'General Yahanna,' a key black separatist leader, discusses God, gays, black 'Hebrews,' and what's wrong with white people
This June's issue of Esquire magazine included a feature headlined "Why White Supremacists Support Barack Obama." Despite the title, it included a brief interview with "General Yahanna," who is neither an Obama supporter nor a white supremacist. Quite the opposite. Yahanna, whose real name is John Lightborne, is the leader of the Israelite School of Universal Practical Knowledge, an extremist "Hebrew Israelite" group that preaches hatred of white people, Jews and anyone else who doesn't embrace its radical black separatist ideology. Lately, Yahanna has forged a presence on YouTube, where videotapes of his group's street sermons demonizing the white race are widely circulated, and in Washington, D.C., where the Israelite School's noisy demonstrations have led to a host of citizen complaints — so much so that district officials recently passed a noise ordinance intended to quiet down Yahanna and his followers' use of amplifiers. Not long after the Esquire piece was published, Yahanna spoke by phone with the Intelligence Report, elaborating on his arguments that it's not only white people destroying black communities, but also black women, the Rev. Al Sharpton and lesbians. Additionally, he discussed the future enslavement of white people, and the reasoning behind his condemning Barack Obama and Martin Luther King Jr.
How did the Israelite School become such a controversial presence in Washington, D.C.?
White people moving in from the Midwest heard about cheap property in D.C. — classic gentrification. Black people from our neighborhoods got mad and asked us to address it. These same white people became outraged that we were out here because we were interrupting their brunches. They don't care about black people, so they started campaigns with blogging and websites, which brought it out as a sound problem [caused by the Israelite School using megaphones in their street protests] rather than as a social issue problem.
In terms of membership, what are your numbers?
Our numbers, in my opinion, are innumerable. You can take any city in the U.S. and you'll find a direct Israelite School chapter or some derivative of it. [Editor's note: In fact the Israelite School has only three active chapters, in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and New York City. A rival Hebrew Israelite group, the Israelite Church of God in Jesus Christ, from which the Israelite School split, has 29 chapters nationwide.] We don't actually count our numbers in our organization. We have a very strong camp in D.C., thanks to the men who decided not to back down from those white folks' many intimidation tactics.
Real estate is so popular here that these big-time bankers and lawyers have teamed together and said, "Let's get rid of all the bad black elements." To do all that kind of renovation, they can't have a group of black men on the corner saying the white man is the devil.
You preach that when Jesus returns to earth, you're going to enslave white people. How's that going to work, exactly?
Simply, all the nations that fought against the children of Israel [who Yahanna says are black Hebrew Israelites, not Jews] must now come back and build back what they destroyed. Every nation has played a part at some point in time and used the children of Israel as slaves to build their great empires. This is why God said not to mix with the other nations, because these nations will be dealt with under Christ's empire, with things done to them that they did to other people.
Are you talking about white people or Jews?
When we say whites, we include the so-called Jews. They're all one nation. They're all the same. All Caucasians come from the same Edomite nation. [Editor's note: Ironically, many adherents of the white supremacist Christian Identity theology say that Jews descend from the biblical Edomites. Identity believers also say that the Hebrews of the Bible were actually "Aryans" — not the forbears of today's Jews — just as Hebrew Israelites believe the biblical Hebrews were actually black.]
In one of your YouTube videos, you talk about joining the KKK and the Aryan Nations to kill black people who choose to live alongside white people. Are you serious?
I'm speaking figuratively. Horrible pain is unfortunately what's going to open our [black people's] eyes to doing something different. By the KKK doing what they're doing, it is giving us a consciousness that we actually have an enemy. It's bringing us back to where we were before Martin Luther King, when we understood exactly who was hurting and destroying us. Martin Luther King was the greatest terrorist to black people because all he did was sell us off to the white man.
Today, black people think white people have nothing to do with our poverty and us killing each other, nothing to do with our drug problems. Black people believe this because Christian churches teach us to love our enemy. We need to see the horror of the people who are actually our enemy. So I was figuratively saying I need to join the KKK, so that they [black people] will see the enemy instead of believing the Christian church, who teaches the fantasy that we should love all nations.
You've said you aren't supporting Barack Obama. Why?
Obama has given us great new hope that black people will have some success, but it's a joke. He tells black people that they should love America and white people, and that people like me, who are only trying to defend black people, are the enemy. It's the same thing that happened to Moses in Egypt. When he first came out to see his people, the Israelites, the first thing he saw was an Egyptian striking a Hebrew. When he addressed it and killed the Egyptian, the Hebrews turned around and said, "You will kill us like you killed the Egyptian." They looked at Moses as the enemy, as if he did something evil, as opposed to something good for defending the Hebrew against the Egyptians.
So, if white people are the Egyptians in this allegory, you're supposed to kill them to defend black people?
We don't want to kill people. We have never and never will ever be a violent organization. We are real Christians. Our people just don't see it. So, if I can embellish a little bit, it's like in the Gospel of John, when Caiaphas, who was a head of the Jews, said we ought to kill Christ so the whole nation of Israel doesn't perish and the Romans don't come take our possessions. It's the same thing black people believe in America. Black Christian leadership believes that so-called radical leaders that want to empower blacks against those who rule over us should be destroyed and wiped out.
We don't hate white people because they are white. We hate the destruction and the psychological terror they're bringing. Whites are doing things that are destroying us and psychologically making us do things to destroy each other.
Are you familiar with [the late] Yahweh ben Yahweh and [his violently anti-white Hebrew Israelite cult] the Nation of Yahweh?
I'm not familiar with how he emerged and why he chose Miami [where the Nation of Yahweh was based in the 1980s]. At that time, there weren't any Hebrew Israelites down there, so maybe that's why. But he, like Tazadaqyah [the leader of the Israelite Church of God in Jesus Christ, another Hebrew Israelite group], tried to take a man and make himself a god. Once you elevate men above men, you have a demagogue and a cult, and sooner or later the nature of the Hebrew Israelite will not allow that god-man to survive.
Who is Tazadaqyah [legal name Jermaine Grant]? What's his background?
He was actually part of my camp in Manhattan on 50th and Broadway. At the time [the early 1990s], he was in the music industry trying to become a rapper. There was a need for someone to run our video department. He was chosen as an assistant to the head of video, which gave him access to the leaders. That's how he became known.
Even now, he's only known because of the authorization from Ahryah [one of the founding "Seven Heads" leaders of the Hebrew Israelite movement]. But now they're showing Tazadaqyah as some great new charismatic leader. Most of that is a façade. The buses he used to go on the ["I Will Not Leave You Comfortless"] tour were staged. Those buses were being rented out to make him look like he's a superstar. He's just like any ambitious rapper who, when they get a contract, they have to make themselves look flashy and appear the part, which is basically what they [the Israelite Church] have done. But people in their church are in horrible poverty.
Meanwhile, Tazadaqyah is charging $1,500 to attend their annual Passover, and thousands of dollars in "priest fees" to keep the façade going in order to get more people to the organization. We consider that like all other churches, just money-grubbing occults and establishments. They just have the title "Israelite" on it.
What are the major differences between your doctrine and theirs?
One, we always taught that Jesus Christ did not come from a Virgin Mary birth. Now, they teach Jesus came from the immaculate conception. The Israelite School never endorsed that idea in its entire history; we teach that he was born from a man and woman, Joseph and Mary. The second change was they changed the name of God, saying Yahweh was not God's name. Now they teach, like the Roman Catholics, that Jesus is God and it is actually Jesus you're reading about in the Old Testament. The biggest change came, though, when Tazadaqyah declared himself as "the Comforter and the Holy Spirit" — the one the Scriptures say comes just before Christ's return.
You live by Old Testament laws, some of which, like polygamy, are illegal. We don't go against the law. But we believe that, according to the Bible, man has the right to have more than one woman. Now they have gays getting married and all kinds of stuff, saying adults should be able to marry children and animals. In the Bible, marriage is between man and woman. We teach young men that they should not be promiscuous and sleep around with a bunch of women. We say not to do those things, and that the Lord is against the abuse of our women. That means if you have sex with her, you are to spend the rest of your life with her, unless she commits adultery.
You say the Lord is against the abuse of black women. But YouTube videos show you hurling abuse at black women passing by on the street.
We have black women who've written us personally, thanking us for what I'm saying in those videos. Christian women are doing some of the most egregious things in their households. The Christian black women are the number one group getting AIDS and STDs. If you survey the religion of the people getting AIDS, Christian black women represent the highest number of new AIDS cases in America. Muslim women come second. [Editor's note: Yahanna is referring to his own informal "survey." There is no official research on the religious backgrounds of AIDS cases]. We cannot continue this lifestyle.
Because we say to black women that they cannot continue this lifestyle, they attack us. We're talking about black women stopping all the things they're doing sexually to destroy the black community. Black men are making w----- out of our daughters. In D.C., they tried to oust a minister [the Rev. Willie Wilson] who told black women they've got to stop being lesbians, and quoted the same AIDS stat I quoted. But when I post it on YouTube to save black women, it gets twisted into somehow I hate black women.
So you believe AIDS is a God-delivered curse to the wicked?
I believe any sin we do against God helps to bring these curses on us. I heard all the rumors that AIDS was created in a lab and it doesn't discriminate. We as black people have lost our moral compass, and until we get it back, we will get thousands more curses. The bedrock issue is not whether they're lesbian, it's how do we save these sisters from destroying themselves by the sexual deviancy that leads to the transmission of STDs and AIDS.
Could a gay man join your church?
Absolutely. We have quite a few ex-gay men in the Israelite School community. If you follow God's rules, you'll have enough power to leave any sinful life behind — crack, drugs and homosexuality, anything that's destroyed our communities and left us in these ghettos. We give them the power to wash that stuff out and to live a healthy life that will help save other people's lives. We have people come to us who say, "Yes, I'm gay. Yes, I'm a child molester. But I want to be brand new." We start them on that righteous walk, and we've had great success.
What do you do about ex-gay members who go back to same-sex love?
Things like that are brought to our council, no different than someone who was on crack and backslid and ended up taking crack again. So a homosexual who leaves that lifestyle but backslides is just another sinner who's made a mistake. But as of yet we haven't had any who've done that. In fact, we have the opposite. They've gone on to take wives.
What do you believe should happen to gay men who choose to remain gay?
They should be condemned to death. That's what it says in the Book of Revelations. We don't say they'll be delivered to hellfire like Christians, though. Christ can deliver who he wants to deliver. We can't say whether he'll deliver them or not.
The men who come in here who lived that lifestyle are all doing good. I have a sister now who came out of a serious lesbian lifestyle and now has a husband and four children. She has a wonderful life. The men and women who do decide to come out of that and join us never go back to it. We believe in the true power of Christ.