What really caused Katrina?

Al-Qaida says it's God's revenge for homosexuality. Louis Farrakhan says it's punishment for Iraq -- and that the government intentionally made it worse.

Published September 27, 2005 7:57PM (EDT)

When Hurricane Katrina struck land in Louisiana, an antiabortion group called the Columbia Christians for Life declared that the storm was God's way of punishing New Orleans residents for allowing "child-murder-by-abortion centers" to operate among them. Al-Qaida apparently believes that Katrina was God's way of punishing the United States -- and New Orleans in particular -- for its tolerance of homosexuality. But right-to-lifers and terrorist groups aren't the only ones with interesting Katrina theories to share: Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan is suggesting Katrina is God's way of punishing the United States for the war in Iraq -- and that the federal government may have intentionally destroyed levees in New Orleans during the storm to rid the city of its African-American residents.

During a speech in Philadelphia earlier this month, Farrakhan said New Orleans would be only the first of many U.S. cities to fall unless America changes its course of "wickedness." During a press conference in Memphis, Tenn., last week marking the 10th anniversary of the Million Man March, he said that divers have found "explosives ... from the government side" in the floodwaters of New Orleans. He called for an investigation either to disprove the allegation or to show that "it is a fact and [that] somebody is guilty ... not only of mass destruction of property, but of mass murder."

Republican outposts on the Web -- NewsMax, Townhall.com and some bloggers -- have used Farrakhan's comments as a way to discredit criticism of the Bush administration's planning for and handling of Katrina. And in a commentary for the Pacific News Service, Earl Ofari Hutchinson says that Farrakhan and other Katrina conspiracy theorists are doing the right a favor: By focusing on allegations that the Bush administration flooded New Orleans in an instant, they're distracting attention from the way that Bush administration policies contributed to the disaster over time.

"New Orleans was the culmination of a half-decade of the Bush administration's costly and reckless war and fiscal policies that have resulted in the neglect and deterioration of the nation's roads, bridges, tunnels and levees," Hutchinson writes. "That neglect forced thousands of poor blacks in New Orleans to flee for their lives. And there was no hidden hand in that."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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