BRUNSWICK, Ga. – Longtime members of Malachi York‘s quasi-religious cult defended their leader in court Thursday, describing York as a father figure and those who accuse him of child molestation as liars.
“I severely, wholeheartedly feel this is a conspiracy” between York’s accusers, said Evelyn Rivera, a member of the United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors since 1977. “They’re all liars. I knew them as children. They all lie.”
Rivera was one of nine Nuwaubian members to testify on the opening day of York’s defense in U.S. District Court, where he is being tried on 13 counts of child molestation and racketeering.
Most said they joined York, 58, in New York between 1973 and 1980, when the cult was known as the Ansaru Allah Community. All of them denied any knowledge of York molesting children, but most did not live at the Nuwaubians’ Georgia compound when much of the alleged sex occurred.
Samiyra Samad, a registered nurse, joined the cult in 1977 and was responsible for giving children medical examinations and checkups at the rural compound in Eatonton from 2000 to 2002. She said she never knew of York molesting any of them.
“I am a mother. I would not lie for something like that,” Samad said. “And I would not lie for him (York).”
Jurors heard from 14 of York’s alleged victims, boys and girls, who said York would have sex with them as children and reward them with candy and other gifts. A 16-year-old girl testified York began sodomizing her at age 6.
Defense attorney Adrian Patrick asked each member Thursday about living at the compound, trying to debunk prosecutors’ argument that York manipulated his followers into treating him like a god while he kept them in squalor.
Many of the Nuwaubians snickered when Patrick asked if they considered York “to be God or Jesus.” They also denied being brainwashed by York.
“He’s like a father to all of us,” said Raymond Valentine, a Nuwaubian member since 1976.
All said York allowed them to come and go of their own free will and that they had plenty to eat. Some of the alleged victims had said the Nuwaubians had little food.
“You may not have had what you wanted to eat, but there was always plenty of food – rice, potatoes, fish, chicken, spaghetti,” Samad said.
Men said they worked on the compound as carpenters, mechanics and security guards while many women worked at publishing York’s religious and philosophical writings. Each said they received no money but were compensated with food and housing.
“I saw there was a lot of peace in a place where there was no peace around,” George Drayton, 60, said of his decision to join the cult in New York in 1973. He still lives at the Nuwaubian compound with his wife and 16-year-old son.
Rhea Harris, a member since 1973, had daughters who were friends with two of York’s accusers, women who have testified they were molested by York and later groomed girls to have sex with him.
Harris said both the accusers were known for “untruthfulness.”
But Harris said she lives in Florida and has never lived at the Georgia compound.
“He (York) could have molested all the children in Eatonton and you wouldn’t know it because you never lived in Eatonton, correct?” assistant prosecutor Richard Moultry asked Harris.
“Correct,” Harris said.
The father of one of York’s accusers, a woman who gave birth to one of York’s children at age 17, was also asked whether his daughter could be trusted.
“There are times when she says things that are trustworthy, and other times when it’s not the same,” the woman’s father said. “That’s human nature.”
The trial was moved 225 miles from Macon to Brunswick because of pretrial publicity.
Over the years, York has incorporated Islam, Judaism, Christianity and space aliens into his teachings. He has unsuccessfully argued he has American Indian heritage and should not be judged by the U.S. court system.