Survivors Speak out about Bizarre Sect
Leader, Sentenced to Prison
New York-WABC/February 7, 2003
Tonight, an insider's story about a bizarre, Brooklyn-based
religious sect and allegations of widespread child molestation by
the group's leader. The leader of the United Nuwaubian Nation of
Moors pleaded guilty to scores of sex abuse charges and will spend
years in prison. Now his victims finally feel it is safe to speak
out. One insider talked exclusively with The Investigators' Sarah
How could someone get away with abusing countless children-
allegedly two generations of victims for nearly 30 years? Tonight,
we have an incredible story from within and a warning about what
can happen when an entire community gives over their collective
lives to one person.
For most of her life it was all Habiba Washington ever knew.
The 27-year-old was born into the communal world of the Ansaru
Allah community in Bushwick, Brooklyn. The outside world was
Habiba Washington: "Because the community is basically
blocked from the outside world, you don't know anything but what
you know there."
What she could not know is how wrong it all was.
Washington: "The abuse go beyond, further beyond child
molestation. It's the fact that families were separated. People
were physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually abused for
Girls and boys, separated from their parents, housed in two
buildings on Bushwick Avenue. Every move of every one dictated by
their leader Dwight York.
Washington: "He would fill you up with his information,
with his indoctrination... Take away from you, everything that you
know. Tell you that this is what the white man has been teaching
you and it's not the right way... it's the wrong way of thinking,
it's the wrong way of living. That everything I am teaching you is
the right way."
His religious teachings changed with whatever doctrine he
thought would attract followers. First they were Muslims, then
Hebrews. When York moved the group to rural Georgia in 1993 he
decided on an Egyptian theme. And there, in the center of the
Bible Belt, several hundred followers became Christians. But the
ultimate "god" was Dwight York, who staged an elaborate "Savior's
Day" every June on his birthday.
Sarah Wallace, Eyewitness News: "It was clearly a cult,
Washington: "Clearly a cult. When you're in it, you
don't see it, you don't see that you're a cult, because you
really, really believe you're doing something for your people.
It's like, 'No, we're not a cult. We're helping black people. Like
he'll say something like, 'your average cult, tell us how many
black cults do you know?' And it's like, 'OK we're not a cult
because we're black.' Every cult the government has busted has
been a white cult."
York promised empowerment, instead he enslaved and abused.
Female followers living on the 400-acre, heavily guarded compound
were kept separate from the men. Usually, York victimized little
girls, but sometimes boys as well.
Washington: "He raised us. He had a garden. It was like
a garden, and he was the gardener and he picked us like flocks.
Wallace: "To do what ever he wanted?"
Washington: "To do whatever he wanted. It started off
with girls my age, 13, there was like a group of us that it
started off with and then it was the younger age and then it
became younger. And when he got comfortable with the fact that he
was doing it, like I said, no limits. And because everybody had
been so afraid of opening their mouths for years, so afraid, he
also realized that nobody was going to speak against me, because
he's made comments. Comments like, 'If you ever open your mouth,
I'll have you killed.'"
Habiba finally left the compound a year and a half ago,
returning to New York. Only then, from the outside, could she
truly see the truth within.
Washington: "You watch the news, you hear about people
who rape people. You hear about child molesters and it's like,
'OK, but this is how I lived my life.'"
The turning point: A reunion with several ex-followers. Habiba
and other victims agreed to tell their story to federal and state
On January 24th, Dwight York avoided a trial by pleading guilty
in a Georgia courtroom to 77 sex charges. He'll spend at least 13
years in a federal prison. Habiba would have been one of the
witnesses. Now, she's rebuilding her life, plans to go to law
school and become an advocate for children.
Washington: "That community took the most important part
of our lives away from us."
Wallace: "Which is?"
Washington: "Which is our childhood, when we were the
We spoke with a number of women and teenage girls who had been
scheduled to testify against York. Many of them are disappointed
that he pleaded guilty and avoided a trial. The victims wanted to
face York in court and tell him to his face he can't hurt them any