Nuwaubian leader Dwight “Malachi” York continues to inspire followers in Athens and throughout the country, five years after a federal judge sentenced him to life in prison as a convicted child molester, tax evader and racketeer.
Although their leader is locked up thousands of miles away in Colorado, members of the United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors still gather in his name, and apparently just recently abandoned Athens for a meeting hall outside of Atlanta.
And a sheriff in Central Georgia, where York built a sprawling compound in the 1990s – where authorities say he molested children as young as 8 and ran his illegal enterprise – still regularly takes calls from law officers in other counties and states asking about the sect as members appear in their communities.
York was convicted Jan. 23, 2004, in U.S. District Court in Brunswick on charges of racketeering, child molestation, transporting minors for unlawful sex and tax evasion.
A judge sentenced the 63-year-old sect leader to 135 years in prison.
Local followers have railed against what they see as misconceptions about their leader, but also won’t talk about the state of the Nuwaubian nation.
“I distrust the media,” said Anthony Montgomery, a former Clarke County sheriff”s deputy who owns a barber shop and beauty salon on Macon Highway. “The media has not been fair to us and has not given our side of the story.”
Montgomery was one of four deputies who were fired in November 2006 because they allegedly broke policy by, among other things, distributing unauthorized Nuwaubian literature in the Clarke County Jail and trying to recruit prisoners into their sect. One of the deputies returned to work at the jail after he appealed.
An Athens man with business connections to some of York’s followers said the Nuwaubians he knows are contributing members to society.
“As far as I’m concerned, they are an asset to the community,” said Walter Allen, publisher of Zebra magazine, a monthly publication that promotes black-owned business and covers the society and entertainment news of the black community in Athens. The publication counts Nuwaubian-owned businesses as advertisers.
“They are a hard-working, productive group of people, and I imagine there are more per capita (Nuwaubian) business owners than any other group of people, even though they don’t necessarily all have a storefront,” Allen said.
He views the Nuwaubian nation as both a religion and a black-empowerment group.
Allen also published the Metro Free Press, which in February 2007 gave the fired deputies a front-page forum to blast sheriff’s officials and the media.
Bobby Dixon, the deputy who got back his job at the jail, denied that the Nuwaubians are racist.
“We support the information in books penned by Malachi York as fact,” Dixon wrote in the newspaper. “Especially, the following statement, ‘If you can prove it false, then do so, and if not we are as free as the next man to believe what we see fit.’ ”
That idea is known as “Right knowledge,” the cornerstone of York’s teachings.
Montgomery is one of many Nuwaubians across Georgia who heeded York’s call for followers to join law enforcement.
“I am one of the ones that answered the call when you suggested that brothers join law enforcement agencies,” Montgomery wrote to York, in a letter intercepted by U.S. Bureau of Prison officials that sparked the internal probe at the jail. “I have been with the Clarke County Sheriff’s Office since April of 2001. Baba, the brothers are with you. We are organizing the Supreme Grand Lodge for your return to give us proper instruction.”
Nuwaubians have lobbied for York’s release from prison, raising money for legal expenses and even creating a Web site, www.heisinnocent.com.
The former lodge now is empty, along with a more visible vestige of the Nuwaubian presence in Athens – a 6,360-square-foot, faux-Moorish building with Egyptian-themed paintings at the corner of West Broad and South Church streets.
Even before York was convicted, the Southern Poverty Law Center added the Nuwaubian nation to its list of hate groups because York preached black supremacy and hatred, according to Mark Potok, director of the SPLC’s Intelligence Project.
Though the number of people who profess Nuwaubian beliefs has dwindled during the past five years, the group remains on the list.
“In the case of the Nuwaubians, they still clearly venerate York, whose ideology was black supremacist, that whites should be killed and they are the devils, and so on,” Potok said.
“The Nuwaubians are a much smaller group now because a lot of people have left because of York’s conviction and his treatment of the children,” he said. “Those who have not left have not abandoned (York’s) racist ideology.”
Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills, who began the investigation into reported child abuse at the group’s Tama-Re compound near Eatonton in 2002, wonders if the Nuwaubian nation even is a viable entity anymore.
“Does it still exist as an organization? I really can’t say,” Sills said on Friday. “But I still receive calls from law enforcement agencies every couple of months wanting to know about the Nuwaubians.”
Though he disagreed with their ideology, Sills saw most Nuwaubians as law-abiding citizens who didn’t know they were selling books, making crafts and laboring for a man at the top of an illegal organization.