Experts see manipulator in sect leader
York on trial
Athens Banner-Herald/January 11, 2004
By Joe Johnson
The social organization of the religious sect led by Dwight
''Malachi'' York appeared to have been structured as an elaborate
grooming process for victims used to satisfy York's lust as an
alleged pedophile, according to experts on child sexual abuse.
Growing up in isolation on York's 440-acre Putnam County
compound, children - along with their indoctrination into the
sect's philosophies, which held York to be a deity - appeared to
have been subjected to a form of brainwashing commonly used by
pedophiles known as ''child sexual abuse accommodation syndrome,''
according to William Bernet, director of forensic psychiatry at
''What happens is, the child just comes to expect what she has
learned within that small culture, and if kept in that isolated
place that child will accept and adopt whatever she is told,''
York, 59, is being tried in U.S. District Court in Brunswick on
13 federal counts, including child molestation. Witnesses have
testified that they were being groomed as York's sex partners when
they were as young as 8 years old.
Dwight "Malachi" York is charged with sexually abusing young
followers. According to trial testimony, children were segregated
from their parents by sex and kept in substandard housing. They
were home-schooled on the compound, and taught that York was a
''Because he was able to manipulate people into believing he is
a god makes him very powerful,'' said Carole Lieberman, a
psychologist from Beverly Hills, Calif., who has testified as an
expert witness in several high-profile cases. ''For the victims,
it becomes an honor to be able to serve him.''
One witness testified that when she was 8, a 16-year-old
follower of York showed her a videotape of adults having oral sex,
''telling me that was what I was supposed to do to Mr. York.'' The
witness, now 19, testified she did what she was told, thus
beginning an eight-year period of abuse in which York allegedly
had sex with her ''two or three times a week'' and in which the
acts escalated to anal sex, then intercourse and finally group sex
with York and other young girls.
Girls that had sex with York were treated better than others on
the compound, according to testimony, given such rewards as
jewelry, clothes and trips to Disney World.
''At its core, this case is about power,'' Assistant U.S.
Attorney Stephanie Thacker told jurors in opening statements when
the trial got under way last week in Brunswick. ''(York) abused
that power to engage in criminal sexual activities with minors,
and to structure financial transactions in a criminal manner.''
York is leader of a religious sect that until recently called
itself the United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors. The group is now
called the Yamassee Native American Moors of the Creek Nation, and
refers to York as Chief Black Thunderbird Eagle. He was accused by
federal authorities in May 2002 of molesting more than a dozen
minor girls, at both a house he owned in Athens and at the
Nuwaubian compound near Eatonton in Putnam County.
York's trial is being held in Brunswick due to the defense's
change of venue request, which claimed potential jurors would be
influenced by the massive pre-trial publicity York's case had
garnered while being prosecuted in Macon in the pre-trial stage.
Thacker told jurors that York ran his sect in a way that
isolated his young victims - making them live separately from
their parents under sometimes squalid conditions - in order to
make them dependent on him and more pliant when approached for
In his opening statement, defense attorney Adrian Patrick said
allegations of sexual abuse of children had been fabricated by a
small group of York's estimated 5,000 followers and spearheaded by
a woman who used to manage the Nuwaubian business office but was
kicked out of the group.
According to Thacker, the house in which the young girls lived
on York's compound often lacked heat and electricity, and had no
television. She told the jury that sometimes the children survived
by eating flour, sugar and popcorn seeds. Alleged victims being
groomed for York's sexual gratification would be brought to his
house on the compound, where they would be lavished with good
food, candy and ice cream, and be allowed to watch television, the
FBI agents testified that upon searching the compound, they
found pornographic cartoon videotapes that had been shown to
children to prepare them for sex with York.
The young woman who testified that her sexual abuse began when
she was 8 told jurors that she had come to believe that York was
''What (York) seems to have done is develop a very deliberate,
sophisticated grooming process that involved many factors,
including keeping the children isolated so that they become
compliant and expecting that (the alleged abuse) will happen to
them,'' Bernet said.