By Kevin Bogardus - 03/26/11 07:18 PM EDT
Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi paid a public relations firm hundreds of thousands of dollars to help him improve his image during a visit to the United States in 2009, Justice Department records show.
Gadhafi’s grip on power in Libya has been challenged amid a U.S.-led bombing campaign to establish a no-fly zone in the country and prevent the massacre of rebel forces and civilians.
Gadhafi was in New York on September 23, 2009, to give a speech at the United Nations. According to Justice Department records, the embassy of Libya paid $665,000 in fees to Hopps & Associates, Inc. — a public relations firm based near Chicago — to bus in Gadhafi supporters, hand out flyers and t-shirts, and set up a Jumbotron to televise his speech.
The Libyan government paid another $659,178 to cover expenses such as catering, lodging and entertainment, according to Justice records.
Gadhafi is unlikely to be back in the United States anytime soon, and his days in power could be numbered.
The United States and allies like France and Great Britain launched a sustained bombing campaign against Gadhafi’s armed forces on March 19. The international military effort came in response to the dictator’s crackdown on protestors who called for the end of his regime.
Back in 2009, Gadhafi and Western nations were still in the midst of a rocky reconciliation that began in 2003, when the Libyan leader abandoned his weapons of mass destruction program. Gadhafi’s visit to the UN was part of his failed effort to shed his status as an international pariah and assimilate into the ranks of global leaders.
The public relations work that was drummed up for the Libyan leader’s UN address included postcards and flyers urging people to attend a pro-Gadhafi rally. “Come be a part of history!” read the promo for the rally, which was held at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza nearby the UN building.
The flyers also promised a “free souvenir t-shirt” and shuttle bus service with pick-up spots set in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Harlem and Queens.
The Justice Department has several of the promotional t-shirts on file. One shirt reads, “American welcomes Qadhafi” in green block letters, with “History in the making” and “I was there” on the back.
The PR firm that helped organize the rally is run by Keith Hopps. Messages left for Hopps asking for comment about his work for Libya were not returned.
In an interview with The Final Call, the Nation of Islam’s official newspaper, Minister Louis Farrakhan thanked Hopps for helping to organize the rally.
“I personally want to thank Brother Akbar Muhammad, Brother Keith Hopps and Brother Leonard Farrakhan Muhammad for the work that they did — along with the F.O.I. captain in New York Brother Richard Muhammad, Brother Majied Muhammad and others — to turn out the wonderful crowd that came to welcome Brother Gadhafi and to watch his address and President Barack Obama's address by wide screen satellite at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza in New York,” Farrakhan said.
The same day the pro-Gadhafi rally was held in New York, relatives of those killed in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 held a protest against the Libyan leader’s visit.
Libya later accepted some responsibility for the 1988 attack and reached a $2.7 billion settlement with the relatives of the victims. But one month before Gadhafi’s UN trip, Libya celebrated the release and return of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, the man convicted and jailed in Scotland for the bombing.
Frank Duggan, president of the group Victims of Pan Am Flight 103, said he and other protesters saw Nation of Islam members on their way to the plaza to support Gadhafi.
“We were separated from them. We couldn't see them but we could certainly hear them,” Duggan said. “They were doing all they could to do to out-shout us. ... There were a lot of people screaming about how much they loved their dear leader Gadhafi.”