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Sect leader's trial setting officials on edge

As the United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors leader faces molestation charges today, officials hope to keep his followers from creating a circus.

Associated Press/January 5, 2004
 

Eatonton, Ga. -- After months of protests by followers dressed as Egyptian pharaohs, mummies and birds, the leader of a quasireligious cult is headed to trial today on charges he molested young followers.

 

Dwight "Malachi" York leads the United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors, a mostly black sect whose neo-Egyptian compound on a farm in Georgia's Putnam County includes pyramidlike structures. Hundreds of supporters have turned out for his hearings, sometimes dressed in American Indian garb, beating drums or handing out antigovernment literature.

Officials are doing all they can to keep the courtroom from turning into a circus.

"It's like living in bizarro world," said Frank Ford, an attorney who has argued with members of the cult in court. "They cannot stand being told no, and they cannot stand being ignored."

U.S. District Judge Ashley Royal ruled last week that York's supporters won't be allowed to demonstrate outside the courthouse during the trial, which was moved 225 miles from Macon to Brunswick because of pretrial publicity.

York, also known to his followers as Chief Black Thunderbird Eagle, faces 13 federal counts of molestation and racketeering. He reached a state and federal plea bargain that would have given him 15 years in federal prison and 14 years in state prison, but the federal judge rejected the agreement.

The Nuwaubians, founded in New York in the early 1970s, once claimed 5,000 members but now are down to a few hundred. In 1993, York moved the sect to a 476-acre compound near Eatonton, about 60 miles southeast of Atlanta, and the group has gone through several transformations since. They have dressed as cowboys and American Indians, and have claimed to be Muslim and Jewish. York has said he is from the planet "Rizq," and some Nuwaubian literature refers to York as the group's savior or god.

Prosecutors say York used his status as a religious leader for sex and money, enriching himself, marrying several women and abusing young girls who were part of his sect.

One of his wives, Kathy Johnson, was arrested with him in May 2002 and implicated in child molestation involving at least 13 children, including her son. She pleaded guilty to a federal charge of failing to report a crime, but the state case against her is on hold.

 

At a bail hearing in May 2002, FBI Agent Jalaine Ward testified that three children told her they were forced to perform sexual acts with York and Johnson. The children, ages 4, 6 and 8 at the time, were photographed and videotaped engaging in sexual acts and posing in explicit positions, Ward said.

Ward said witnesses also told investigators that 30 to 35 children ages 4 to 18 were molested.

When Johnson and York were arrested, Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills said most of the living structures on the property were filthy and crowded. In York's house, a single-family home that he has added onto, rooms were crowded with bunk beds that appeared to be for as many as 75 women and children, he said. People who lived in the barn apparently slept on mattresses on the floor, Sills added.

York, 58, has argued he has American Indian heritage and shouldn't be judged by the U.S. court system. In November, he sued state and federal law enforcement officials, claiming he was kidnapped and has been tortured since his arrest in 2002.

It's not York's first brush with the law: He spent three years in a New York prison in the 1960s for assault, resisting arrest and possession of a dangerous weapon. He joined the Black Panther Party and in 1967 formed a black nationalist group in New York.

York's attorney, Adrian Patrick, said he couldn't promise York wouldn't resort to unorthodox legal tactics.

"I can't say definitively what will and what won't come up," Patrick said. "It will ultimately be up to the defendant."

 
   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

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