jeff Fort, Richard Daley and the War on Poverty in Chicago (Part Three)

Part Three: 1972–1986

Three years after the death of Fred Hampton, Fort was found to have misused federal funds, and spent a couple years in a prison as a result. In taking out the feared Fort, community tensions were lessened somewhat in Chicago, where allegations had surfaced of sexual abuse by the instructors of The Woodlawn Organization’s jobs scheme. By the time Fort returned home in 1978, both he and the city had changed drastically.

During his stay in prison and later travels to Wisconsin, Fort had joined the Moorish Science Temple, changing his name to Abdul Malik Ka’bah. Still the official leader of the Stones, he also forced through a rebrand of the entire gang, which was now to be a quasi-religious organisation called El-Rukn (“The Foundation”) whether or not the Main 21 thought it was a good idea. Among them was had been the leader of the Cobra Stones, Mickey Cogwell, who was organising workers of behalf of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees and Bartenders International Union. Allegedly, he had developed links to the Chicago Outfit, which retained interests in organised labour, successfully signing up members

Shortly before Fort’s return to Chicago, Cogwell was shot dead, having held organising drives at McDonald’s franchises owned by Noah Robinson, the half-brother of Jesse Jackson, who remained a close ally to the group now calling itself El-Rukn. In 1983, Fort was sent back to prison on drugs charges, where he allegedly continued to direct the gang’s street operations. That same year, Chicago saw a confusing three-way race for the Mayoralty that pitted the incumbent, white reformer Jane Byrne, against Richard Daley’s son, Richard Daley Jr, and an African-American activist Harold Washington. After winning a surprise victory, Washington attracted various controversies, including for his rumoured connections to the new networks of organised crime which had emerged in the 1960s.

In 1986, Fort and several of his lieutenants were convicted for plotting to orchestrate terror attacks in Chicago on behalf of Libya’s Muammar Ghaddafi. Then, a year later, Washington died suddenly in office of a heart attack. With power shifting back towards a somewhat resurgent city machine, Richard Daley Jr held the Mayoralty from 1989 to 2011. Backed by a group Democratic powerbrokers such as Rahm Emmanuel however, Daley Jr’s tenure represented the synthesis of old and new, hinting at a restoration of his father’s machine without fully returning to the previous status quo.

When Fort fell, Noah Robinson would be dragged down with him, imprisoned for using El-Rukn members as hired muscle. As for the wider gang though, they would continue to operate. A major component of the People Nation, their influence stretches all the way to Los Angeles, where a local Stones set played a key role in setting up the Bloods alliance. Even with Fort now locked up in maximum security, the gang he once led continues to wield deadly power in the streets of America.

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