United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors Meets Its Match in Georgia
A black supremacist cult leader meets his match in rural Georgia
By Bob Moser
Once Putnam County officials started to put up roadblocks to Dwight York's plans for a "sovereign nation," another strategy emerged.
"He wanted to take over the county," says Sandra Adams, one of two African Americans on the county commission. "When you want take over, you divide and conquer. So they played the race card. And even though Putnam County is certainly not known for racism, everybody stands up and listens when the race card is played."
Adams should know. When the Nuwaubians first started complaining of discrimination, the fiery commissioner went straight to Sheriff Sills.
"I said, 'Make sure you're dotting the I's and crossing the T's. If I find out you're treating them any differently from anyone else, I'm going to be behind them all the way.'"
It didn't take long, Adams says, before she was convinced that "they were being treated as fairly as you can be treated. In fact, they were given more opportunities than anybody else to meet the zoning ordinances and all."
Once she began to express her increasingly negative view of the group, Adams, too, came under attack. Early in 1999, the back page of a "Concerned Citizens of Eatonton" newspaper was one big "Wanted" poster. A $500 reward was offered for "bombshell" information about a whole host of enemies the Nuwaubians had declared, including law-enforcement officers, judges, and newspaper and TV reporters.
In all, 32 names were listed. The last two, under the category of "House Niggers," were Sandra Adams and community leader Georgia Smith.
"Ooh, that teed me off!" says Smith, a grandmother of 14 who was born and raised in Eatonton.
She had clashed with Nuwaubians who were trying to take control of the local NAACP and use it as a weapon in their fight against the county. At one of the first meetings attended by the Nuwaubians, Smith had objected to a cult member talking about, in her words, how "the blacks here are so backward they just let the white man do anything he wants."
Smith wasn't the only one teed off. Local blacks who had climbed aboard the Nuwaubian bandwagon, such as it was, began to jump off.
By the 2000 elections, when the Nuwaubians tried to put their new takeover strategy into effect by campaigning to unseat Sheriff Sills, they had so alienated local blacks and whites alike that the candidate they supported was crushed, winning fewer than 30% of the votes.
But while the Nuwaubians' racial attacks mostly fell on deaf ears in Putnam County, their fanciful tale of a white-supremacist Southern sheriff repressing black people found sympathetic black listeners elsewhere.
Leroy Johnson, a state senator, represented the Nuwaubians in court. State Rep. Tyrone Brooks of Atlanta became an honorary Nuwaubian when he visited the compound and criticized Putnam officials for their presumed racism.
Al Sharpton, the New York firebrand who early in his career publicized the bogus Tawana Brawley racial hate crime case, came to the compound in 1999. Sharpton promised cheering Nuwaubians that "the civil rights community will not sit by and allow the Nuwaubians to be targeted because people disagree with what they preach. The sheriff must deal with the letter of the law."
'A Waco in the Making'
By 1999, York's audacious plan seemed to be working well. By playing the race card so vociferously — and by making his apocalyptic claims about the spaceship from Ilyuwn — he would soon attract the attention of The New York Times, USA Today and television tabloid shows like Extra!
The stories uniformly depicted the Nuwaubians as nut cases, but apparently, any publicity was good publicity — the cult's numbers swelled, to an estimated 200 to 400 Nuwaubians living on the compound and another 1,000 to 2,000 spread out across Putnam and neighboring counties.
Holy Tabernacle stores were operating in more than a dozen cities in the U.S., the United Kingdom and Trinidad. York was pulling in enough cash to buy himself a $557,000 mansion in Athens, a university town 60 miles up the road.
Meanwhile, the Nuwaubians' fliers became ever more hysterical. "Please help us," screamed one in January 1999. "We smell a Waco in the making."
Posted on the cult's Web sites and handed out in Eatonton, Milledgeville, Athens and Macon, the flier accused the "race-hating" Sheriff Sills of "planning to launch an attack on ... innocent Men, women and children" of the Nuwaubian Nation.
To Sills, this was dangerous talk. The sheriff had begun to see more and more signs that York was borrowing his M.O. not only from religious cults and black separatist groups like the Nation of Islam, but also — oddly enough — from the overwhelmingly white militia and "sovereign citizen" movements.
The Nuwaubians' militance was made vividly clear in April 1999, when Sills tried to deliver a court order mandating that the Rameses Social Club be locked up. Wearing 9-mm pistols on their hips, two Nuwaubian guards planted themselves in front of the sheriff's car and refused to let him pass.
"I pulled back," Sills says. "Normally, I'd never do that. But they clearly were desperate for an armed confrontation, and I was not going to give it to them if I could help it."
As he was driving back to his office, a panicked call came from the sheriff of neighboring Baldwin County.
"He said, 'Are you OK? What's going on?' I'm like, 'Um, nothing, as far as I know.'"
The Baldwin sheriff told Sills he'd seen a number of Nuwaubians assembling in the parking lot of Milledgeville's Holy Tabernacle store, saying they had to "defend the land."
Apparently, word had gone out that Sills would be returning to storm the compound. There was no such plan. But when he drove an unmarked car by the Nuwaubian compound later in the day, Sills saw a Nuwaubian posse of "a couple of hundred" men massed at the gate.
In subsequent weeks, cult members started refusing to produce drivers' licenses when they were stopped for traffic violations — a tactic common to sovereign citizens and other antigovernment radicals.
"We are not subject to your laws," they would say.
Some of these stops turned into arrests when officers discovered vehicles full of bootleg movies, audiotapes and compact discs.
Reports trickled in of criminal activity elsewhere in Georgia. In Clayton County, a plant for producing counterfeit payroll checks and licenses was found in a mobile home.
"The guy running it had all kinds of Nuwaubian stuff in his car," says Sills.
A Nuwabian member, along with several "associates" of the group, were indicted in Atlanta for counterfeiting payroll checks to the tune of $5 million. (A son of York's was indicted in Richmond, Va., on similar charges.) Two men with reputed ties to the Nuwaubian Nation were arrested for armed robbery in Rockdale County, halfway between Putnam and Atlanta.
"There's a myriad of criminal activity associated with the group," Sills says.
But the sheriff had more immediate worries. "The sovereign nation stuff, that was the most disturbing. Whether you've got a white hood or not, that's trouble. You couple that with weapons, and you've really got trouble. There was a great fear that we'd go out there just to serve a paper and end up in a godawful shootout."
The size of the Nuwaubians' arsenal was uncertain, but the group put on a show of increasing militance. Dressed in black fatigues, the men conducted paramilitary drills in full view of Shady Dale Road.
Behind the scenes, their commander-in-chief was psyching them up for combat, as a videotape secretly made by a local TV reporter made clear. Speaking to the faithful in the Nuwaubians' concert shell, York railed against white people.
"They are the devil, were the devil, always will be the devil," he said. "And when they come for me — and they will come for me — you must be prepared."