Guilty of sex charges in Ga.
January 26, 2003
By Tina Susman
Eatonton, Ga. -- Strangers are sure to stand out in a small town like this, especially strangers who come from Brooklyn, dress like cowboys, claim allegiance to a leader from a distant planet and build 40-foot-high pyramids on their land.
The locals could handle that. What worried them is when the newcomers' hermetic leader, Dwight York, declared his 476-acre spread a sovereign state, posted armed guards, and began publishing angry fliers alleging a racist conspiracy after local officials cited him for zoning and building violations.
Then, the letters arrived: typed, single-spaced appeals for help sent to local law enforcement authorities from people living inside Tama-Re, as York called his ornate pyramid-, sphinx- and obelisk-studded property on Shady Dale Road.
"It said, 'We're begging for help. York is molesting children,' and it named names of children," said Francis Ford, an Eatonton attorney who had represented the county in its zoning disputes with York and his group, the United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors. "I wasn't expecting that, but I believed it. The Nuwaubians are evil."
The letters helped crack what prosecutors say is Georgia's biggest child abuse case ever, which led to 197 state and four federal charges.
York pleaded guilty Thursday to two federal charges, one involving transport of minors from upstate Sullivan County, N.Y., to Georgia for sex. Friday, he pleaded guilty to 77 of the state charges, which will put him in prison for the rest of his life
To Sheriff Howard Sills, Ford and other locals, the case justifies the wariness they felt toward York and his disciples since their arrival in 1993.
To Nuwaubian supporters, who over the years included Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, NAACP officials and Georgia politicians, the case was evidence of racial harassment Southern style, in which a white, small-town sheriff targeted a black man who challenged him.
"If this group had white skin and was building pyramids, they would be ignored," said Rep. Tyrone Brooks (D-Atlanta), before learning of the guilty plea. Brooks said later that he was surprised to hear of York's plea but hoped the group would stay together.
Prosecutors denied being driven by racism, noting that York's alleged victims were black, and that most of the testimony came from blacks, including many who said they were abused in New York when York was based there.
It's difficult to get the Nuwaubians' point of view because they shun the media. The group has stuck by York and denied claims by the FBI and the Southern Poverty Law Center that it is an anti-white hate group, despite York's description of whites as "demons."
One Nuwaubian, Anthony Evans, said negative publicity had taken its toll. Part of the Nuwaubians' spread is for sale, and more may be added, said Evans. "It's like you can see the writing on the wall from Putnam County saying, 'Get out, Get out.'"
The property, a former game farm, resembles an abandoned King Tut theme park erected alongside a two-lane rural highway. "Welcome to the Holyland," reads a giant sign facing the road, where skid marks indicate the shock of drivers faced with a field of Egyptian artifacts rising out of the countryside.
In the past, York's June 6 "Savior's Day" celebrations there would draw thousands of followers to celebrate their Nuwaubian beliefs, which are difficult to define. Nuwaubians say that their group embraces all races and religions, and that their "Master Teacher" is York, an alien from the planet Rizq in the galaxy of Illwuyn. York has promised them that a spaceship will arrive this year and carry a lucky 144,000 to a better place.
Why York, who now goes by Dr. Malachi Z. York, left New York for Eatonton in 1993 is open to debate. His critics say he chose Eatonton, a predominantly black town of 6,500, because he saw it as an ideal place to find supporters and an area too rural to deal with building and other violations.
Literature produced by the Nuwaubians says Eatonton was chosen because of American Indian rock formations in the area. York, 56, claims to be descended from the Yamassee tribe of Georgia.
What's clear is that the move south followed a checkered history in New York, where York served prison time for resisting arrest, assault and possession of a dangerous weapon and later started an Islamic sect in Brooklyn. An FBI report accuses the group of running a virtual crime syndicate in Bushwick during the late 1970s.
It was only in 1997, after a television station visited Tama-Re and mentioned that the facilities included a nightclub, that Eatonton officials confronted York. By this time, the Nuwaubians had traded their cowboy clothes for long robes and fezzes, and Tama-Re's residents were believed to number in the hundreds. The county cited York for running illegal commercial enterprises and for other building violations.
York cried racism and accused local officials such as Sills and Ford of everything from murder to wife-beating and cat-kicking. Hundreds of York followers would hand out fliers claiming a conspiracy. Locals became alarmed as the dispute grew uglier.
Until then, Sills said the Nuwaubians, who adopted that name after leaving New York, were considered strange but relatively harmless. "It was unusual to see a group of black people dressed in cowboy hats, boots and belts with big shiny belt buckles," said Sills. "I can't tell you I didn't notice it, because I did, but I didn't do anything about it."
The letters alleging child molestation transformed what had been a zoning dispute into a criminal investigation. York was arrested last May.
A raid of Tama-Re confirmed accusers' claims that York's followers lived in squalor. Mark Robinson, an investigator who took part, described "filth, raw sewage everywhere, and people just stacked on top of each other."
York's accusers said men and women were housed in separate, barracks-like buildings while York lived in luxury in a large house with a swimming pool.
York, meanwhile, says his clashes with Georgia officials have revived his belief that whites are demons. "I found out that trying to be a nice guy and work with white folks just don't work," a Nuwaubian newsletter quoted York as saying before his arrest.
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