United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors Meets Its Match in Georgia
A black supremacist cult leader meets his match in rural Georgia
By Bob Moser
Savior's Day Square-off
In the summer swelter of 1999, the conflict began to boil over. After he twice refused to testify in court about the zoning lawsuits, Dwight York was ordered to appear on contempt charges.
The court date, June 29, fell smack in the middle of the Nuwaubians' annual Savior's Day festival, a celebration of York's birthday that attracted thousands of Nuwaubians from the U.S. and abroad.
Worried, Sheriff Sills tried to convince the judge to postpone York's court date. The judge refused.
In mid-June, Everett Leon Stout came to town. A long-time associate of white supremacist groups like the Montana Freemen, which had an 81-day standoff with federal officers in 1996, Stout had been calling himself a "common-law judge" for years, filing suits and issuing bogus "warrants" for government officials' arrests.
Now, saying he was working on behalf of the Nuwaubians, Stout filed a complaint in federal court signed by more than 200 people listing their address as 404 Shady Dale Road — the Nuwaubian compound.
He issued "arrest warrants" for several Superior Court judges, two deputies, a county commissioner, attorney Frank Ford and Sheriff Sills. He also filed million-dollar "lawsuits" against several officials, including Sandra Adams, the black commissioner.
Almost as soon as he popped up, Stout — a fugitive wanted in Tennessee for passing a bogus $1 million check — disappeared. (He is now jailed in Birmingham, Ala., on charges of theft by deception.)
The week before Savior's Day, seven heavily armed men appeared in the sheriff's office to confront Sills. Calling themselves "Georgia Rangers," the men (two white, five black) falsely claimed that they had been sent by Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes to investigate the Nuwaubian situation.
They turned out to be a paramilitary group that had been operating for nearly a year in Atlanta. This strange episode ended peacefully when Sills arrested all seven on charges including impersonating an officer and possession of firearms by convicted felons. (One of the Rangers was wanted in North Carolina for forgery.)
But with a record crowd of 5,000 Nuwaubians streaming into Putnam County for the week-long celebration of Savior's Day, the arrests hardly defused the tension.
The day Dwight York finally went to court, as many as 700 black-clad Nuwaubians massed around the courthouse square in Eatonton. They set up a sophisticated perimeter around the courthouse square, with patrols, sentries and men in point formation at the corners of the old, red-brick courthouse.
Meanwhile, according to authorities, a U-Haul truck kept circling the square, packed with Nuwaubian men ready to be deployed if an attempt was made to take the savior into custody.
Inside the courthouse, chaos reigned. News cameras competed for space with Nuwaubians and townspeople who wanted to watch the mysterious York testify.
Arriving with a cortege of attorneys and bodyguards, York hailed local reporters — none of whom he'd met — by name, demonstrating his familiarity with his minions' surveillance efforts. As the days wore on, the judge ordered the courtroom cleared of spectators. Outside, as a thunderstorm brought down a soaking rain, the Nuwaubians held their positions, singing and chanting.
At the end of the day, attorneys on both sides emerged with sighs of relief, announcing that an agreement had been reached that would end the zoning conflicts.
They were wrong; the lawsuits and accusations would continue to fly for three more years. But York was free to claim victory and celebrate with thousands of worshippers on the Nuwaubian compound.
In this moment of triumph, York had no way of knowing that his "movement" was about to implode. Nobody knew, in fact, except the chief white devil himself.
The anonymous letters had started to land on Sheriff Sills' desk in 1998. At first, they contained "pretty ambiguous" charges of child molestation and statutory rape, he says.
Then a folded-up piece of poster paper arrived with a detailed diagram of the compound on Shady Dale Road, identifying where children and "concubines" were being housed.
Now that it seemed the sender had reliable information about the Nuwaubians, Sills and the FBI began to investigate the charges. Early in 2001, a breakthrough letter arrived, naming some of York's alleged victims, in a pattern of abuse dating back to his days in Brooklyn.
People around Putnam County had been suspecting sexual shenanigans for some time. They'd heard tell of Nuwaubians in labor being driven to Baldwin County's hospital to deliver, accompanied by armed male guards who made sure they didn't identify the father.
Besides, says Georgia Smith, "You'd see these young teenage girls walking around nine months pregnant, pushing strollers with two babies in them. Everywhere you'd look, they was all pregnant. And I'm saying, 'What's going on here? Are they gonna wipe us out with population?' "
The chances of that were growing slimmer by the day. By 2001, a second "mass exodus" from York's cult was in full swing — aided this time by York's son, Jacob, who was helping departing women and children find shelter in Atlanta and encouraging them to come forward with their stories of abuse. Jacob says they told him how York allegedly sweet-talked the children into performing sexual acts.
"He showered them with gifts, gave them jewelry, and told them they wouldn't have to obey the rules of the community," he says. "He took them on trips to Disney World. When you're living in barns and trailers, Disney World sounds pretty good to you."
Jacob says he had begun to question his father's teachings early in life, when his mother sent him away to private school.
"You've been told the white man is the devil all your life, and then you go off to school and white men are teaching and taking care of you. And you think, 'Where's the white man being a devil?' It changes your mentality."
Now that the mentality of many Nuwaubians seemed to be changing, the group showed signs of strain. York took on a dizzying series of new identities — among them, grand potentate of an international Shriners group.
According to Jacob, York had once confided, "I'd be a Jew if that's what it took to make a buck."
Now, in addition to his other titles, the Nuwaubians were calling him Rabbi York and announcing the opening of the Holy Seed Synagogue in Macon.
In their publications and Web sites, the remaining faithful worked hard to create positive PR for York.
"Al Mahdi Shrine Gives $20,000.00 to 'Make A Wish' Foundation," trumpeted the headline of a glossy magazine supposedly produced by the "International Supreme Council of Shriners, Inc." Inside the magazine, York is pictured in a Shriner's fez surrounded by youngsters. "Happy Children Are The Key," the caption reads.
In April 2001, a far more famous man in an Egyptian fez gave York a last hurrah. The Rev. Jesse Jackson scheduled a stop on Shady Dale Road as part of a tour through the South.
Leading up to this much-touted event, the paramilitary drills recommenced. Apparently fired up by their training, two Nuwaubian men beat up a former reporter in the parking lot of an Eatonton grocery store. Another reporter who had covered the Nuwabians was harassed while checking out at the same grocery store that day.
Donning a Nuwaubian fez, Jackson gave a speech in the Nuwaubians' concert shell, where York had preached about white devils. "This is the American dream," Jackson declared.
But in a sure sign that York's Georgia dream was in peril, only a couple of hundred Nuwaubians were there to applaud Jackson's words.
A Lightning Raid
The FBI's investigation was slowed by the events of Sept. 11. But by this spring, agents had interviewed as many as 35 alleged victims of Dwight York's sexual misdeeds. Officials determined that he had fathered at least 95 children, though they suspected that the real number was closer to 300.
Determined to avoid another Waco, Sheriff Sills and the FBI devised an extremely careful plan to raid the compound, where York had returned from his Athens mansion to live in 2001. They decided to wait until York had left the property, so he could not order the faithful to open fire.
On May 7, nearly 300 federal and state law enforcement officers came to Putnam County, waiting for their cue.
The call came the next afternoon, when York's black SUV was spotted driving away down Shady Dale Road. While York and Kathy Johnson, described by members as his "main wife," were taken into custody, officers moved rapidly onto the compound, securing its perimeters in three minutes with no resistance from the 80 to 100 surprised Nuwaubians inside.
Searching cult members' shabby quarters for evidence, Sills was relieved that a shootout had once again been averted. But around 10 p.m., as officers continued to scour the compound for weapons and child pornography, a radio message came: "They're coming in force to take it back."
Sure enough, as the law-enforcement convoy moved out, it passed some 200 Nuwaubians gathered on the other side of the roadblock Sills' men had erected. The sheriff was content to drive on by, hoping that no gunshots would ring out.
"We pulled out to avoid a confrontation," he says. "We'd gotten what we wanted."
Aside from York himself, officers had confiscated 12 weapons from York's house, including four assault rifles found in his bedroom.
The savior would soon be in court again. But this time, he'd be arraigned on 116 counts, most of them for alleged child molestation. Another charge was intimidating a witness — a Nuwaubian who told federal agents that York "threatened to shoot her in the head" if she spilled the beans.
Back to Normal?
Georgia Smith was working the receptionist's desk at Putnam County Hospital when a friend called, breathless with the news from Shady Dale Road. "Praise the Lord!" Smith exclaimed.
Maybe, she thought, this would spell the end of the troubles Dwight York had visited on Putnam. "I've got the idea," she says now, "that when you got King Bee taken aside, it might scatter the ants."
But three weeks later, when Putnam County folks gathered for their annual Dairy Festival, the Nuwaubians showed they weren't going to simply disappear.
While a band played old-time music, "everybody clapping and singing, black and white together," Smith noticed "this man in black pants, black T-shirt. I took one look at him and went, 'Oh, no.'"
As cloggers took the stage, the man handed out a new bundle of fliers headlined, "Putnam County Dairy Festival Promotes RACISM!" While Putnam locals sat in their lawn chairs, fanning themselves with accusations that Sheriff Sills and his fellow "devils" had tried "to do a Waco-type murder" on May 8, the man in black got in front of the stage and berated the crowd.
"Y'all shouldn't be looking at that!" Smith recalls him shouting. "That's the kind of dance they was doing during slavery times!"
There were other incidents, too. A local reporter was slapped with yet another lawsuit. Common-law "liens" were filed against Sheriff Sills and a group of superior court judges.
At press time, at least 11 Nuwaubian bookstores — now known as All Eyes on Egypt — were still selling the savior's writings, along with cassettes and videos. (In Georgia, there were bookstores in Albany, Atlanta, Athens and Augusta; other stores were in Baltimore; Hartford; Brooklyn, N.Y.; Jacksonville, Fla.; Memphis; Pittsburgh; London, England; and the Caribbean island of Barbados.)
For a "donation" of $12, anyone interested could log onto factology.com, read Nuwaubian updates on York's case, and contribute by credit card to "our family's defense fund."
Just about everyone, including the sheriff, expects the Nuwaubian Nation to die a slow death if its supreme leader remains behind bars. (York's federal trial is tentatively scheduled for November.) But even so, the Nuwaubians' Savior's Day festival this June attracted a surprisingly large crowd, with 800 to 1,000 celebrants gathering among the pyramids and obelisks at 404 Shady Dale Road.
According to Jacob, many Nuwaubians have nowhere to go even if they want to leave. To follow York, they gave away their possessions and severed ties with their families.
"Plus, there are still true believers," Jacob says, even among those whose children were allegedly molested. And what do they believe about York's arrest?
"It's the white man. He's turned my daughter against the Master Teacher," Jacob says he's been told. "And I'm saying, 'He raped your daughter! ... And you don't care?' You've got some people who still think he's God on Earth."
And, of course, some are still waiting for the spaceship that will come to take up York's "chosen ones" and leave the white devils behind. When it failed to materialize on May 5, 2000, York pushed back the date to May 5, 2003.
For Georgia Smith and her fellow Putnamites, the ascension to Ilyuwn can't come too soon.
"If you want to believe you're going away on a spaceship," she says, "fine. Just don't drop anything in my yard on your way up."