Sect's Leader Takes a Fall
Guilty of sex charges in Ga.
Newsday.com/January 26, 2003
By Tina Susman
Eatonton, Ga. -- Strangers are sure to stand out in a small
town like this, especially strangers who come from Brooklyn, dress
like cowboys, claim allegiance to a leader from a distant planet
and build 40-foot-high pyramids on their land.
The locals could handle that. What worried them is when the
newcomers' hermetic leader, Dwight York, declared his 476-acre
spread a sovereign state, posted armed guards, and began
publishing angry fliers alleging a racist conspiracy after local
officials cited him for zoning and building violations.
Then, the letters arrived: typed, single-spaced appeals for
help sent to local law enforcement authorities from people living
inside Tama-Re, as York called his ornate pyramid-, sphinx- and
obelisk-studded property on Shady Dale Road.
"It said, 'We're begging for help. York is molesting children,'
and it named names of children," said Francis Ford, an Eatonton
attorney who had represented the county in its zoning disputes
with York and his group, the United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors. "I
wasn't expecting that, but I believed it. The Nuwaubians are
The letters helped crack what prosecutors say is Georgia's
biggest child abuse case ever, which led to 197 state and four
York pleaded guilty Thursday to two federal charges, one
involving transport of minors from upstate Sullivan County, N.Y.,
to Georgia for sex. Friday, he pleaded guilty to 77 of the state
charges, which will put him in prison for the rest of his life
To Sheriff Howard Sills, Ford and other locals, the case
justifies the wariness they felt toward York and his disciples
since their arrival in 1993.
To Nuwaubian supporters, who over the years included Al
Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, NAACP officials and Georgia politicians,
the case was evidence of racial harassment Southern style, in
which a white, small-town sheriff targeted a black man who
"If this group had white skin and was building pyramids, they
would be ignored," said Rep. Tyrone Brooks (D-Atlanta), before
learning of the guilty plea. Brooks said later that he was
surprised to hear of York's plea but hoped the group would stay
Prosecutors denied being driven by racism, noting that York's
alleged victims were black, and that most of the testimony came
from blacks, including many who said they were abused in New York
when York was based there.
It's difficult to get the Nuwaubians' point of view because
they shun the media. The group has stuck by York and denied claims
by the FBI and the Southern Poverty Law Center that it is an
anti-white hate group, despite York's description of whites as
One Nuwaubian, Anthony Evans, said negative publicity had taken
its toll. Part of the Nuwaubians' spread is for sale, and more may
be added, said Evans. "It's like you can see the writing on the
wall from Putnam County saying, 'Get out, Get out.'"
The property, a former game farm, resembles an abandoned King
Tut theme park erected alongside a two-lane rural highway.
"Welcome to the Holyland," reads a giant sign facing the road,
where skid marks indicate the shock of drivers faced with a field
of Egyptian artifacts rising out of the countryside.
In the past, York's June 6 "Savior's Day" celebrations there
would draw thousands of followers to celebrate their Nuwaubian
beliefs, which are difficult to define. Nuwaubians say that their
group embraces all races and religions, and that their "Master
Teacher" is York, an alien from the planet Rizq in the galaxy of
Illwuyn. York has promised them that a spaceship will arrive this
year and carry a lucky 144,000 to a better place.
Why York, who now goes by Dr. Malachi Z. York, left New York
for Eatonton in 1993 is open to debate. His critics say he chose
Eatonton, a predominantly black town of 6,500, because he saw it
as an ideal place to find supporters and an area too rural to deal
with building and other violations.
Literature produced by the Nuwaubians says Eatonton was chosen
because of American Indian rock formations in the area. York, 56,
claims to be descended from the Yamassee tribe of Georgia.
What's clear is that the move south followed a checkered
history in New York, where York served prison time for resisting
arrest, assault and possession of a dangerous weapon and later
started an Islamic sect in Brooklyn. An FBI report accuses the
group of running a virtual crime syndicate in Bushwick during the
It was only in 1997, after a television station visited Tama-Re
and mentioned that the facilities included a nightclub, that
Eatonton officials confronted York. By this time, the Nuwaubians
had traded their cowboy clothes for long robes and fezzes, and
Tama-Re's residents were believed to number in the hundreds. The
county cited York for running illegal commercial enterprises and
for other building violations.
York cried racism and accused local officials such as Sills and
Ford of everything from murder to wife-beating and cat-kicking.
Hundreds of York followers would hand out fliers claiming a
conspiracy. Locals became alarmed as the dispute grew uglier.
Until then, Sills said the Nuwaubians, who adopted that name
after leaving New York, were considered strange but relatively
harmless. "It was unusual to see a group of black people dressed
in cowboy hats, boots and belts with big shiny belt buckles," said
Sills. "I can't tell you I didn't notice it, because I did, but I
didn't do anything about it."
The letters alleging child molestation transformed what had
been a zoning dispute into a criminal investigation. York was
arrested last May.
A raid of Tama-Re confirmed accusers' claims that York's
followers lived in squalor. Mark Robinson, an investigator who
took part, described "filth, raw sewage everywhere, and people
just stacked on top of each other."
York's accusers said men and women were housed in separate,
barracks-like buildings while York lived in luxury in a large
house with a swimming pool.
York, meanwhile, says his clashes with Georgia officials have
revived his belief that whites are demons. "I found out that
trying to be a nice guy and work with white folks just don't
work," a Nuwaubian newsletter quoted York as saying before his