Cult leader duped politicians
Book on "Malachi" York and his crimes against children details
what prosecutor calls his "most significant" case
Daily Report online/July 27, 2007
By R. Robin McDonald
Dwight "Malachi" York was a false prophet, a psychotic thug, a
con man extraordinaire and a sexual predator who headquartered his
religious cult in rural Georgia, then used his position as a
religious leader to deflect scrutiny from his criminal activities,
a newly published book asserts.
York's brazen willingness to attack his skeptics as racist,
while portraying himself as a victim of racial and religious
persecution, enabled him to con politicians, law enforcement
authorities, civil rights organizations, academics and
journalists, according to Bill Osinski, the author of "Ungodly: A
True Story of Unprecedented Evil." "Among the dupes," Osinski
writes, "were a mayor of New York and a governor of Georgia."
"Ungodly" is the story of York's rise and fall and the sordid
secret behind York's professed dreams to build a black Utopia in
Putnam County, Georgia and take global a new religion with him as
its self-styled savior. Inside Tama-Re, the faux Egyptian compound
he had built on a 440-acre farm in Putnam County, York turned his
female followers into concubines and their children into sex
Today, the man who set himself up as The Master Teacher of the
United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors and the Pharaoh of Tama-Re is in
federal prison, serving a 135-year term for racketeering and
transporting minors in interstate commerce for unlawful sexual
York's appeals have failed but his followers still maintain his
innocence on a Web site, www.hesinnocent.com.
F. Maxwell Wood, U.S. attorney for Georgia's middle district,
called his office's prosecution of York "without a doubt the most
significant and powerful case I ever prosecuted."
In an interview with the Daily Report, Wood said that York's
cult and the criminal activities that it engendered "was an
incredible instance of an individual manipulating large numbers of
people. … The evidence was overwhelming."
Wood said Howard Sills, the Putnam County sheriff who initiated
the investigation of York and the Nuwaubians, "is one of the best
sheriffs in this state. I think he showed a great deal of patience
with that situation."
Osinski's book explains why Sills needed patience and
perserverance. For more than three decades—first in New York City
and, eventually, in Georgia—York flaunted authorities, declared
Tama-Re and the Nuwaubian sect to be a sovereign nation not
subject to federal, state or local laws. When challenged, York
engaged in vicious "smear campaigns" against his detractors,
But York's adeptness at recruiting high-profile political
allies and the utter control he exercised over his acolytes masked
what Osinski bluntly calls the underlying evil at the heart of
York's growing empire whose followers worshipped him as both a
savior and an alien god.
For nearly a decade, Osinski—a former staff writer with The
Atlanta Journal-Constitution—pursued the story of York. In his
preface, Osinski writes that the York case illuminates the
political and social conditions "that allowed a monster to operate
with virtual impunity for more than three decades."
In chronicling that story, Osinski interviewed dozens of former
Nuwaubians, including York's own son, Malik, and many of York's
victims. "That means delving into the ugly depths of what happened
to the children," Osinski writes.
"There is simply no way to soften the harsh reality that Dwight
York repeatedly raped dozens of children, some of them on a daily
basis, and some of those assaults continued over a period of
years," he writes.
"Some of the girls who were adolescents when he started to
molest them grew up to be women who bore him children; and, in a
few cases, they groomed younger children to be receptive to be his
next generation of victims. In some cases, the adult concubines
participated in the sex crimes."
It was one of those victims who first told her story to
Osinski, who later became a witness in the child molestation
investigation of York by Sills and the FBI.
Because some of York's victims remain traumatized, afraid, or
ashamed, Osinski has made a commitment to donate half of any
royalties he receives from the sale of "Ungodly" to a fund to aid
the victims—who he calls "the lambs who brought down the wolf."
At a recent lecture at the Margaret Mitchell House, Osinski
said that reporting on York and the Nuwaubians "was a difficult
story from day one."
Editors at the AJC and other papers around the state "were
never enthused about the story," Osinski said, while local
authorities—Sills, foremost among them—came under political attack
whenever they raised questions about the man they privately
referred to as "the black David Koresh."
Osinski writes that for years state and federal agents feared
that York was spoiling for a violent confrontation with
authorities much like the 1993 stand-off in Waco, Texas, that
eventually destroyed the Branch Davidians, a remarkably similar,
but far smaller, cult headed by Koresh.
Sills, who joined Osinski at the lecture, said he started
investigating York in September 1998 after receiving reports from
local medical professionals that a large number of York's female
followers were pregnant—and that some of them were terribly young.
By then, Sills said he was aware of a secret FBI report
documenting York's activities in New York that linked him or his
followers to illegal gun purchases, suspected firebombings,
assaults, bank robberies, extortion and an unsolved murder.
In response to the investigations, the Nuwaubians asserted
continually that, as citizens of a separate sovereign nation, they
were outside the law. This defiance provoked angry confrontations
with county officials over liquor licenses, building permits, fire
safety standards and zoning. Nuwaubians, encouraged by York,
threatened county inspectors even as they barred them from the
expanding, motley collection of plastic stucco temples and
pyramids they had built, Sills said.
Sills said the local battles over county ordinances were among
York's attempts to provoke an armed confrontation with law
enforcement authorities and so gain sympathy for the cult, Sills
said. "York wanted to offer up some of his people in an armed
conflict with us," he asserted.
But the sheriff said that when he approached the GBI, the FBI
and, eventually, then-Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes for help, he found
little in the way of support. As the investigation grew, Sills
said "The hardest thing I had to deal with were the politicians
who didn't want to believe what was going on in this case. …
Political correctness and playing the race card, you don't know
how powerful that is."
Said Osinski: "What happened here in Georgia was the
continuation of a pattern well-established in New York that
authorities left this guy alone. It happened here. It happened up
there. By acting so as not to be perceived as racist or intolerant
of religion, they enabled this guy to enjoy a long life of crime."
State Rep. Tyrone Brooks, D-Atlanta, a longtime civil rights
activist, was one of York's supporters.
Brooks said this week that he was first invited to York's
compound by Joe Beasley, Southeast Region director of Jesse
Jackson's Rainbow/PUSH Coalition. Beasley told Brooks he had
received reports that Sills was subjecting the Nuwaubians to
profiling "based on appearances, based on their looks," Brooks
recalled in an interview with the Daily Report.
Brooks said that when he, Beasley and other leaders of
Georgia's civil rights community met with Sills, he urged the
sheriff and his deputies "to be very careful about their conduct"
with regard to the Nuwaubians. Brooks said he also took issue with
Sills' involvement as an enforcer of county zoning violations at
"We were concerned that the Nuwaubians were being mistreated
and harassed because of the way they looked," Brooks explained.
"They were being perceived as a religious cult."
Brooks said he always objected to the "cult" designation, one
that—according to "Ungodly"—York himself had embraced. Brooks, a
Baptist, said that he was always taught, "You've got to have
tolerance of other religions that you may not even understand"—a
principle that was strengthened by his work with Dr. Martin Luther
Over the course of four years, Brooks visited York's compound
several times—often with members of the Georgia Association of
Black Elected Officials, and once with Jesse Jackson. Brooks said
he always experienced "good fellowship, good food, a very
wonderful experience," at Tama-Re. "We didn't see any alcohol. We
didn't see any tobacco products. We didn't hear any profanity. …
There was never anything to indicate there was anything wrong. No
one said anything about children being mistreated. Nothing ever
Brooks said that Sills intimated, during one of their meetings,
that there was "another angle to the investigation" of the
Nuwaubians that the sheriff declined to share with Brooks. But he
never confided that he suspected York was molesting children, the
Brooks said that, while he had heard rumors that York might be
stockpiling guns—a charge that York denied—if he had been told of
allegations that York was molesting children, he would have
confronted York. "There's no way I would ever condone harming
children," he said.
"I have a pretty good knack for knowing when people are telling
me the truth. … There's always two sides to a story, then the
truth is in the middle. Just because someone makes an allegation
doesn't make it valid. I don't necessarily take the word of one
person … whether its law enforcement or a civil rights leader. I
want to get the facts," Brooks said.
Former Gov. Barnes declined an interview with the Daily Report
about Osinski's book, referring all questions to his former top
aide, Bobby Kahn.
In an interview this week, Kahn said that Barnes had been in
office less than three months when he first learned of trouble
brewing between the Putnam County sheriff and the Nuwaubians.
Kahn confirmed that the Georgia governor was "taking his cues"
about York and the Nuwaubians from Brooks, and from the GBI, which
"was concerned we would have another Waco."
Kahn also said that the Putnam County sheriff didn't apprise
Barnes of the child molestation allegations and that the governor
was made aware only that a potentially violent confrontation was
brewing over local code enforcement.
"Our approach to this wasn't who's right and who's wrong, and
whose fault it is," Kahn said. "Our concern was how do we avoid a
"Osinski has determined that Sills was a hero," said Kahn.
"Anything that gets in the way of that, he basically ignores. … If
he [Sills] were a hero, he would have told us and would have told
the GBI he suspected there was child molestation going on."
But Sills did try, unsuccessfully, to talk to Barnes directly
about the Nuwaubians, according to Osinski.
"He wanted to go to Barnes personally and directly. He didn't
want to go through the GBI," the journalist said in an interview.
But Sills feared that the GBI "might have been compromised" and
might leak information about the investigation to York, Osinski
explained, because the sheriff was aware that GBI agents had gone
to Tama-Re to go fishing. "He simply did not want the GBI to know
what the real investigation was."