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At its peak in the late 1980s, the Nation Of Yahweh had thousands of followers and owned millions in real estate. Mixing messages of black power with fringe ideologies, adherents pledged their devotion to founder Yahweh ben Yahweh, who they believed to be divine. His reputation for social outreach resulted in Miami Mayor Xavier Suarez declaring October 7, 1990, "Yahweh Ben Yahweh Day." A month later, he would be arrested on a litany of charges, including racketeering, extortion, arson and murder.
Yahweh ben Yahweh was born Hulon Mitchell Jr. in Kingfisher, Oklahoma in 1935, the oldest of 15 children, according to the Chicago Tribune. His father was a Pentecostal minister and his sister is Grammy-winning opera singer Leona Mitchell. Throughout his life, Yahweh adopted several religious practices, and he claimed he knew he was divine by the age of 3. He studied psychology in college and later earned a master's degree in economics at Atlanta University. Yahweh then made his way to Chicago, where he became involved with the Nation of Islam.
In the late 1970s, Yahweh arrived in Miami, Florida, rebranding himself as Yahweh ben Yahweh, "God, the son of God,” according to the . Along with anti-white screeds, heavily influenced by the most extreme of Nation of Islam beliefs, he borrowed ideas from the Black Hebrew Israelites, who believe that black people are the true descendants of the ancient Hebrews of the Bible. Impressively dressed in a jeweled turban and flowing white robes, he began attracting followers through his sermons. He dubbed his religious sect the Nation of Yahweh, and at their height, he claimed they numbered around 20,000 in 45 cities, according to the .
In his teachings, Yahweh told his followers to wear white, claiming, “He that overcometh the white man, the same shall be clothed in white raiment,” according to the . “We are white people's property as long as we keep their name,” was another lesson, leading many followers to assume Biblical names, often adopting the surname “Israel.”
Many members of the Nation of Yahweh lived communally in a mixed-use complex known as the “Temple of Love,” located in Miami’s historically black enclave of Liberty City. Followers were expected to generate money by selling goods, which included Yahweh-branded drinks and beauty products. With these proceeds and donations from members, the group invested in real estate holdings, including apartment buildings, hotels and supermarkets, which were valued at $9 million in 1990, according to the
Though the Nation of Yahweh presented itself as a religious organization dedicated to improving black lives by teaching self-reliance and practicing urban renewal, darker things were going on behind the closed doors of the Temple of Love. Those who questioned Yahweh’s teachings or practices within the group were subject to discipline, beatings and in some cases murder. In 1981, former Nation of Yahweh member Aston Green was beheaded after leaving the group, according to the . When his roommates and fellow defectors Carlton Carey and Mildred Banks went to report the incident to police, they were attacked. Carey was fatally shot, and Banks was shot and struck with a machete. She survived the attack.
In the fall of 1986, a large contingent from the Nation of Yahweh showed up at a rundown apartment building the group had bought in Opa-locka, Florida. Tenants claimed the Yahwehs, armed with wooden staffs, began to forcibly evict the them. Residents Anthony Brown and Rudolph Broussard publicly resisted, and that evening, they were shot to death outside the apartment building, according to the South Florida . Police arrested former University of California at Berkeley football player and Yahweh follower Robert Rozier, who went by the name Neariah Israel, and charged him with the murders, according to .
Rozier would eventually make a deal with prosecutors, accepting a 22-year prison sentence for four murders in exchange for becoming their “star witness,” according to the instructed his cult members “to kill me a white devil and bring me an ear.” . Rozier claimed within the Nation of Yahweh was a secret group known as the “Brotherhood,” whom Yahweh referred to as his “Death Angels,” according to . They were the group’s enforcers and were also encouraged to kill random white people in acts of racial retribution. They would then cut off their victims’ ears and then present to Yahweh, who
In early November 1990, the FBI arrested Yahweh and numerous other members of the Nation of Yahweh, charging them with 18 specific instances of racketeering, including extortion, arson and 14 separate murders, according to . Also arrested was Yahweh’s companion Linda Gaines, who went by the name Judith Israel, and served as treasurer of the Temple of Love, according to the .
Following a five-month trial, Yahweh and six other members of the Nation of Yahweh were found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder, reported the . He was sentenced to 18 years in prison and fined $20,000. Yahweh was paroled in September 2001. The terms of his parole forbade him from being in contact with any past or present members of the Nation of Yahweh, his attorney Jayne Weintraub told , though this was rescinded after he was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2006. He died on May 7, 2007, at his home in Opa-locka, Florida.
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