Cult leader goes on trial today

Religious chief accused of molesting young followers, racketeering

EATONTON, Ga. – After months of protests by followers dressed as Egyptian pharaohs, mummies and birds, the leader of a quasi-religious cult is headed to trial today on charges he molested young followers.

Dwight “Malachi” York leads the United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors, a mostly black sect whose neo-Egyptian compound on a Georgia farm includes pyramidlike structures. Hundreds of supporters have turned out for his hearings, sometimes dressed in American Indian garb, beating drums or handing out anti-government literature.

Officials are doing all they can to keep the courtroom from turning into a circus.

“It’s like living in bizarro world,” said Frank Ford, an attorney who has argued with members of the cult in court. “They cannot stand being told no, and they cannot stand being ignored.”

U.S. District Judge Ashley Royal ruled last week that Mr. York’s supporters won’t be allowed to demonstrate outside the courthouse during the trial, which was moved 225 miles from Macon to Brunswick because of pretrial publicity.

Mr. York, also known to his followers as “Chief Black Thunderbird Eagle,” faces 13 federal counts of molestation and racketeering.

The Nuwaubians, founded in New York in the early 1970s, once claimed 5,000 members but now are down to a few hundred.

Mr. York moved the sect to a 476-acre Georgia compound in 1993, and the group has gone through several transformations since. They’ve dressed as cowboys and American Indians, claimed to be Muslim and Jewish, and Mr. York has said he is from the planet “Rizq.”

Prosecutors contend that Mr. York used his status as a religious leader for sex and money, enriching himself, marrying several women and abusing young girls who were part of his sect.

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