Disclaimer: SPLC uses the term Radical Hebrew Israelite to differentiate from the greater Hebrew Israelite faith. Hebrew Israelites should not be confused with Black Jews or Jewish individuals of color. SPLC no longer refers to these groups as solely Black Hebrew Israelites, as there are Latin and Indigenous members of these groups, and there are non-radical sects of the Hebrew Israelite faith who identify as Black Hebrew Israelites.
The continued struggle of Black, Indigenous, People of Color in America can find clear similarities in the narrative of Judaism, particularly the book of Exodus. Persecution, displacement and enslavement mirror the BIPOC experience in many ways, both historically and still systematically, here in America. For most of the Hebrew Israelite community, the similarity is a source of empowerment and not a cause for condemnation.
For Radical Hebrew Israelite groups, however, the similarities are used as the foundation for their antisemitic beliefs. Radical Hebrew Israelites appropriate biblical Jewish heritage to claim an exclusive identity as the true chosen people of God and decry Jews as the impostors and thieves. These groups seek a divine form of dominance rather than equity, by declaring superiority over all other “nations” (biblical term for other races and ethnicity) and strict adherence to biblical literalism to legitimize their ideology. They spread their beliefs through street preaching, often verbally harassing, provoking and shaming any non-Israelite and those of their own community who don’t follow their beliefs. This can be harmful LGBTQ people of color within their communities, especially black lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender individuals. Radical Hebrew Israelites have a definite abhorrence of relationships between “Israelites” and Caucasian people as they relate them to the devil. Not only does this ideology further marginalize members of their communities, but it also parallels toxic power structures that are common on the far right.
These antisemitic beliefs influence the mainstream as well. In a 2020 episode of actor and comedian Nick Cannon’s podcast “Cannon’s Class,” Cannon and his guest Professor Griff laid out the theory that Black people are the true Semitic people. Cannon claimed, “They (Jews) have taken our birthright.” Although neither Cannon nor Griff are known to be members of any RHI group, this idea is at the core of Radical Hebrew Israelites’ beliefs. A shared view among the groups is their claim that Jews are actively working to steal the identity of the Hebrew Israelites by any means necessary. Cannon and Griff also presented the idea that Jews control the media, specifically that all media is controlled by six major companies. They further insinuated that Jews were connected with these six companies. Cannon brought up the Rothschild conspiracy. Cannon followed up by denying these statements were hate: “You can’t be antisemitic when we are the Semitic people. When we are the same people who you, who they want to be, that’s our birthright.” After being confronted over his comments, Cannon walked them back, saying: “I do not condone hate speech nor the spread of hateful rhetoric. ... The Black and Jewish communities have both faced enormous hatred, oppression persecution and prejudice for thousands of years and in many ways have and will continue to work together to overcome these obstacles.” He has committed to educating himself on antisemitism.
In Their Own Words
“That’s why the David Chappelle comments were so important. And let me tell you something, every Black man should feel the attack and understand what, what it is now. You understand? Like, Black men are under a spiritual demonic attack, and the worst part is it is being disguised as civil rights. It is being disguised as equality. It’s being disguised as everything that supposedly was given to us in the civil rights movement, now has to apply to your sexual orientation, and yet it’s really being used to destroy masculine Black men.” – Commanding General Yahanna, “Black Watch,” main broadcast of the ISUPK, Oct. 18, 2021
“They do nothing but find new and vindictive and manipulative ways to destroy the Lord’s chosen people, man. And I’m talking about the LGBTQ community man, I’m talking about homosexuality, man. It is a plague in the so-called black, Hispanic and native Indian community. It is at an all-time high. It is terrible man, I tell you. Just broad right and in your face and the sad part is our brothers and sisters don’t even understand how destructive the activity they are engaging in is. They don’t understand how destructive their acts and their nasty disgusting lust are. It is … near to genocide. … It is a crafty genocide of a Nation.” – Israelite School of Universal Practical Knowledge (ISUPK) member from ISUPK Headquarters YouTube, class titled “The Crafty Genocide of a Nation,” Oct. 13, 2021
“If you a Christian, you a plagiarist of the Hebrew culture! You a Muslim, you a plagiarist of the Hebrew culture! If you a so-called Jew, you is a straight thief of the Hebrew culture. So, what the hell are you so proud about your religion? They proud cause they religion has given them the ability to conquer and destroy on the earth.” – Commanding General Yahanna on “The Grill,” one of the shows of the Israelite School of Universal Practical Knowledge, which he leads, October 2021
“So, brother John and his partner here, if they continue being homosexuals aka effeminates the most high God is going to kill them. We’re not sugarcoating anything right now. I believe Black lives matter now right because the devil so tough up on this man, America Babylon the great is so tough on this young man, he's delusional, he believes a lie! Because it was a beautiful question, do you believe in Black Lives Matter. Yeah, I do, well it takes a man and a woman to create a black life, right? You don't believe in Black Lives Matter.” – Atlanta Chapter Member of IUIC, after harassing a young black man who was passing by, Sept. 26, 2021
“The only real Jews on the planet are the black, Hispanic, and native Indians. Ain’t no white man ever going to be a Jew. They are imposters in this land. Even Hitler knew it, even Hitler knew.” – Chapter member, Israelite School of Universal Practical Knowledge, Feb. 25, 2019
The groups defined as Radical Hebrew Israelites by the SPLC are a part of the One West or 1West ideology formed in the 1960s by Abba Bivens and named after the street address of the original school in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City. Bivens called for the return to a more extreme adherence to religious text. As this sect splintered, it gave rise to much of the hate-filled beliefs exhibited by Radical Hebrew Israelites we list today. Among the most prominent groups there is consensus in most beliefs, but they lack unity and often compete and slander each other.
The most prominent groups are Israel United in Christ (IUIC) led by Bishop Nathanyel Ben Israel, Israelite School of Universal Practical Knowledge (ISUPK) led by General Yahanna, Great Millstone (GMS) led by Elder Tahar, and The Sicarii aka Exodus 1715 led by Guerilla Hebrew.
It is from these 1West camps that many of the groups we list and track originate, along with the belief that Sephardic and Mizrachi Jews are “so-called Jews” and have stolen the identity of the “True Israelites” who they determine are all Black, Hispanic or Native American. For Radical Hebrew Israelites, the central belief is that they have been robbed of their identity as being “God’s chosen people.” These groups employ pseudo-historical arguments, such as claims that Jews controlled the slave trade or that they owned the ships that were used for the slave trade.
Radical Hebrew Israelites often refer to Jews as the “Fake Jews,” using the name Amalek in reference to a Biblical enemy of the Israelites. Sometimes they lump Jews in with “Edomites,” a term referring to another Biblical nation that Radical Hebrew Israelites use as a derogatory term for white people. The label of Edomite comes with a claim that white people are the descendants of the Biblical character Esau, who Radical Hebrew Israelites have interpreted to be of the devil. Many groups, such as the ISUPK, believe that the “white man is the devil the Bible speaks of.”
The groups determine who is a true Israelite by referring to their own versions of the 12 Tribes. Members must have a Black, Hispanic or Native American father and they lambast any “Israelite” for having relations with white people or non-Israelites, especially single mothers.
Radical Hebrew Israelites employ Biblical literalism, which they preach on public streets to direct hate toward and harass ethnic/religious minorities they have excluded from the tribes of Israel, calling them part of the other nations and white people. They often single out pedestrians, men and women of color who look “too effeminate” as men or dress “too masculine” as women, then shame them for their appearance and insinuate they are queer or transgender. This street preaching sometimes includes publicly telling them God will kill them unless they change. Along with street preaching, these groups have carved out a significant presence on social media, which has been pivotal to the spread of their beliefs and conspiracy theories. They have used social media sites including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Periscope to radicalize their members by sharing disinformation in their sermons, intentionally triggering content and sharing injustices carried out against people of color in order to inflame racial tensions and resentment.
These groups believe an Armageddon-level event will occur due to all the wickedness in Babylon (America), and often claim this event is right around the corner. There is a consensus that most Israelites must commit back to the covenant to uphold God’s laws and that this event will be the destruction of many but will signal the salvation of this group. They think UFO sightings are signs of this event and some even believe they will be taken up in flying saucers.
While these groups are verbally aggressive and express extremely hateful views, they are waiting for the return of Yahawashi (their name for Jesus) to usher in a new era in which the “Israelites” will become kings of the Earth and will enslave white people and all other nations, either to serve the Israelites or to be punished in unimaginably horrific ways as retribution.
For most of these groups, this retribution isn’t confined to “the other nations”; it will also be carried out against BIPOC individuals who oppose their hyper-literal biblical interpretation of what it means to be an Israelite. This could be women of color who are adulterous or insubordinate to “Israelite” men. This also includes BIPOC LGBTQ individuals who do not conform to heteronormativity or dress outside their assigned gender roles (women wearing pants included). They contribute to anti-trans discourse as well as often attacking progressive Black Christian churches, accusing them of effeminizing men and giving women too much power. They also rail against women who are independent and blame feminism for destroying Black men’s role in the family. They attack not only anyone who enters an interracial union, but also those who have mixed-race children. ISUPK heavily recommends that women who have children who have white or non-Israelite fathers must give up those children for adoption in order to “come into the truth,” otherwise known as joining their group. They claim such children are of the devil and will only bring harm to Israelites.
In many ways, this is a religious ideology based in revenge that prioritizes dominance over equity, even within its own community. Many of these groups attempt to exercise hierarchal structures of misogyny and control over members’ appearance in ways that are present in other movements on the far right. Misogyny, transphobia, homophobia, xenophobia and antisemitism are mainstays in these groups. Adherents have cited antisemitic conspiracy theories for the “effeminizing of Black men” and often claim that Jews were behind slavery, having either designed, built or owned the slave ships. They also have xenophobic tendencies toward Muslims or anyone of Middle Eastern appearance. In the past two years they have taken to verbally harassing anyone appearing Asian, often using COVID as a reason and demanding their members avoid patronage of any Asian establishments.