The Macon Telegraph,
August 8, 1999
By Hilary Hilliard and Rob Peecher
Throughout the legal disputes, the Nuwaubians have lobbed accusations of racism and religious persecution, leaving county officials angry and defensive.
"It's a group of black separatists who believe white people are genetically inferior mutants," said Dorothy Adams, an attorney for Putnam County. "They try to make us look like a bunch of big-bellied rednecks."
McDade called those claims ridiculous, saying that although the group is predominantly black, it includes members who are white, Asian and of other descent.
"We don't see this as a black-white issue," McDade said. "It's a matter of religious persecution."
But despite what is said in interviews, commissioner Sandra Adams said the Nuwaubians have repeatedly made race an issue. Adams, who is black, said she has been called a "house nigger" by Nuwaubian protesters.
"They do not want to solve these problems; they want to call attention to themselves," said Sandra Adams, who is not related to the county's attorney. "When the racism card is played, everybody stops what they're doing and converges on little old Putnam County."
National publications from Time magazine to the New York Times have covered the Nuwaubian issue this summer.
And while she believes racism still exists throughout the United States, Sandra Adams said it is not an issue in the Putnam community.
The four voting members of the Putnam commission are evenly split - Poole and Steve Layson are white, Sandra Adams and Jimmy Davis are black. Chairman Ralph Perdomo is white, but votes only to break ties.
"It is not my concern who they pray to or what color they are, just that they are citizens of Putnam County," Perdomo said. "I will bend over backwards to assist any citizen, but I won't break the law."
But the commissioners are aware of just how different the Nuwaubians are from traditional Putnam residents.
"There are going to continue to be ripples all along the way because they are a cult," Poole said.
"I don't care what they say, that's not the norm in a society, and we're a small town."
Chance said it is difficult to continue to believe that county officials are supportive in the face of the legal stalemate they have reached. In the case of the alleged nightclub, which the Nuwaubians call the Ramses Social Club, Chance said the group spent months trying to have the building rezoned, but were never given clear directions from the county.
"They gave us a list of 19 violations of the club," Chance said, "then padlocked it before we could fix them."
Keeping the Peace
Sills sees himself as the man in the middle, charged with keeping things cool.
"I have been willfully obstructed and opposed by armed individuals, and I have simply turned around and left, even with court orders," Sills said. "It is my professional opinion that they are desperately seeking a confrontation."
Sills said he has overridden department policies, forgone arrests and not responded to threats and behavior that would land other citizens in jail, all in the interest of preventing a showdown. He said he has ordered his deputies not to stop Nuwaubian drivers for minor violations such as license plate problems, or for speeding at less than 75 mph.
"There are lots of things I could arrest them for that I have not," Sills said. "I accept responsibility for not doing that, but police discretion is something I have. I don't want an armed confrontation ever."
But Sills is losing patience with the group that, despite his pains, has called him a "demon" and, he said, threatened him. Sills takes the threats so seriously that he no longer lets his children stay in his home overnight.
"I've done it under an onslaught, never seen in this state, of propaganda slandering me, and I've never raised my voice," Sills said.
Sills has however appeared in a New York television news report about the Nuwabians and has compared the group to other well-known cult organizations.
Sills said the group - which he calls "the so-called Nuwaubians" - presents no real threat to members of the public, outside of law enforcement.
Government officials, however, do perceive a potential political threat from the Nuwaubians as their numbers continue to grow in the region.
In a taped speech, York said the group would establish an independent nation with passports, taxes and laws on the Putnam County land. Members already carry those passports, which grant them access to the land.
"I have a problem with them wanting to take over," said commissioner Sandra Adams. "If they're not going to follow the established laws, do I have to follow the laws they put in place? Does that leave me at their mercy or do I have to pack up my little bongos and boogie out of town?"
The Nuwaubians, whose published literature extols American government and demands loyalty to the country, deny any desire to establish a sovereign nation and said York's comments were taken out of context. Chance said York was speaking of creating a theme park similar to Disney parks in Florida or California.
"We did not come as a political threat," Chance said. "We have had the FBI and GBI here. If we were lawbreakers, we would not ask for help from the federal government."
One of their cornerstone publications, "Little Guide Book for Nuwaubians," reprints the entire U.S. Constitution. The same book, which includes rules for Nuwaubians, forbids disorderly conduct and demands total cooperation with police.
Perdomo dismissed concerns of a political threat. Tama-Re is in the same voting district as Lake Sinclair, which Perdomo said is the fastest-growing district in the county and therefore unlikely to feel much political impact from the Nuwaubians.
But they have already made their presence felt in local political groups. Some 125 of the 550 members of the Putman County NAACP are Nuwaubians, giving them a voice in the group.
"If they do take over," Poole said, "a lot of people will move out."
The heart of the problem, according to Poole and Perdomo, is that the Nuwaubians lack the technical expertise to build and win approval for their developments.
Progress has been smoother when the Nuwaubians have enlisted the help of expert contractors and engineers, but commissioners said those experts have not been used on a consistent enough basis to solve the disagreements.
The Nuwaubians are still petitioning for permits that would legitimate the padlocked buildings and clear the way for future building. But McDade is concerned that there may not be an end in sight.
"What is the next reason for saying 'no' to the Nuwaubians?" she asked.
Whenever it does come, Perdomo said there is only one possible outcome.
"It's going to end with them obeying our laws," he said. "That's the only way it can end."