BRUNSWICK, Ga. (AP)–The leader of a quasi-religious cult accused of molesting young followers was a vicious manipulator who coerced children into having sex with him and rewarded them with jewelry and candy, a prosecutor said Tuesday. But the defense said the government was oppressing a peaceful group.
In opening statements, prosecutor Stephanie Thacker said the children, ages 5 to 15, were under the complete control of Dwight “Malachi” York, of the United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors. She claimed York set himself up as a messiah figure who demanded the loyalty of his followers.
“They were taught that he was the supreme authority … he was a god,” she said. “The man who they thought was a father, a god, violated them sexually when they were very young.”
York, 58, is the head of the mostly black sect whose compound on a Georgia farm includes pyramid-like structures. He faces 13 federal counts of child molestation and racketeering.
Thacker said York rewarded the children who had sex with him with gold bracelets, diamonds, candy and trips to restaurants outside his neo-Egyptian compound.
York’s attorney, Adrian Patrick, said the case was about government oppression. He compared York’s prosecution to Germany’s oppression of the Jews and the British rule of colonial America.
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“The government is going to attempt to make you believe the defendant is guilty because he’s different,” Patrick said. “This is a sexy case. It’s about sex and money. We are depending on you to see beyond the fantasy and the sensationalism of this case.”
Patrick also said that if the abuse had occurred, more than the dozen or so alleged victims would have gone to the authorities, especially when the Nuwaubian compound was home to hundreds.
He said there is no physical evidence of abuse.
“If all of this sex was going on with all these alleged victims, there should be physical evidence to support that,” Patrick said.
The trial was moved 225 miles from Macon to Brunswick because of pretrial publicity, including months of protests by followers dressed as Egyptian pharaohs, mummies and birds.
York has unsuccessfully argued he has American Indian heritage and should not be judged by the U.S. court system.
The trial is expected to last three weeks.