“I’m a fighter, especially when I know I’m right,” says Taj Jackson.
The 45-year-old son of former Jackson 5 member Tito Jackson is in the process of transitioning from musical artist to filmmaker in the wake of Leaving Neverland, the HBO documentary in which Wade Robson and James Safechuck allege that they were sexually abused as children by Michael Jackson. Shortly before the four-hour-plus film’s premiere in early March, Taj, his father and uncles Jackie and Marlon Jackson took to the media to defend Michael against the documentary’s claims.
“I knew I had to be someone out in front fighting for my uncle,” says Taj, who has since taken the additional step of creating a GoFundMe account to finance his own Jackson documentary series. (He has raised more than $114,000 of his $777,000 goal so far.) Taj says it’s up to him and the Jackson family to protect Michael’s legacy, especially because the Leaving Neverland director Dan Reed hadn’t ever approached them or Jackson’s estate to present their side.
Taj, who says he took part in more than 200 sleepovers at Jackson’s Neverland Ranch and never saw or even suspected any sexual misconduct, dismisses Robson (whom he knew during their childhoods) and Safechuck’s allegations in the film, claiming the two men are interested only in making money. Taj, who says he was sexually abused by a relative when he was a child, adds that the tone of the documentary infuriated him. “There should not have been 45 minutes of them gloating about Michael in Leaving Neverland. That’s not how you feel when you’re abused. There’s no admiration.”
Taj, who is not a direct beneficiary of Michael Jackson’s estate, spoke to Billboard in defense of his late uncle.
How would you describe Michael Jackson?
Michael was probably the best person that I will ever meet. He had a healing factor to him and the biggest heart and soul. When you were around him, nothing else mattered in the world. All your troubles and all of your pain were gone. Even when my mom passed away, it felt like I was going to be okay because of him. I know some people will never believe that and that’s their right. But I can tell you the people that were around him believe it — everyone from Elizabeth Taylor to Diana Ross. They knew his heart. I find it very interesting that the ones that have never met him have the most negative things to say.
How did you feel after watching Leaving Neverland?
I knew there was going to be something for the 10th anniversary of his death because the media can’t help it. It’s too good of a year to pass up doing something negative about Michael Jackson, although I never thought in my wildest dreams it would be Leaving Neverland. Not to mention that a one-sided documentary was going to be accepted as truth. I thought people would at least research. The second half for me was very hard to watch. There’s no law to protect my uncle at all. There’s no law against defaming, slandering or libeling the dead. Wade and James’ [allegations in Leaving Neverland] also contradict their own depositions under oath and in court. Knowing how giving my uncle was, I don’t understand how they could turn on him when he’s no longer here. It’s evil.
You’ve known Wade Robson for quite some time. Did he ever share with you the allegations that your uncle had sexually abused him?
Nope. Which is why what he’s doing now is so frustrating.. He idolized my uncle in terms of his music. His whole dance career was very calculated. He was a go-getter.
Have you been in touch with Wade over the years or talked to him recently?
Not at all. I don’t even know what I would do. I don’t think he would be able to face me. I was the one that got him into Michael’s 2009 memorial with his family. That’s why I feel betrayed. I thanked him right after he testified in 2005. I told him that not many people have come out publicly to support my uncle and it meant a lot that he did. He responded, “No problem. It’s the least I can do.”
Did you know James Safechuck at all?
No, but I know people who do. His problem is that he can’t keep his story straight. They just have a platform now and they have a movement that they’re utilizing — a movement where we believe the victims no matter what. I can’t go with that. I agree with listening to everyone, but I don’t blindly believe anyone because that’s a dangerous place to be.
You, your father and uncles have come forward to defend Michael. How has your family been dealing with the allegations made in Leaving Neverland?
It’s kind of our own fault. We have always ignored the Jackson news. We didn’t want to give it any attention, so for over 20 years, these rumors have been circulating and people took them as fact. Now we’re facing the repercussions of that. Those same rumors are what people are using against us right now. I wanted to fight right away. I wanted to fight in 2013 when Wade first started rearing his head on TV because I know him very well. I wanted to be more aggressive with it, but I was told by family members and friends to leave it alone because most of the public did not believe him at that time. So, I actually took my foot off the pedal and I thought he would go away. Now, here we are today.
Did the Jackson estate or the crisis PR firm that represents it, Sitrick and Company, ask anyone in your family to speak out in support of Michael?
No. It was just a matter of us wanting to do it. The truth is that [some of] our family doesn’t have the best relationship with the estate. [The only family members who are beneficiaries of Michael’s will are Jackson family matriarch Katherine Jackson and Michael’s three children, Prince, Paris and Blanket.]. I will always speak out for my uncle. Even though, to some, my uncle was larger than life, it doesn’t mean he wasn’t a human being. I know Michael the way you know your siblings or your parents. I know the truth. You would be doing the same thing if someone was accusing your sister or brother of something that you knew deep down inside your heart wasn’t true. That’s how strongly I feel about it. I have zero doubts about my uncle’s innocence.
How important would it have been for you if director Dan Reed asked you to participate in the documentary?
Very important. We had no heads up for it at all. Dan Reed didn’t want anything to conflict with his narrative. If it didn’t fit in there, then he left it out. The more you dig on the other side, the more you realize how many holes Leaving Neverland has.
Has the film affected your upcoming 3T Tour?
This isn’t our first rodeo. In 2004, we came out with an album called Identity and when all this stuff hit with Michael’s 2005 trial, there were certain countries that wouldn’t play his music. The whole country of Germany was off limits for us. We couldn’t play or even get our songs played. So, this is not new to us. At the same time, I think it’s important to be out there because the fans need it. They need that love and support, and we need it, too. Those same German stations ended up playing the Jacksons, Janet and Michael afterward. These were knee-jerk reactions and we can’t let that stop us.
I’m sure this is no surprise, but even though radio play for Michael Jackson’s tunes have declined, the streaming has been up for the past two weeks.
You can’t mute Michael Jackson. His fan base is probably one of the most well-versed in the world. They’ve been called every name under the sun from conspiracy theorists to fanatics. They hit you with facts. They know court documents, interviews, what outfit he wore for the happy birthday message to Wade — they know everything. They also know truth. When you hear about an episode of The Simpsons (that featured Michael Jackson’s voice) being pulled without my uncle even being convicted of anything, it’s a dangerous slope.
Do you believe you can separate the art from the artist?
It’s hard because Michael’s music was him. I think that’s why it resonates with people. He channeled himself through his music. You can separate it, but at the same time, my uncle used to say, “Lies run sprints, but the truth runs marathons, you know?” I feel like, whether it’s two years, five years or 100 years down the line, the truth will be out there about my uncle being innocent.
You were with Michael on the 1993 Dangerous tour in Bangkok when the first sexual abuse allegations involving Jordy Chandler hit. How did Michael respond?
Michael was angry in his hotel room when we got there. He was like, “I’m not going to let them do this to me.” He was our strength and we were his strength. They took the one thing he loved on earth, which was helping people, especially helping kids, and made it perverted. That was my uncle’s Kryptonite. And so, he was very, very upset and angry. We would tell him to focus on the concert. He got his strength from the fans. He was going through a lot. He was deteriorating from week to week — literally from show to show. He would get on stage and the audience would give him that energy. But then he would get off stage and almost collapse from all the pressure and everything that was happening. It was a fight that I don’t like to remember.
What was it like living with Michael at Neverland during this time?
I lived there for a year because I knew my uncle needed me every day after court. I’d basically make him forget all the hell that he had gone through that day and literally get his mind back to the point where he might crack a smile. Then it was like [the movie] Groundhog Day — we would repeat it each day over and over. We would watch The Three Stooges, we would talk about filmmaking; maybe watch a movie and talk about that. We talked a lot about the future. That’s what we did during the whole trial.
Was he ever suicidal?
No. No. No. His kids were everything to him. He was born to be a father. He really was. That was the thing that lit up his life. I’m giving myself too much credit, I was there to reset him, but his kids were his motivation and his kids were his everything. I spent so much time with them as well, and that’s why we have such a great relationship. If he didn’t have his kids, I think it would’ve been so much worse.
You never thought just maybe he could have sexually abused children?
No, I don’t. It’s not me being naïve; it’s me knowing who he is. My uncle was the type that would see a kid suffering on the news and he would be on the phone anonymously donating money to the cause. My uncle was the type of person that when Ryan White’s school blocked him from returning to class because had AIDS, Michael took him to Neverland so he could feel welcomed, normal and loved. [White, who died at the age of 18 in 1990, was a hemophiliac who contracted the virus via a blood treatment.] My uncle took care of Dave Dave after he suffered extensive burns when his father poured gasoline over him and set him on fire. That was Michael Jackson.
In the documentary Living with Michael Jackson, Martin Bashir asked Michael if he thought there was anything wrong with sleeping with young boys. He responded, “The most loving thing you can do is share your bed with someone.” What do you make of his statement?
Macaulay Culkin said it best: “Michael was never good at explaining himself.” It’s one of the hardest things I’ve watched because I know what my uncle meant. It’s so frustrating to me because it’s harmless. I would participate in these fun sleepovers or watch movies like The Exorcist on his bed with my brothers and stuff like that. The problem with Michael is that he always made it sound worse than it was. Even at Hayvenhurst, there was no couch so we would chill and watch movies on his bed. I think what ends up happening is people hear the word “bed” and they think it’s sexual. It’s like “share a bed” turned into “sleep with children.” It’s not the case at all.
Even if you don’t believe Wade or James’s allegations, what about other boys from the 2005 allegations like Gavin Arvizo and Jason Francia, who was the son of Michael’s former maid?
If you go online, all of them have been challenged.
Alleged victims Jordy Chandler and Jason Francia were given settlements, though.
My uncle’s mistakes, and he regretted it later.
You have been outspoken about your abuse by a relative when you were 9 or 10 years old. What happened?
I don’t want to repeat the graphic details, but I remember it very vividly. I remember sounds. I remember him in the bathroom. I remember the water faucet. I remember a lot in terms of being traumatized in that way and I knew it was wrong. The day after it happened, I told my mom right away. We never saw that [relative] again. It’s weird because when that happens to you, it almost is like you acquire a sense of right and wrong or evil and dark. I’m very sensitive to that stuff now.
What did Michael do after you told him that you were molested?
He wrote a letter to my mom and sent her an article. It said: “Dee Dee, please read this article about child molestation and please read it to Taj.” It brings out how even your own relatives can be molesters of children. Please read.” My mom and [Michael] had a special relationship. She always confided in Michael because she always trusted his judgment. If my mom would have thought for one instant my uncle was this monster that they’re pretending he is, she probably would have thrown him in jail. My mom didn’t mess around.
Was Michael there for you after the tragic death of your mother?
As soon as we heard it was a swimming accident, we knew she had been murdered. She was terrified of water and could not swim [Delores “Dee Dee” Jackson drowned in the swimming pool of her then-boyfriend Don Bohana in 1994. Four years later, Bohana was found guilty of second-degree murder. He has maintained that he did not kill her]. My uncle [Michael] was always there for us. I’ll never forget, we played hide and go seek at the Hayvenhurst house with him and that’s how we dealt with the grief. He was amazing. He was the one who told us to finish our Brotherhood album because we had just started it. He said, “You have to finish this and you have to honor your mom. It’s what she wanted.” And he’s right, that’s exactly what she would have wanted. She was our biggest fan. Michael basically took us under his wing and made sure that we were okay.
You’re planning to film your own documentary about Michael. Will it be a rebuttal to Leaving Neverland ?
I’m not combating Leaving Neverland. I’m doing a documentary about the media’s relationship with my uncle and how they’ve reported certain things as factual that were lies. I’m going to go back all the way to 1993 with the first allegation and uncover that along with the 2005 allegations. I’m obviously going to make it entertaining because I don’t want people to fall asleep, but it’s going to be about facts, court documents, depositions and interviews. It’s going to be about debunking what you heard and sharing what really happened. I want to get the truth out there.
Is that why you feel a great need to fight for your uncle’s innocence?
Yes, and that’s why my documentary has to be out there. I don’t want someone watching Leaving Neverland a hundred years from now and thinking it’s true. I want there to be a counter argument that debunks everything. When I say everything, I mean everything. I’m doing this for my uncle because he deserves it. He needs someone to stick up for him like he stuck up for us.
If you found out any of the allegations were true, would you document it?
If I found one piece of evidence that was a hundred percent indisputable, then yes. I’m all about justice. Integrity is everything for me. But here’s the thing: What I can tell you is that—in 10 years of [multiple] investigations, hundreds of documents, a trial and a tip line that prosecutor Tom Sneddon kept open for [people claiming to be] victims of Michael Jackson for years— there’s still nothing.