When a black supremacist cult leader moved to rural Georgia, folks took a live-and-let-live approach — until Dwight York and his United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors launched an all-out campaign against "white devils" and "house niggers."
Eatonton, Ga. — Who were these black cowboys? Folks in Putnam County, the sparsely populated "Dairy Capital of Georgia," could not help wondering.
Nobody had batted an eye in 1993, when a man from Brooklyn named Dwight York paid nearly $1 million for 476 acres out on Shady Dale Road. But when a bunch of stern-looking African-American Yankees in 10-gallon hats and lizard-skin boots began to pop up around Eatonton, Putnam's picturesque little county seat, people paid attention.
"You'd see the men, wearing boots and hats and all this, but hardly ever any women or children," says Georgia Smith, a long-time leader in Eatonton's black community. "Everybody'd say, 'Those the Yorks.' We thought it was a family."
Not for long. By 1996, three years later, hundreds more "Yorks" were moving down from big cities like Baltimore, Philadelphia, Hartford, New York and Washington, D.C.
The next thing anybody knew, the cowboys had morphed into Indians — the Yamassee Native American Moors of the Creek Nation, to be exact — and taken to calling York "Chief Black Eagle" while applying for a license to open a casino.
When the application was rejected, the Indians mutated into the United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors, shaving their heads and dressing all in black and erecting Egyptian pyramids and statuary along Shady Dale Road.
Or, wait — were they Moors first, then Indians? It could get mighty confusing. And the strangest thing of all was when York's men and women took to standing on street corners, passing out bizarre flyers that proclaimed York an alien from the Planet Rizq, sent to Earth as its savior.
On May 5, 2000, the flyers announced, 144,000 of the "chosen ones" would be taken up to the savior's home galaxy of Ilyuwn, while apocalypse commenced for those left behind.
Everybody's eyes were wide open now. But most Putnamites saw the Nuwaubians, as they were now universally known, as a curiosity rather than a threat.
"This is the South," says Dorothy Adams, a white woman who was formerly Putnam's county attorney. "We're used to kooks. Heck, we're prouds of our kooks. Every family has 'em. So we took a live-and-let-live attitude."
That was easy enough at first, because the flyers and the pyramids only told a sliver of the story. But York was more than a kook. He was one of the most successful — and least known — black supremacist leaders in America.
For nearly 25 years, he had been heading a sprawling, New York-based cult that believed his claims to be a "prophet," a "Master Teacher," and even God in the flesh.
Aside from his divinity, York's ever-changing message had one consistent foundation: black people's superiority to white people. Whites are "devils," York taught his minions, devoid of both heart and soul, their color the result of leprosy and genetic inferiority, their ancestors the sexual partners of dogs and jackals.
Putnam folks didn't know those parts yet. They also didn't know that the Nuwaubians' extraterrestrial savior was a convicted felon — he was arrested in 1964 for statutory rape, possession of a dangerous weapon, and resisting a police officer, and served nearly three years in prison.
They didn't know that his well-armed cult, replete with mosques and other properties throughout the Northeast and Southeast, had been investigated by the FBI, under the rubric of domestic terrorism, for crimes including murder, bank robbery, arson, counterfeiting, extortion, illegal weapons, and terrorizing former members.
They didn't know that York had relocated to Georgia amid rumors that he was molesting cult members' children. And they certainly had no idea that "the Yorks" would stir up racial tensions in Putnam, which is about one-third black.
But before long, Putnam County's 19,000 souls would be up to their ears in the Nuwaubians' peculiar brand of race-baiting. And by the time nearly 300 law enforcement officers stormed the compound on Shady Dale Road this May and hauled the savior off to jail on child molestation charges, local folks' tolerant curiosity had long since hardened into anger at the man who tried to start a race war in Georgia.
Building the Empire
In the early 1990s, Dwight York started to tell his cult members about a promised land in Georgia.
"He had to do something to keep people in the fold," says one of his children, a man who spoke to the Intelligence Report but asked to be identified only by his first name, Jacob.
After a remarkable two-decade run, York's pseudo-Islamic cult in Brooklyn, the Ansaru Allah Community (AAC), had started to unravel. Rumors of York's sexual predations had started a "mass exodus" from the AAC, Jacob says.
To make matters worse, York's Islamic legitimacy had been battered by an exposé, The Ansar Cult. And now the FBI was on the AAC's trail, looking into atrocities including the highly suspicious 1979 murder of a Brooklyn community leader who'd spoken out against York and his cult.
A videotape made years later captures the dream York tried to sell his urban disciples.
"I'm talking about a real nation, our own nation," York proclaims in his high-pitched, antic voice. "With our own passports, with our own tax system, where no one tells us what to do but us."
For "us," read "me." Like his fellow cult leader David Koresh, York had proven himself a megalomaniac who thrived on controlling others. And like the frightening Yahweh Ben Yahweh in Florida — another black messiah, whose cult was linked to the murder of 23 people — he used race as a control mechanism.
"Here is this black man who waves the nationalist flag, pushing the black thing and downing the white man," Siddiq Muhammad, who was with York from 1968 to 1980, told Ansar Cult author Bilal Philips, a Jamaican-born Muslim critic who later moved to Saudi Arabia. "The white man is the devil, the blue-eyed are condemned to be despised as apes."
AAC members were required to turn over their possessions and, in Jacob's words, "work as free labor." Men, women and children lived in separate quarters. Conjugal visits were forbidden without York's consent.
The men were sent into the streets, begging for change and peddling incense and the eccentric spiritual tracts York had begun to dictate. They had to meet quotas of $25 to $100 a day, an amount set by York "depending on his monetary needs at the time," or, allegedly, face the wrath of York's strong-armed enforcers — a situation that, many ex-members claim, led naturally to widespread criminal activity.
Meanwhile, ex-members say that the AAC women were pushed to sign up for welfare. In some cases, York allegedly impregnated the women to keep them in the fold and also earn extra welfare dollars. In others, the women allegedly used urine samples from pregnant women to show that they were pregnant and thereby earn a bigger welfare check.
York used the income to build up a real-estate empire centered around Brooklyn's elaborate Bushwick Avenue mosque. In 1983, he paid $145,000 for a large piece of property in Sullivan County, N.Y., where he established "Camp Jazzir Abba"; neighbors occasionally complained of hearing automatic gunfire.
He built mosques and other facilities in places including Harford; Baltimore; Atlanta; Cleveland; Detroit; Pittsburgh; Philadelphia; Washington, D.C.; London, England; Toronto, Canada; and Trinidad and Jamaica.
'Where's Bilal Philips Now?'
In the early 1990s, as York was beginning to speak to his followers about Georgia, the FBI undertook a major preliminary investigation of the cult. In a 29-page report, the agency laid out a series of shocking allegations.
Witnesses described a special AAC security team called the Mujahad, or "Sword of Islam," which included Roy Savage, a reputed AAC enforcer who may have been connected to the 1979 murder of an AAC opponent. (Savage went to prison for the 1983 murder of two New Jersey women.) Witnesses alleged that the Mujahad was involved in a spectrum of criminal activity, including narcotics and protection rackets.
The FBI report also described the AAC's so-called "construction crew," a group that allegedly burned down buildings York wanted to buy at cut-rate prices. Agents looked into a 1990-91 series of Maryland bank robberies allegedly carried out by AAC members, including one in which a motel clerk was shot.
They detailed purchases of a number of AK-47 automatic weapons by members. And they explored the way that the AAC allegedly "muscled" its way into security contracts with businesses in tough parts of New York City.
None of these allegations have been proven in court. But there's little doubt about one thing: Dwight York, a former Black Panther who would go by a whole roster of names in the course of his life, had big plans.
As his son, Jacob, put it: "He's in the dictionary under audacity."
York's Georgia scheme was his most audacious yet. Leaving the Islamic trappings behind, he would turn the AAC's mosques into bookstores and recruitment centers called Holy Tabernacle Ministries.
He'd transfer his headquarters to Putnam County, where law enforcement was lax and local blacks, he surmised, would groove on his message of white hate and black empowerment. And he'd adopt a series of new personnae, giving York new opportunities to make money.
"If he thought cowboys would sell, he'd be a cowboy," Jacob says. "If he thought he'd get to build a casino in Georgia, he'd be a Native American. It's bullcrap. None of it is real. It's all about money and control."
And if anybody got in the way of York's plans, well, he'd do what he boasted to his followers that he'd done to the man who first publicly attacked his cult.
"Where's Bilal Philips now?" York asked his followers on a cassette tape, "Factology vs. Theology," sold in the mosques-turned-bookstores and on the numerous Web sites he would run out of Georgia. "Poor boy's somewhere in hiding. I stomped him right out."
It did not seem to occur to York that there might be folks down in Georgia who would stomp right back.
Manchild in the Promised Land
The trouble started innocuously enough. On a warm spring day in 1997, J.D. "Dizzy" Adams, Putnam County's building inspector, drove his truck out to Shady Dale Road to inspect the pyramids and housing units cropping up on Dwight York's land.
But when he got to the gate, armed Nuwaubian guards denied him entry. "They won't let me in," he reported to Putnam's brand-new sheriff, Howard Sills.
"That was the first real sign of trouble," says Sills. A stocky, chain-smoking lawman with a bushy blond mustache, Sills was elected sheriff three years after the cowboys landed in Putnam.
To an overwhelming majority of both black and white residents, his no-nonsense attitude made him just the man to clean up an inept and corrupt department. (His predecessor subsequently served time for theft of government funds.)
"There was no law enforcement in Putnam County until we elected somebody honest," says Sandra Adams, a black county commissioner who also took office in 1997.
That lack of law enforcement was apparently what Dwight York was counting on. But Sheriff Sills quickly demonstrated that he was determined to do things differently.
He returned with Dizzy Adams to Shady Dale Road the next day. When they were finally admitted onto the property, Adams found a building under construction that had not been issued a permit. No big deal, really; a representative of York's came to town and got a permit for a big metal storage building.
That was that, until the following March, when an Atlanta TV station ran a feature about the Rameses Social Club, a nightspot on the Nuwaubian "holy land."
What nightclub? the sheriff wondered.
When he and Adams drove back out to Shady Dale Road, they found that the storage building had indeed become a nightclub with Egyptian trappings — part of an Egyptian theme park York was now planning.
The Rameses was a fire waiting to happen, full of exposed, patched-together wiring. And besides, the land was zoned mostly for agricultural and residential uses.
"You go to bed one night and you've permitted a couple of pyramids and a storage building," says former county attorney Dorothy Adams (no relation to Sandra or Dizzy). "You wake up the next day and they've got office buildings and museums and convenience stores and all these other things."
The Nuwaubians ignored court orders to shut down the Rameses and halt construction of other illegal buildings. Sheriff Sills sued for an injunction to padlock the club. Dorothy Adams filed suit to prevent further construction on the land. The Nuwaubians countersued. The battle was on. And Putnam County's honest sheriff was about to become the white devil incarnate.
'Putnam County Hates Blacks'
Before the zoning standoff began in 1998, the Nuwaubians' flyers — especially the ones about UFOs and the Planet Rizq — had been amusing curiosities. But the flyers came fast and furious now, angrily claiming that the Nuwaubians were being discriminated against by the county because of their race.
Sheriff Sills, branded as "a race-hater of blacks" and a member of the Klan, was the primary target. But over the next few years, more than 30 public officials and community leaders — all but two of them white — would be slandered in hundreds of publications.
"The Whites In Putnam County Hate Blacks," screamed one, a broadsheet published by the so-called "Concerned Citizens of Eatonton."
The writer, using York's trademark capitalization, spelled out the Nuwaubians' plans to strike back at their oppressors: "There Are People Watching Them Everywhere They Go ... Observing Their Every Move," the screed warned. "We Want Revenge! Because Our People Have Been Unjustly Hurt, We Will Make Sure That They And Theirs Are Hurt."
The threat was not idle. Cult members began to publish home addresses and phone numbers of public officials and local reporters — and even photographs and information about their spouses and children, including Sills' 8-year-old son. That got the sheriff's goat.
"I've had my throat cut, my ass whupped, been shot and dragged by automobiles — just about everything," he says. "But I didn't want anybody messing with my kid."
Then-County Attorney Dorothy Adams and Frank Ford, her husband and law partner, were subject to a campaign of anti-white harassment second only to the attacks on Sills.
In several pamphlets, Ford — who handled much of the county's litigation against the Nuwaubians — was characterized as a white devil and Klansman. Like most of the others who were targeted, Adams became even more concerned when she started to hear about the shady history of Dwight York's cult.
"I couldn't help but think that anyone who turns over their life savings, their weekly paychecks, their children, their wives or husbands to this man who says he is God — what might they do if they feel I'm this bad person attacking him?"
The answer to that question wasn't long in coming. Returning home one day, Adams discovered a singular horror — the two halves of a hollowed-out dog carcass, one on either side of her driveway.
"We took that as a warning," says Adams, who renewed her lapsed gun license and started packing a pistol.
As the county's legal battles with the Nuwaubians raged on, two large rocks were thrown through the plate-glass windows that front Adams and Ford's Eatonton law office. A couple of months later, Ford's tires were slashed in a grocery-store parking lot. The slasher, police found, was York's main spokesperson, Bernard Foster.
Playing the Race Card
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' flyers 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 flyer 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."
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 flyers 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."