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York, Dwight D.

Dwight D. York

1945—

Religious leader

Dwight D. York is the founder of a religious group known as the United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors. Characterized alternately as an African-American utopian community and as a black supremacist cult with unorthodox sexual practices, the Nuwaubians occupied a compound in rural Georgia until 2004, when York was convicted of multiple child molestation charges stemming from his activities with the group. His case was the largest child molestation prosecution of a single defendant in U.S. history. York was sentenced to 135 years in prison and is housed in the U.S. federal prison system's Supermax facility in Florence, Colorado, along with such high-profile offenders as Theodore Kaczynski, who was convicted of the infamous Unabomber attacks, and Zacarias Moussaoui, the only co-conspirator arrested in the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Founded Religious Group

York was born in 1945 and has been known by several different names, including Malachi Z. York, Amunnubi Rooakhptah, Imaam Isa Abdullah, and Chief Black Thunderbird Eagle. His birthplace was Boston, Massachusetts, not Omdurman, Sudan, as he has sometimes claimed. Over the years York concocted elaborate and sometimes contradictory genealogies linking him to various historical and religious figures. He asserted, for example, that his father was descended from the slave known only as York who accompanied Meriwether Lewis and William Clark on their historic 1804-06 overland expedition to the Pacific Ocean. In other instances he connected his ancestry to Yusuf Ben Ali, also known as Bilali Muhammad, a slave from Sapelo Island, Georgia, who wrote a significant manuscript on sharia, or Islamic law, in West African societies that was discovered after his death in 1857. Later, York borrowed a spelling variant of the Yamasee, a Native American tribe that led an aggressive war against European encroachment in South Carolina between 1715 and 1717. In a blending of the last two claims, he developed a theory that his followers were descended from what they called Native American Moors, or travelers from Africa who had crossed the Atlantic not on slave ships but rather in prehistoric times over a land bridge that later vanished.

York spent his teen years in Teaneck, New Jersey, and in 1964, at the age of nineteen, he received a sentence of probation for sexually assaulting a thirteen-year-old female. He was arrested several months later on a different assault charge, with weapons possession and resisting arrest added to his record, and spent three years in prison. Upon his release in 1967, he became active in the Black Panther movement. Following the lead of some of the group's key figures, he made a pilgrimage to Africa and began to explore Islam. In the early 1970s he founded the Ansaaru Allah Community, or "Allah's Helpers" in the Coney Island section of Brooklyn. For a time the group ran a bookstore and printing press on Flatbush Avenue, and later moved the operation to Bushwick Avenue in Brooklyn. York wrote scores of pamphlets and other materials detailing his emerging theology and black nationalist ideas. Somewhat incongruously, he also had a career in music, appearing on recordings by such Philly soul acts as the Delfonics and working with disco singer Evelyn "Champagne" King. He fronted three different musical groups—Jackie and the Starlights, the Students, and Passion—and during the mid-1980s recorded under the name "Doctor York."

During the early 1990s York and his followers moved to a parcel of land in upstate New York near the town of Liberty. In 1993 they relocated to Eatonton, Georgia, the seat of Putnam County and located about an hour's drive from Atlanta. The new compound, called Tama-Re, was set on 476 acres. The move seems to have coincided with a name change from Ansaaru Allah to the United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors and a shedding of its Muslim overtones. His followers now called themselves Nuwaubians, and built at Tama-Re flimsy structures—some made from Styrofoam—modeled after the architecture of ancient Egypt, including sphinxes, obelisks, and pyramids. By this point York's theology began to take on more cosmic elements, including a claim that on May 5, 2003, a spaceship would arrive and transport him and his followers to a far-off galaxy.

Officials in Putnam County were alarmed by York, Tama-Re, and the 150 or so Nuwaubians. Routine traffic stops escalated into heated exchanges in which the Nuwaubians claimed they belonged to a separate nation and thus were not bound by county, state, or federal laws. Reports began to surface that the group was actually a cult, and health-care professionals alerted local officials to an unusually high number of Nuwaubian teenagers giving birth. York told a reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the charges against him were part of a smear campaign. "I see the game. They don't want a positive black image here," he told Bill Osinski, who first profiled the group in the newspaper in 1998. "They're making me out to be a monster. I'm not a monster." That same year, Putnam County sheriffs padlocked a facility on Tama-Re that the Nuwaubians had been using as a nightclub. The building was only zoned for use as a storage facility, and a $45,000 fine was levied.

Charged with Racketeering, Molestation

York claimed that county officials were targeting him and his African-American community, and even won some public support from local politicians and civil rights activists. In the spring of 2000, a new twist in the story piqued national interest: the actor Wesley Snipes, who was preparing to acquire a parcel of land adjacent to York's compound, applied to Putnam County for its rezoning so that the land could be used for weapons storage. The actor and martial-arts aficionado hoped to launch a training school for bodyguards, which would have included a firing range, but officials were wary that Snipe's "Royal Guard of Amen-Ra" school and York's group were collaborating, and denied the rezoning request. There were fears that the Nuwaubians might one day mount a well-armed standoff with law-enforcement authorities like the one in Waco, Texas, in 1993 that ended disastrously with seventy-six deaths.

The child molestation case began not long afterward when authorities received anonymous letters with allegations of sexual abuse, but it took nearly two years before a victim was willing to come forward. In the spring of 2002 a Georgia grand jury indicted York on seventy-four counts of child molestation, and some two hundred Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents plus eighty Georgia sheriff's deputies raided Tama-Re and arrested York. The charges against him included federal racketeering, transporting minors across state lines for immoral purposes, and child molestation. At the trial, more bizarre details of life at Tama-Re emerged. Followers lived in trailers, while York lived in a modern house where daughters of compound members, some as young as twelve, were recruited to serve as his housekeeping staff; older women then asked them questions about their level of sexual experience and explained what York would expect of them. They were instructed to tell no one, not even their parents, and were told by him that this was a sure path to reach heaven. Thirteen witnesses testified against York, and those who came forward in his defense included the mother of one of the victims, who claimed her child had lied on the stand.

At a Glance …

Born June 26, 1945, in Boston, MA; son of David Piper York and Mary C. (Williams) York.

Career: Singer and musician who recorded with the Delfonics and Evelyn "Champagne" King; lead vocalist for the groups Jackie and the Starlights, the Students, and Passion; also recorded under the name "Doctor York"; founded the Ansaaru Allah Community, c. 1970; later changed name of group to United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors.

Addresses: Home—Dwight D. York, Prisoner No. 17911-054, USP Florence ADMAX, U.S. Penitentiary, PO Box 8500, Florence, CO 81226.

York was convicted in January of 2004 and sentenced to 135 years in prison. The verdict also granted authorities the right to seize his property, including Tama-Re and houses elsewhere in Georgia. He was incarcerated at the United States Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility in Florence, Colorado, known as a Supermax facility where inmates are kept in solitary confinement for twenty-three hours per day.

York's supporters claim he is a political prisoner of the U.S. government and continue to publicize their case on the Internet. One of their assertions is that an impostor was actually the York who was tried in U.S. District Court, and that York's son is actually guilty of the child-molestation charges. Another attempt involves a claim that in 1999 York was appointed consul general of Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, by that country's notorious warlord, Charles Taylor, and therefore has diplomatic immunity from prosecution in the United States.

Selected works

Albums

(As Doctor York) New York, Hot Melt Records, 1985.

Sources

Periodicals

Atlanta Journal-Constitution, September 20, 1998, p. C1; January 24, 2004, p. D1.

Fulton County Daily Report, July 27, 2007.

Macon Telegraph (Macon, GA), June 10, 2005; May 20, 2007.

New York Press, November 8, 2000.

Orange County Register (Santa Ana, CA), April 22, 2004.

Time, July 12, 1999, p. 32.

Washington Times, June 2, 2002, p. A5.

—Carol Brennan

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