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 slaves.

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 activity.

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, Osinski writes.

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 York's compound.

"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 King Jr.

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 came up."

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 legislator said.

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 blow-up?"

"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."















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