Thursday, May 19, 2005
Terrorist Watch: Black Hebrew Israelites
Here's a great article by the Southern Poverty Law Center about a lesser known domestic terrorist group, the Black Hebrew Israelites.
On a quiet street in a poor section of Albuquerque, N.M., known as the "war zone," there is a white stucco building with the word "YASHARAHLA" painted on the front window. Inside, law enforcement officials say, a gruesome mural depicts sword-bearing, black men standing triumphant amid bloodied white bodies.
As many as 40 men, many of them dressed in camouflage pants and black shirts and bearing the Star of David, congregate here. Many, officials say, are heavily armed. They frequently leave the fortress-like building to practice martial arts in a nearby park. The group, officials say, is amassing weapons and ammunition.
This is the Stream of Knowledge.
Law enforcement agencies in six states are looking into the group, described as an offshoot of the black supremacist Black Hebrew Israelite religion. The Stream, officials say, is recruiting at military bases and in prisons. Members allegedly are preparing for a race war they expect to end in black victory by the year 2000.
Black Hebrew Israelites believe God is black and whites are "devils." Blacks are the true Jews, God’s chosen people, while those who call themselves Jews are imposters usually seen as part of a Satanic plot to destroy blacks.
"Since 1992, we believe this group has been building up a tremendous arsenal for the war against whites they see coming," says a senior New Mexico law enforcement official. "We don’t know yet if its members have been involved in any criminal violence. But we do believe they have connections to an extremely violent group in Florida. And that has us deeply worried."
Miami’s Yahweh Ben Yahweh cult, the most notorious sect of the Black Hebrew Israelites, was implicated in a reign of terror in the 1980s, and has now all but disappeared. But at its height, it controlled an $8 million empire of properties, including a Miami headquarters known as the "Temple of Love" and temples in 22 states. It left a track record of horrific violence, including the murders of 14 people.
Its doomsday leader, Oklahoma native Hulon Mitchell Jr. (known as Yahweh Ben Yahweh, Hebrew for "God, son of God"), is in prison with six other sect members for conspiracy in connection with the murders. Mitchell ordered the slayings of black cult defectors to keep others in line, and the random murders of whites as part of an initiation to a secret "Brotherhood" within the temple. The killers, as proof of their deeds, often brought back severed heads and ears to Mitchell.
No direct connections between the Yahweh Ben Yahweh cult and the Stream of Knowledge have been proven. But like the Florida group, officials allege, the Albuquerque adherents are violently anti-white.
"The white man has been killing the black man, killing the Puerto Ricans, killing the Indians, and he’s got to pay for this crime," a 19-year-old man told a television audience in 1993. Officials believe this man, who identified himself only as Shayarahla, may have helped form the Stream in Albuquerque.
"Black men," he said, "get ready for war!"
Mirror image of Christian Identity
In many ways, Black Hebrew Israelite beliefs are a mirror image of the white supremacist Christian Identity religion, which holds that northern Europeans, not Jews, are God’s true chosen people. Both see Jews as the spawn of Satan and accuse them of secretly controlling society by Machiavellian string-pulling. Tom Metzger, leader of the White Aryan Resistance, has said, "They’re the black counterpart of us."
Black Hebrews believe the descendants of American slaves and the indigenous peoples of the Americas make up the 12 tribes of Israel. They expect to some day return to Israel (which they call "Northeast Africa"). Adherents reject black Africans, who are usually seen as "traitors" who sold their black brethren into slavery.
In Albuquerque, the Stream is believed to have been started in 1992. Law enforcement officials say it was created by John McGee III (who calls himself "Ya Han Na Ga"), now 26, a worker at Kirtland Air Force Base’s commissary, and Carl Anthony Bennett ("Ka Ariah"), 34, a Veterans Administration Medical Center clerk.
Bennett could not be reached for comment. A man answering a phone listed in the name of John McGee said only, "I’m not interested, so just forget about it."
Officials say services of the sect were originally held at an apartment building in Albuquerque. But they were moved after neighbors complained that armed men, possibly including street gang members, were creating disturbances. Since 1993, the group has held its services at the concrete building in the "war zone."
The sect is allegedly all-male. Law enforcement officials say female relatives are subservient to their men. They must wear demure clothing and look respectfully at their partner if he is speaking to another man. They cannot attend services.
According to the officials, one leader says that when the race war comes, "My bitch better not be whining and crying."
The Stream is believed to own $900,000 worth of property in the Albuquerque area. It’s not known how it finances itself, but members are thought to tithe. In addition, the group supposedly runs a security company and a company called Mid East Oils that sells products at a local flea market.
Officials in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Oklahoma and Texas, in addition to New Mexico, are interested in the Albuquerque group. Some officials say they believe that the group may be linked to an armed compound outside Pueblo, N.M., and a Black Hebrew Israelite faction in Tempe, Ariz. Earlier this year, Oklahoma City police stopped a van with five men who identified themselves as Stream members. Although guns were found, they were legal, and no arrests were made.
History of criminality
Other Black Israelite sects have a proven history of criminality.
Members of the Yahweh Ben Yahweh cult were implicated in the firebombing of a Delray Beach neighborhood, extortion and other crimes. In 1981, cult defector Ashton Green was abducted and beheaded with a machete. Mildred Banks, whose neck was hacked with a machete after she was shot, survived to testify against Mitchell. In 1983, later testimony showed, Mitchell ordered former U.S. karate champion Leonard Dupree to fight a cult member. After Dupree won, Mitchell allegedly ordered up to 50 of his disciples to kill him. He was beaten to death, and an eye poked out with a broom.
- Leaders of the Chicago-based Original African Hebrew Israelite Nation of Jerusalem, including founder Ben Ami Carter and top aide Warren Parker ("Prince Asiel Ben Israel"), were convicted in 1986 of trafficking in stolen passports and securities and forging checks and savings bonds in Washington, D.C. Chicago officials also alleged church members stole $6 million to $10 million from banks and supermarkets.
- The next year, three members of a New York Yahweh faction, including leader Yesher Israel, were convicted of child abuse after children of members were tortured for failing to meet daily financial soliciting quotas. The children were beaten, had barbecue sauce poured into open wounds, and were threatened with castration.
- In Miami, as many as 2,000 members were taught to worship the "great, good and terrible black God, Yahweh." Mitchell, the leader, was protected by an elite corps of bodyguards known as the
"Circle of Ten." He was accused by defectors of ordering both adult and minor female members to have sex with him. Devotees were allowed only four hours of daily sleep, fed starvation diets and forced to pray for hours.
Even as the violence occurred, Mitchell and his church received public accolades. In 1988, Mayor Xavier Suarez told reporters he was "quite impressed" with Mitchell. A month before Mitchell’s indictment, Suarez proclaimed Oct. 7, 1990, "Yahweh Ben Yahweh Day." The Urban League in Miami, citing Mitchell’s contribution to affordable housing and economic development, honored him with two major awards.
"The racism, paranoia and millenialism that they have is very flammable," says Suliman Nyang, an expert at Howard University. "They want to take on the entire system, the entire world that they think is evil and against them. The line between reality and imagination doesn’t exist for them."