Yahweh Ben Yahweh, who had a following of thousands as the leader of a violent black supremacist sect in Miami and who later spent years in prison for conspiracy to commit murder, died May 7 of prostate cancer at his home in Opa-Locka, Fla. He was 71.
Mr. Yahweh, a charismatic speaker known for his flowing white robes and jeweled turbans, explored various religious fringe groups before forming his sect in Miami in 1979. He controlled a multimillion-dollar business empire that included schools, grocery stores and real estate and once claimed to have 20,000 followers in 45 cities.
Calling himself the “Original Jew,” Mr. Yahweh adopted a name that means “God, the son of God” in Hebrew. He said he and his disciples were the true descendants of a long-lost tribe of Israel.
From the beginning, however, Mr. Yahweh’s group was associated with an intimidating style that often crossed into violence and murder. He railed against “white devils” and proclaimed himself the messiah: “All who receive me shall be saved from immorality and death.”
Still, he managed to cultivate an image as a well-meaning, if eccentric, community builder. Mr. Yahweh helped clean up blighted neighborhoods and, at least among his followers, restored a sense of order to a crumbling social structure. Children studied Hebrew and recited the names of chemical elements and countries.
He spoke to crowds of thousands around the country and received the blessings of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. In 1987, the Miami Urban League gave Mr. Yahweh its highest humanitarian award, and its president pronounced him “an inspiration to the entire community.”
Never lacking in confidence or self-esteem, Mr. Yahweh once addressed a group of Miami business leaders: “Egypt has her pyramids. India has her Taj Mahal. France has her Eiffel Tower. Miami has the son of Yahweh. The world’s greatest attraction is in your midst. I’m here.”
In October 1990, Miami Mayor Xavier L. Suarez declared a Yahweh Ben Yahweh Day. A month later, Mr. Yahweh was indicted on federal racketeering and conspiracy charges. He was linked to 14 killings, two attempted slayings and the terrorist-style bombing of an entire block in Delray Beach, Fla., where residents had roughed up some of his white-robed supporters.
When Mr. Yahweh went to trial in 1992, he was defended by former federal judge and current U.S. Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-Fla.). During the trial, lurid details of life in the sect emerged.
Among other things, Mr. Yahweh controlled the clothing, food and sex lives of the people in his group. Twice married and divorced earlier in life, he took many of his young female followers to his bed.
“We may be rabbis and nuns here,” he told the New York Times with a wide smile, “but we don’t believe in celibacy.”
Mr. Yahweh was surrounded by a group of bodyguards called the Circle of 10, each armed with a six-foot wooden staff. Members of an inner circle called the Brotherhood were, according to the federal indictment, required to kill a white person and deliver a severed head or ear to Mr. Yahweh as proof.
Onetime professional football player Robert Rozier, a close associate who confessed to killing seven people, testified for the prosecution. Mr. Yahweh was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder and acquitted of racketeering charges.
He was sentenced to 18 years in federal prison and was released on parole in 2001 after serving nine. By court order, he could have no communication with any of his onetime disciples.
Mr. Yahweh, whose given name was Hulon Mitchell Jr., was born in Kingfisher, Okla., the oldest of 13 children. A sister, Leona Mitchell, went on to become a renowned soprano with New York’s Metropolitan Opera. In interviews, she has not discussed her brother.
Mr. Yahweh graduated from Phillips University in Enid, Okla., served in the Air Force and studied law at the University of Oklahoma. He later moved to Chicago, where as Hulon Shah, he became involved with the Nation of Islam.
He later reportedly received a master’s degree in economics from Atlanta University and began preaching as “Father Michel.” Moving to Orlando, he styled himself as “Brother Love” before settling in Miami and adopting his new life.
In 1987, Mr. Yahweh’s father, a Pentecostal preacher, spoke to a reporter from the St. Petersburg Times in Florida.
“I was there when he was born, holding his mama’s hand,” he said. “You can’t get closer than that, and he is not the son of God.”
Mr. Yahweh had four children and at least six grandchildren. After his release from prison, he lived alone, working as a landscaper.