Sunday, October 25, 2009

Writing Books and Book Reviews

You can write truth to power by writing books (and book reviews):

Book review published in the Providence Journal, Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Beltway Sniper's violent past

by Anne Grant
Special to The Journal

In 2002 the nation watched in horror as the D.C. Beltway Sniper murdered random victims. He turned out to be a veteran of the Gulf War engaged in a custody battle. Encouraged by a Tacoma group called Devoted Dads, who reunited fathers and children with federal funds, John Muhammad pursued his ex-wife across the country. He had already promised to kill her: Like a tightening noose, his rampage led to her doorstep.

A modest, thoughtful woman, Mildred Muhammad decided to tell her story to help those trapped by terrorists in their own homes. The back-story reads like many intractable custody cases that are wrongly portrayed in the courts as “high-conflict,” as if both parents are selfishly squabbling and equally guilty. But one practices terror while the other tries desperately to protect their children.

From the start of their romance, John lied. Married to another, the father of two by different women, he was charming, like many narcissistic abusers. Raised in a violent household, he resisted talking about the torment he had suffered as a child. He emerged from that trauma as a man determined to control others by seduction or force.

When life-changing videos on racism led the couple into the Nation of Islam, they assumed the name Muhammad. Mildred hoped this would transform John, especially after he went to the Million Man March in 1995 and took Minister Louis Farrakhan’s pledge to practice non-violence and not abuse his wife or children.

His conversion did not last. John told Mildred she was “mind over matter” to him, explaining: “I don’t mind, because you don’t matter.”

Two years before he terrorized the Beltway, John abducted their three children. Mildred tried to warn Tacoma police that he was dangerous, but police minimized the kidnapping, arguing that he was the children’s father. They never submitted his name to the National Crime Information Center or listed the children’s names as missing. If officers had done those things as they promised, they might have averted the children’s 18-month ordeal and the D.C. killings.

Mildred Muhammad tells how John waged psychological warfare without leaving visible wounds: “To keep the peace, I began doing what he wanted the way he wanted. I found myself changing to accommodate him.”

More than a memoir, this revealing book shows Muhammad’s wisdom in helping her children cope. She includes a safety plan and resources for victims of domestic violence.

Anne Grant has written about domestic violence and custody cases in The Providence Journal and elsewhere, including and a forthcoming text from Civics Research Institute (