The leader of the Nation of Yahweh, tied to the murders of 14 people, has died. But the black supremacist group he started is showing strong signs of new life.
PEMBROKE PINES, Fla. — The funeral of Yahweh ben Yahweh was a black and white affair. Nearly 500 white-clad members of the Nation of Yahweh, a notorious black supremacist religious sect that under Yahweh's guidance embraced violent racial separatism, gathered in the parking lot of the Floridian Ballroom, an upscale event center here. It was May 13, six days after Yahweh died of prostate cancer.
Just prior to his "ascension," Yahweh was released from parole after serving 11 years of an 18-year sentence on federal conspiracy charges related to 14 murders committed in Miami in the 1980s.
Black men in white robes and white suits pulled into the parking lot driving shiny white Lincoln and Lexus luxury cars. They boasted abundant gold and diamond jewelry and seemed to be speaking into the air as they talked business over Bluetooth ear devices. Their women were wrapped in white dresses and crowned with what they called "diadems," or white turbans. White-draped toddlers repeatedly exclaimed, "Praise Yahweh!"
At the height of its power in the late 1980s, the Miami-based Nation of Yahweh had satellite temples around the country and a lucrative business empire of apartment complexes, hotels, stores and fleets of Greyhound buses and Rolls Royce cars, all painted stark white. Yahweh himself once estimated the sect's holdings at $100 million. And while the Nation's wealth and strength dwindled following the imprisonment of its founder, it was apparent from the conspicuously affluent turnout at his funeral that current Nation members are neither penniless nor scarce. Indeed, in recent years the Nation has put on several lavish conferences in Canada. It has expanded anew in both Canada and Texas, and followers are appearing regularly in South Florida, too. And it has grown increasingly apocalyptic in tone as it predicts the end of white dominion, a development that has observers worried, given the Nation's violent past.
The mood inside the ballroom this May was joyful. The corpse of Yahweh ben Yahweh (translation: "God, son of God") lay out in the open as his disciples stood elbow to elbow. The occasion marked the first legal contact between Yahweh and his followers in some 15 years, since the terms of his parole strictly prohibited him from reconnecting with his congregation in any way.
But anger was also in the air. Funeral orators unleashed vengeful polemics against an unspecified enemy.
"This year marks the year of your doom," said one of them. "Yahweh ben Yahweh told you over 16 years ago, Satan, that if you keep on messing with him that you will lie down!"
"Praise Yahweh!" the assembly members shouted in unison amidst sustained applause.
Nation of Yahweh members believe that the death of Yahweh ben Yahweh was foretold in Holy Scriptures and is a sign that the time is upon the Earth when the godly remnants of the black race will displace the accursed white race — along with blacks "infected" with white blood — and rule the earth. As one funeral speaker put it: "The wicked powers and principalities sitting in high places knew that the power of Yahweh ben Yahweh is the beginning of the end of their 6,000-year rule of wicked dominion!"
Ending 'The Devil's Rulership'
Although Nation of Yahweh members no longer openly condemn "white devils," there's little confusion among Nation members concerning the identity of those "wicked powers" or what the "end of their 6,000-year rule" means. As Nation of Yahweh elder Job Israel, who went to prison with Yahweh ben Yahweh, explained in the parking lot outside the funeral: "God is black. The opposite of God is evil. The opposite of black is white. So what do you think white is?"
Later, in a telephone interview with the Intelligence Report, Israel expanded on his point: "God created the white man to punish us for being disobedient to God. The original devil was black. But when Cain killed Abel, [God] cursed him to be white. Yahweh [God] gave him [the white man] a hedge of protection and gave him 6,000 years to rule. … This is the year 6007. The devil's rulership is up."
Nation of Yahweh theology borrows liberally from the Nation of Islam (NOI), a much better known black separatist group of which Yahweh was briefly a member in the 1960s. The "6,000 year rule" by "white devils" destined to be overturned by "God's chosen people" is lifted straight out of early NOI leader Elijah Muhammad's writings in Message to the Black Man in America and The Supreme Wisdom. Copying another lesson verbatim from Muhammad, Yahweh also taught his followers that an English pirate named John Hawkins delivered the very first enslaved Africans to the New World in 1555 on a ship named Jesus.
Though wildly inaccurate, this lesson continues to set the agenda for Nation of Yahweh members. "Our slavery under them [white people] is 400 years, but their slavery under ours is forever and ever," explains Job Israel. "They know they gotta leave here [America], because they don't wanna serve no niggers."
The Nation of Yahweh's ideology is also heavily derived from the Hebrew Israelite belief system, strains of which have existed in America since the 1800s. Hebrew Israelites believe that God is black, and that they are the authentic descendants of the Old Testament Hebrews who escaped Egyptian bondage — the "true Jews." (Bizarrely, the white supremacist theology of Christian Identity makes strikingly similar claims, except that whites are depicted as the "true Hebrews" of the Bible.) Nation of Yahweh members refer to themselves as the "tribe of Judah" (not to be confused with the Nation of Islam's "lost tribe of Shabazz").
One key difference between Hebrew Israelites, who are often referred to as Black Hebrew Israelites, and Nation of Yahweh members is that while the Hebrew Israelite worldview is based mainly in the Old Testament, the Nation of Yahweh also subscribes to the New Testament — except, of course, they believe their messiah to be Yahweh ben Yahweh instead of Jesus Christ. They interpret the gospels of Christ's persecution and crucifixion as a foretelling of Yahweh's federal court trial and recent death.
While Yahweh ben Yahweh claimed the Hebrew Israelite religion, true Hebrew Israelites don't claim him. "In most Hebrew Israelite circles, the Nation of Yahweh is the laughingstock," says former Nation of Yahweh member Khalil Amani (formerly known as Yehudah Israel), who testified against Yahweh and others in the Nation during their 1992 federal trial.
"The things that happened with Yahweh ben Yahweh in Florida don't sound anything close to the Hebrew Israelite community," adds Ahvee Tsoor Y'Israel of the African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem, a prominent group of Hebrew Israelites from America who have established permanent residency in Dimona, Israel.
Y'Israel characterized the Nation of Yahweh as a "misguided group following a misguided leader."
The son of a Pentecostal preacher, Yahweh ben Yahweh was born Hulon Mitchell Jr. in Oklahoma in 1935. After serving in the military and attending law school, Mitchell moved to Atlanta in the mid-1960s and joined the Nation of Islam, becoming Hulon X. He then left the Nation of Islam in the late '60s after being accused of embezzlement and pedophilia, only to resurface as a tithe-hustling faith healer and prosperity preacher named Father Michel, a character he cut from the cloth of Father Divine and Samuel "Father Jehovia" Morris, gaudy African-American ministers of the early 20th century who identified themselves as God.
The man who would become Yahweh ben Yahweh left Atlanta after his business partner was murdered and his "Modern Christian Church" congregants sued him for fraud. He arrived in Miami in 1978 at a time when the city was seething with racial tensions and black rage. Once there, he gathered recruits from the city's loosely knit Hebrew Israelite movement, declared himself a black messiah, and started up the Nation of Yahweh.
Along with building a multimillion-dollar business empire, the Nation of Yahweh earned public acclaim for its community revitalization projects in poor African-American neighborhoods throughout what is now called Miami-Dade County. In 1987, Miami Urban League head T. Willard Fair bestowed the Whitney M. Young humanitarian award upon Yahweh. Three years later, Miami Mayor Xavier Suarez gave Yahweh his own official holiday: "Yahweh ben Yahweh Day."
As the Nation of Yahweh thrived, however, its dark side played out in apocalyptic preaching against "white devils," a firebombing, the hostile takeover of a South Florida housing complex, the beheading of a temple dissident with a dull machete and the murders of white Floridians whose ears were hacked off as trophies.
After Yahweh and six members of his "Circle of Ten" security force "death angels" were imprisoned in 1992, many of Yahweh's followers left the Nation's Temple of Love headquarters, or abandoned the Miami area altogether. Shocking disclosures from the trial about Yahweh's involvement in killings and sexual relationships with underage girls caused many followers to renounce him. Most of the Nation's many properties were foreclosed and seized.
For a while, the Nation of Yahweh all but disappeared. But public signs of the Nation's rebirth began to appear around 1999, when a family of followers spent $22,000 on billboards in Miami that proclaimed the cult's presence as well as its peaceful intentions. In 2001, the same year Yahweh ben Yahweh was paroled, the Nation held two lavish conferences in Montreal, Canada. Followers also created a website — www.yahwehbenyahweh.com — that carried Yahweh's lessons and bitter diatribes against the media and government. New posts to the site continue to this day.
"They're still distributing all their original tracts, so I don't know how they're going to get away from the hate message," says Dawn Hutchinson, an instructor at Christopher Newport University in Virginia who studies the Nation of Yahweh and other fringe religious groups. "It's interesting that they lasted this long with him in prison. The only reason I can think of is because of his messiah complex."
In their teachings, Nation followers defend claims that Yahweh ben Yahweh is the one true messiah by referencing the dictionary even more than the Bible. Citing Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary to the page number, the Nation of Yahweh website provides definitions of "father," "Christ," "Messiah," "Jew," and "Israelite" before concluding: "From these facts, Yahweh ben Yahweh, the son of Yahweh, is the Christ, the Messiah, who is the expected or awaited King and Deliverer of the tribe of Judah, the Hebrew Israelites, descendants of the patriarch Jacob."
The Nation of Yahweh currently has a publishing branch, the P.E.E.S.S. ("Politically, Economically, Educationally, Socially, Spiritually") Foundation, with offices in Montreal and Seguin, Texas. Its legal arm, the Miami-based Abraham Foundation, provides legal representation to "innocent, indigent Hebrew Israelites." Nation attorney Wendellyn Rush, who represented Yahweh ben Yahweh in his trial and parole hearings, also reserved the Floridian Ballroom for Yahweh's funeral. (Rush, who in 2000 threatened to sue the Southern Poverty Law Center for $12 trillion over a story about an unrelated Hebrew Israelite group, was contacted by the Report but would not comment for this story). "She asked for us to supply four or five officers to cover them because they'd be bringing 400 to 500 of their members out for the service," says Patrick Lynn, chief deputy for the Pembroke Pines Police Department.
No police signed up for the overtime duty, in large part because the funeral fell on Mother's Day. Instead, the Nation hired a private security firm. One of the guards on the premises identified himself to the Report only as "Jerry," a licensed private investigator who'd been working for the Nation of Yahweh for several years.
"They're a very strict, private people," said Jerry. "As a condition of our contract with them, we can't reveal any info about their meetings or where they take place."
What he could reveal was that "these people pay me very well. In fact, they pay extra for me to be loyal to them. Believe me, those people have a lot of money."
Which is what makes their missives about overthrowing wicked governments disconcerting. Many current posts on the Nation of Yahweh website demonstrate that members continue to believe that the FBI, CIA and other government agencies are plotting against them. (According to their conspiracy theories, this plot began with reports on the radical right written by the Anti-Defamation League [ADL] and the Southern Poverty Law Center [SPLC], which was the basis of the lawsuit that Rush threatened.)
In their "Rising of the Beast Out of the Sea" lesson, Nation of Yahweh leaders decry their enemies: "They refuse to cooperate or submit to the power of [Yahweh]. ... [W]e shall forever stand to testify to the world that ... the kingdoms of this world shall become the Kingdom of Yahweh."
"Operation Word War," another website article, details the Nation of Yahweh's attack on "Project Megiddo" —in reality, an FBI document warning of some radical groups' millennial activities as the year 2000 approached, but what the article sees as part of a government/SPLC/ADL conspiracy to exterminate the Nation of Yahweh. The "Word War" article drips with anti-Semitism, arguing that "mainstream Jews" — that is, Jews of European descent — exert "control over the publishing and entertainment industries, the educational and judicial systems, and all other businesses and professions of this world." It goes on to quote Revelation 2:9: "I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan."
Coming Soon: 'The Roundup'
One of the more infamous figures of the Nation of Yahweh, Job Israel was convicted in 1991 along with Yahweh and five followers for his role in at least 14 murders, including that of would-be Yahweh follower Leonard Dupree, whose head Job Israel bashed in with a car jack. Job was the Nation's master barber. According to Khalil Amani, the former member who testified against his former comrades, Israel also was the most charismatic and fanatical member of the Nation.
"When I met him in the Nation he had a big car and wore fur coats in the summer. He was blinged out before it was popular," says Amani. "But he was crazy out of his mind. He was so righteous you couldn't talk to him about anything worldly. And he was a killer."
While imprisoned for nine years with his leader (an arrangement he begged the judge for), Job taught barbering and cosmetology to inmates. Upon his release, he built his own hair and beauty products business called Judah's Gold.
At Yahweh's funeral, Job wore a custom-fitted white military uniform with black embroidery. Gold and diamond jewelry graced his pinky finger, neck, jacket epaulettes and turban. Inscribed in each pendant and ring were the Hebrew letters for Yahweh. He covered the symbols to keep them from an outsider's gaze, saying, "The name of God must not be published or spoken by anyone but God." Interviewed later by the Report, Israel talked proudly of the Nation's glory years, describing the opening of hotels and restaurants, teaching hair and skin maintenance, the Bible and entrepreneurship.
And the killings? "I don't know nothing about it."
Israel says he's been mostly out of touch with other Nation members for 15 years. But he hasn't forgotten the teachings or his allegiance. Asked who would lead the Nation now, he responded, "Yahweh ben Yahweh. He is God."
According to Job Israel, the 6,000-year rule of the devil was up a decade ago. Black people just haven't realized this yet, because they are "sleeping" or are "dead." He goes on to say that his comrades will take over slowly, because "if they [white people] woke up and suddenly found out they was gonna be serving black folks, they'd kill us all. They plan to do that anyway."
Black people who have not accepted Yahweh's teachings, Israel predicted, will be captured in "the roundup" along with whites. President George Bush, whose last maneuver will institute the "New World Order," will usher this "roundup" in.
Will the Nation of Yahweh be rounded up as well?
"Those who don't know will get rounded up."
And those who do?
"It will be like the Passover, when God told them to put blood on the door. Some people didn't believe, so the death angels came in and killed them. The ones who believed, Yahweh put a hedge of protection around them."
Today, 15 years after the collapse of Yahweh ben Yahweh's bloody empire, the master is dead but, Israel says ominously, he "cloned himself" in the form of hundreds of devout followers.
And that may not be good for the rest of us. Says Israel: "Now you gonna see how dangerous he was."