MIAMI, FL — On May 18, 1980, riots exploded all over Miami in response to the acquittal of five white police officers in the death of African-American suspect Arthur McDuffie.
For three days, the city burned with fury. Then, from the ashes, an intelligent, charismatic new religious leader arose, declaring he would empower the outraged community with prosperity and peace.
For a while, at least on the surface, the new guru appeared to deliver. What lurked below when it came to Yahweh Ben Yahweh and his so-called Temple of Love, though, proved to be both diabolical and absolutely deadly.
Hulon Mitchell, Jr. — the man who would become Yahweh Ben Yahweh — believed African-Americans required a religion rooted in their own experiences from slavery through the Civil Rights movement to the present.
Mitchell initially changed his name to Ock Moshe (“Brother of Moses” in Hebrew) and preached that Black people were the actual Jews of the Bible. As such, he said, they are God’s chosen people and that, through his Nation of Yahweh faith, he would be their deliverer.
In short order, the Yahweh Nation grew to hundreds of congregants who regarded Ock Moshe as their savior on earth. He told his flock that outsiders would accuse them of brainwashing them and made clear:
“I am brainwashing you; I’m washing your brain of white supremacy.”
In an exclusive chat with CrimeFeed, People Staff Reporter Chris Harris, who covered the case in depth, said:
“He came out of the Civil Rights Movement, and he’s saying, ‘I’ve got this religion just for us.’ You know. I can totally see [how the cult took off]. Who wouldn’t want to join up with him, right?”
The message proved powerful. The Nation of Yahweh not only expanded rapidly, but Ock Moshe appeared to be performing great works by buying up dilapidated and abandoned building in rundown areas, restoring them, and establishing order in locations previously overrun with drugs and crime. Miami officials ate it up.
By 1986, the Nation of Yahweh had spread from Miami and amassed a fortune of $250 million in numerous cities. Politicians and journalists hailed the cult as a force for positivity.
Speaking exclusively to CrimeFeed, People Senior Editor Alicia Dennis observes:
“He does this public-relations job with many of the local politicians, where people are connecting themselves to him because they think that what he’s doing is good.”
Those on the inside, however, knew the truth because they suffered it first-hand — Ock Moshe ruled by rape, torture, and execution. As Dennis notes:
“I’m not sure that he ever meant to do good. I think that a lot of times those moments are a cover, for these people that begin to take over so many people’s lives and start these cults, is that it seems that way, but really what’s going on for them is a lot what we’ve talked about already. It’s about power. It’s often about money. Certainly about control.”
Eventually, Ock Moshe went from likening himself to Moses to proclaiming outright that he alone was God incarnate, announcing to his followers:
“I’d like to introduce myself to you. My name is Yahweh Ben Yahweh. ‘Ben’ means ‘the son of.’ So I am God the Son of God! I am the one the whole Earth has been waiting on! I know the beginning and the origins of all things, because I was here before the Earth was…. Don’t confuse me with anybody. I’m the King of Israel: the black God, the only God! … If you don’t love me, you’re a snake! … You can’t kill God!”
Just as God in the Bible is surrounded by guardian angels, Yahweh Ben Yahweh ordered the strongest, fiercest men in the cult to protect him and do his every bidding, up to and including murder. He anointed this “security” squad “the Death Angels.”
According to former FBI agent Herb Cousins:
“The Death Angels are the ones Yahweh Ben Yahweh sent out to commit most of the crimes. To do what he did and in the way he did it, I personally believe that he was just plain evil.”
Khalil Amani, one of the first converts to the Nation of Yahweh, eventually fled the cult and testified against them before taking his children with him into witness protection.
In 1981, some followers attempted to split from Yahweh, and he ordered them murdered. Amani says, “I thought it was more hyperbole and sermon and preaching.”
Alas, the Death Angels followed their commands all too literally, as Amani witnessed when one so-called heretic returned to talk to Yahweh. Instead of listening to him, 10 Death Angels escorted the man to a back room where, Amani says, they punched, kicked, and pummeled him with hammers.
Amani says he ran off once he saw one of the Death Angels emerge with a machete. The following day, the dissenter was found splayed out in public, his head hacked off his body.
Yahweh upped his attacks against the splinter group, ordering two more hits carried out by the Death Angels using firearms and, again, machetes.
One victim survived, meaning that the Nation of Yahweh had now brazenly committed two murders and one attempted murder. Still, the cult experienced no consequences, which Yahweh reportedly used to his advantage. Commenting on the followers’ mindsets at the time, Amani said:
“The more crime we got away with, the more it became evident that he was God.”
As a result, Amani remained committed to the Nation of Yahweh for a time. That changed after he’d been dispatched to Newark in 1983 to establish a satellite temple and, he says, he saw what life could be like outside the all-encompassing grip of the cult.
Amani’s final awakening occurred after he failed to bring in the minimum $10-a-day Yahweh demanded of his followers. To discipline him, Death Angels led Amani to a concrete chamber known as the Room of Punishment.
Once inside, Amani and others were forced to kneel for hours — a standard torture technique — and savaged bloody with sticks if they toppled over or tried to move.
Upon finally being freed, Amani said he ran away down the street while unwrapping the Yahweh Nation’s required headdress and decided he would escape immediately and then find a way to liberate his son and daughter from his wife, as she remained devoted to Yahweh.
For the next six years, Amani worked with the FBI to expose Yahweh. In the meantime, the cult’s atrocities expanded and intensified — as did Yahweh’s esteem among public officials.
Among the transgressions Amani alleges against Yahweh is that he sexually abused female disciples nonstop and even raped girls as young as 10. Assassinations of anyone who stood up to Yahweh or got in his way continued with apparent impunity as well.
In 1986, the cult purchased an apartment complex and evicted all of its residents without notice. One tenant, Anthony Brown, not only refused to go, he had the gall to grab his refrigerator back from a Nation of Yahweh truck that was trying to haul it away.
That night, Death Angels gunned down Brown and another resident in the street. It would prove to be the beginning of Yahweh’s undoing — but not for quite a while.
Officers investigating the Anthony Brown shooting came across a man hiding in a nearby field. His name was Robert Rozier and he wore the white robe uniform of a Death Angel.
Upon learning that Rozier had been arrested, Yahweh Ben Yahweh declared him a traitor to the faith and made a big public show of excommunicating the assassin.
Robert Rozier did not react to Yahweh’s betrayal quietly. Instead, he told the cops he was ready to talk and he had a lot to say, beginning with his claim that, as a Death Angel, he’d committed seven murders — “six for Yahweh Ben Yahweh, one for himself.”
Regardless of Rozier’s whistle blowing, Yahweh’s status and esteem among the Miami establishment just kept on skyrocketing.
In fact, Mayor Xavier Suarez declared October 7, 1990 to be “Yahweh Ben Yahweh Day” in Miami and, in a flashy ceremony, presented the larcenous cult leader with a key to the city.
Exactly one month later, on November 7, FBI operatives swarmed Yahweh at a hotel in New Orleans. Agent Herb Cousins talked Yahweh into giving himself up. From there, Yahweh and 15 of his disciples were arrested on an array of charges that included counts of murder, extortion, and firebombing attacks dating back to the early 1980s.
In 1992, a jury found Yahweh Been Yahweh guilty of conspiracy to commit murder. He got 18 years and walked free after 11. In 2007, Yahweh died from prostate cancer.
People’s Chris Harris has compared Yahweh to another notorious cult murder mastermind, Charles Manson, stating:
“It was that same kind of thing, where they controlled the minds and the actions of their followers to commit these heinous crimes that they themselves didn’t commit.”
CrimeFeed’s Christine Colby has noted that Yahweh reminds her of another criminal icon, serial killer John Wayne Gacy. She points out:
“[Look at] Yahweh’s public works, and the PR, and getting the key to the city, and posing with politicians. It’s incredible that was just a month before some of his crimes came to light.”
Alicia Dennis notes that the Yahweh story, especially in light of Khalil Amani’s running off in horror, reflects a too-familiar cult dynamic, saying:
“It’s kind of that idea that [that] you need to trust your own intuition, and trust that your own questions are valid. In the situations of each of these people that we interview [they tend to have] moments they look back on, and they say, ‘You know, that didn’t seem right to me at the time’ or ‘You know, that felt off to me at the time, but everyone else was doing it.’ … Unfortunately, what happens once they’re inside, it’s hard to even listen to those voices that you have anymore, because your sense of self is gone.”
For more on this cult, watch the “Yahweh Nation” episode of Investigation Discovery’s People Magazine Investigates: Cults on ID GO now!
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Main photo: Yahweh Ben Yahweh/YouTube video [screenshot]