|City/Town: • Miami|
|Location Class: • Religious|
|Built: • 1935 | Abandoned: • 2004|
|Status: • Demolished|
|Photojournalist: • David Bulit|
Hulon Mitchell Jr.
Yahweh ben Yahweh, born Hulon Mitchell Jr., was the founder, and leader of the Nation of Yahweh, a black supremacist new religious movement founded in 1979 and headquartered in Liberty City, Florida. Mitchell was born into a family affiliated with the Antioch Church of God in Christ in Enid, Oklahoma, as his father was the minister and his mother was the pianist.
Mitchell left Oklahoma and joined the military, then attended law school. In the 1960s, he moved to Atlanta where he joined the Nation of Islam, taking up the name of Hulon X. He left the Nation of Islam in the late-1960s and became a faith-healing preacher named Father Mitchell, fashioning himself after the characters of Father Divine and Samuel “Father Jehovia” Morris, African-American ministers of the early 20th century who preached themselves as divine connections to God. Coincidentally, in this case, both were huge influences on Jim Jones, the cult leader of Peoples Temple who led his followers to commit the mass murder-suicide at Jonestown, Guyana.
Nation of Yahweh
On May 17, 1980, four White police officers were acquitted by an all-White jury in the 1979 death of Arthur McDuffie, a real estate agent and former marine who was allegedly beaten to death after a confrontation with the police. Enraged by the verdict, riots broke out in the Black neighborhoods of Liberty City, Overtown, and Brownsville.
While driving home after a day of fishing, a White man and two teens skidded on oil that was dumped on the street by rioters at a Liberty City intersection before being dragged from their car and beaten to death. That same night. 66-year-old Amelio Munoz was returning home from work when he was ambushed by rioters. He crashed into a wall trying to get away. The crowd threw rocks and poked him with sticks before setting his car on fire, burning Munoz alive. In another incident, the driver of a vehicle with three White people lost control after it was surrounded by rioters, striking and injuring two Black pedestrians. The occupants of the vehicle were dragged out and beaten, and one of the men would later die from his injuries.
Florida governor Bob Graham ordered 500 National Guard troops into the area to quell the violence, but despite sending another 500 troops the following day, the riot continued. Twelve more people more killed and 165 injured, including one incident where a Black man was shot in the chest with a shotgun from a passing pickup truck. Along with fire, burglaries, and looting, authorities also had to contend with sniper fire in some areas, most notably along the freeway.
By the third day, the violence had declined as a curfew was imposed and the sale of alcohol and firearms was suspended. Governor Graham also sent an additional 2,500 troops into the area. Over three days of rioting, 18 people were killed, 370 people were injured, and 787 were arrested. Property damages were estimated at over $100 million.
Florida International University professor Marvin Dunn and journalism instructor Bruce Porter later released a report titled The Miami Riot of 1980, and concluded that unlike prior riots in 1967 and the riots following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., the “one purpose [of the 1980 Miami riots was] beating and killing whites.” They also found that the demographics were different than other riots as the majority of those arrested in Miami were “not poor or unemployed or members of the criminal class.” The authors also observed that “Blacks in Miami seemed willing to give the criminal justice system an opportunity to apply itself,” whereas, in previous riots, the delay between an unjust killing and the ensuing riot was hours or days.
The federal government declared Miami a disaster area and authorized the release of funds to allow the city to rebuild. Despite the funding and massive rebuilding effort, much of Liberty City was left neglected after the riots. As writer Kunal Dey put it, “The African American community was in dire need of a strong leader who would take pride in their culture and hold the elite accountable.” Hulon Mitchell Jr. would be that leader, arriving in Miami in 1978 and quickly gathering a large following to eventually form the Nation of Yahweh.
Mitchell declared himself a black messiah, taking the name of Yahweh ben Yahweh. He emphasized that God and all the prophets of the Bible were black and that African-Americans would gain knowledge of their true history through him. He also emphasized whites and particularly Jews as infidels and oppressors. Lastly, he emphasized loyalty to himself as the son of God, Yahweh, the living Messiah of the Nation of Yahweh. He ultimately cultivated a loyalty extreme enough that members allegedly pledged to kill his enemies.
The religious sect was headquartered at 2766 NW 62nd Street known as the Temple of Love, a large building that encompassed nearly a whole residential block. He began buying up properties in downtrodden neighborhoods and started renovating them, bringing back residential complexes, homes, and public utilities that were destroyed in the riots.
The Nation of Yahweh also operated multiple businesses that offered employment opportunities to these communities that desperately needed it. “My father created jobs,” said Venita Mitchell, Hulon Mitchell’s daughter. “He created cologne factories, soap factories, they made their own lotion and sold them for low prices within the community.”
According to the court papers, to become a member of the inner circle of his organization known as the “Brotherhood”, applicants had to kill a “white devil” and bring Mitchell a body part—an ear, nose, or finger—as proof of the kill. A member later testified in court that Mitchell “always taught that we keep the law against the devil, the white devils. When they kill one of us, we kill one of them… He teaches that since white people believe that all black people look alike, we believe all white people look alike.”
Between April and October 1986, Mitchell’s “Death Angels” descended on Miami frequently to kill random white people. His group took over a series of buildings in Miami that allowed for the level of black separatism he encouraged. He became the living messianic ruler in this culture. As ruler, he is said to have been absolute and theocratic. Those who dissented could face beatings or, allegedly, death.
The Nation of Yahweh was responsible for 14 murders in Dade County between 1981 and 1986, most of the victims having one or both of their ears cut off. The sect was also plagued with allegations of extortion, welfare fraud, arson, and sexual child abuse. It started with Eric Burke who reported that two men had cut his phone line and attempted to pick his door lock. Burke scared them off. They dropped knives on the stairwell. Although police logged it as an attempted burglary, Burke who was a Yahweh dissenter knew Mitchell was out to get him.
On November 12, 1981, Aston Green, a member of a Yahweh defector group, was taken off the streets and dragged into a back room of the Temple of Love where he was beaten and decapitated with a machete.
Two days later, Carlton Carey and Mildred Banks made statements to homicide detectives about the beheading of their roommate Aston Green. They also told police they feared for their lives and were thinking of buying a gun to protect themselves. The next morning, the couple arrived home in Carol City from the police station when two hooded gunmen ambushed them. Banks was shot in the neck but survived. Carey died from multiple gunshot wounds. Police said that the killers had initially planned to decapitate them as well.
Leonard Dupree was branded a dissident and beaten to death by a crowd of Yahweh members in the Temple of Love on September 17, 1983. His body was never found.
Ricardo Woodside later testified that he and his brother Maurice Woodside, also known as Mikael Israel and better known today as Michael the Black Man, attempted unsuccessfully to murder Eric Burke at his home. Ricardo also testified that Maurice also helped beat Aston Green unconscious. Another witness testified that Maurice took a stick and poked out Dupree’s eyes. He was found not guilty of these charges by a Florida jury in 1992.
“White Devil” Murders
On May 22, 1986, Clair Walters was found with her throat slashed and her left ear amputated. A month later, James Lee Myers was found stabbed to death near the apartment complex at 5995 Biscayne Boulevard. His right ear was cut through, but not entirely severed. Harry Byers’s body was found on October 1, 1986, in front of a park bench at Legion Park on Biscayne Boulevard with multiple stab wounds and missing his left ear.
Lyle Austin Bellinger was found dead on September 5, 1986, near Biscayne Boulevard with multiple stab wounds in his upper body and torso that exposed his intestines. A fisherman found the body in an open field north of NW 82nd Street, just west of the Little River Canal Dam by the railroad tracks. The indictment states that Carl Douglas Perry, also known as Aher Isreal, was the culprit.
On October 10, 1986, Reinaldo Echevarria was stabbed to death near NW 103rd Street and 30th Avenue by Brian K. Lewis, also known as Hezion Isreal. The State Attorney’s office decided not to press charges against Lewis as he was injured in the attack and claimed the killing was in self-defense.
In late 1985, police acknowledged that they had physical evidence linking the Nation of Yahweh to the killing of Aston Green. By that time, the FBI and Miami-Dade Organized Crime Bureau had a massive file against the sect which included allegations of sexual child abuse and sect-published literature reminiscent of the Peoples Temple. One book declared, “We have come to the point where we must find Justice for ourselves or commit suicide.”
The state though was reluctant on going after a black religious leader, so the case lay mostly dormant. That was until May 20, 1986. Two police officers in Delray Beach spotted a white van on a lonesome farm road. The officers smelled gasoline but didn’t want to cause trouble, jotting down the license tag before leaving. Unbeknownst to the officers, the people inside were making Molotov cocktails. A couple of hours later, just a few blocks away, the firebombs exploded in a small neighborhood on a dead-end street. Two children were badly burned.
Sergent Robert Brand with the Delray Beach Police Department when to the location where the white van was spotted and collected samples of a kerosene-gasoline mixture that matched the homemade bombs. The license tag was traced to belonging to the Nation of Yahweh in Miami. Sgt. Brand visited the Temple of Love and noticed an unusual-looking wine bottle in a display case—the same bottle used for the Molotov cocktails.
Not long afterward, a Yahweh elder, Lloyd Clark, went to the Miami FBI headquarters and told them about the firebombing, murders, child abuse, and welfare fraud that were all connected to Yahweh. Miami-Dade police Detective John King and two FBI agents began tracking down leads. They spoke to some defectors who knew of the murder of Leonard Dupree but as there was no corpse, prosecutors felt there was not enough evidence to charge anyone with a crime. It was in October 1986 that investigators received their biggest break with the arrest of Robert Rozier.
Robert Rozier, aka Neariah Israel
Robert Earnest Rozier Jr. was born on July 28, 1955, in Anchorage, Alaska Territory. He grew up in Rancho Cordova, California, and attended Cordova High School where he played American football as a defensive end. He was a star athlete who could high jump 6 feet and 7 inches, vertical jump ten feet, sprint the 40-yard dash in 4.7 seconds, and bench press 375 pounds.
He scored a 1.32-grade point average and did not receive his high school diploma. He enrolled at Grays Harbor College where he was recruited by University of California, Berkeley’s football coach, Mike White. At California, team captain Ralph DeLoach described Rozier as “the best athlete on the team.” While Rozier majored in African-American studies, he did not graduate from either college.
He was drafted by St. Louis Cardinals in the ninth round of the 1979 NFL Draft. He played for six games, starting none of them. Due to “allegations of drug use and petty crime,” he briefly moved to Canada and played for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and the Saskatchewan Roughriders. While living in Canada, Rozier allegedly wrote bad checks for US$20,000–30,000, and by November 1986, had 32 warrants for fraud issued for his arrest.
In 1986, he was finally signed with the Oakland Raiders, but for only two weeks before joining the Nation of Yahweh, donating all of his possessions and taking the name Neariah Israel. In an effort to join Yahweh’s Brotherhood, Rozier undertook the initiation of killing random “white devils“.
Rozier killed Glendell G. Fowler and Kurt Doerr in their Coconut Grove apartment on April 19, 1986, stabbing them to death in their beds with a six-inch Japanese knife. On September 5, 1986, Rozier and another Brotherhood member found 61-year-old Raymond Kelly passed out in his car in the parking lot of the Teepee Lounge bar on South Dixie Highway. The two men stabbed him to death and cut off his right ear as proof of a “confirmed kill“. When they lost it, they went back and cut off the victim’s other ear.
Fifteen days later, Rozier and three other members killed 45-year-old Cecil Branch, stabbing him 25 times in retaliation for a previous confrontation. Branch had confronted some members who were going door to door soliciting donations. He pushed one of the women who became hysterical, writing down his license plate number while the other members shouted, “Yahweh! Yahweh!” Rozier showed up shortly afterward.
Just before noon on Tuesday 28, 1986, six busses, two limousines, a van, and several cars pulled up to a slum apartment complex in Opa-locka. About 75 white-robed, turbaned Yahwehs got out and began cleaning the apartments that the sect had recently purchased. Pretty soon, Yahweh guards wielding staffs began kicking tenants out of their homes. 28-year-old Anthony Brown and 37-year-old Rudolph Broussard resisted and denounced the Nation of Yahweh on live television. On October 31st, Broussard was lured out of his apartment and shot in the head. Brown was chased and forced to the ground before being executed as he plead for mercy.
Rozier was arrested in connection to the murders and charged with first-degree murder. For seven months, The Nation of Yahweh supported him by hiring famous defense attorney Ellis Rubin, as well as a public relations campaign. When Rozier gave a church an ultimatum for a different lawyer, he was excommunicated. In March 1988, Rozier turned state’s evidence in exchange for a 22-year sentence. He told investigators about the Brotherhood, the initiation process, and its purpose, and personally confessed to four murders.
Indictments and Arrests
After Rozier plead guilty to the four murders, Mitchell and Rubin worked on damage control, holding a news conference where they offered the sect’s help in patrolling South Florida synagogues to deter increasing anti-Semitic violence.
In 1989, Mitchell was ordered by Judge James E. Kehoe to pay more than $940,000 to 27 tenants who accused the Nation of Yahweh of conducting a “terrorist occupation strategy” that ended in the murders of Anthony Brown and Rudolph Broussard. Mitchell denied responsibility for his followers’ actions and that he was not guilty of any crimes.
Despite the allegations and ongoing investigations, Mitchell and his sect were still well respected and loved in the community. Miami Mayor Xavier Suarez declared October 7, 1990, “Yahweh ben Yahweh Day,” praising him as “one of the most respected religious leaders in our city.” This occurred a month before his indictment for his crimes. To this, the mayor’s only response was, “Obviously, I was wrong.”
For six weeks, the FBI plotted multiple predawn raids which were to be conducted simultaneously after Hulon Mitchell was in their custody. This was in preparation for a federal judge who was to issue racketeering indictments against seventeen Yahweh members.
On November 7, 1990, FBI agents arrested Mitchell at the Hotel Monteleone in New Orleans, Louisiana. Once he was in handcuffs, FBI agents, Dade County Sheriff’s Office, and Miami Metro police SWAT teams simultaneously raided fifteen locations associated with the Nation of Yahweh in Dade County. FBI and local police also raided locations in Atlanta and Durham, North Carolina, where Linda Gaines, the deputy leader of the sect was arrested. Louisiana State troopers also arrested three members just outside of LaFayette, Louisiana, who were attempting to flee to Houston.
More than 50 agents and Miami Metro police surrounded the Nation of Yahweh’s headquarters, the Temple of Love. The FBI agents carried pump shotguns and M-16 assault rifles. FBI Miami Special Agent-in-Charge William Gavin led a 10-man arrest team into the building, smashing through the building’s metal grated door with a battering ram. Of the people found inside the building, Richard Ingraham was arrested while the other members were released.
In a decade, the Nation of Yahweh had accumulated anywhere between $8-100 million in assets, most of which were real estate. Within just a few months of the members’ arrests, mortgage holders had begun foreclosing on their properties as the sect stopped making monthly payments. In June 1991, a foreclosure suit was filed for the Yahweh Economy Motel at 6320 Biscayne Boulevard claiming they owed $276,000, plus interest and attorney fees. That same month, another foreclosure suit was filed for the Yahweh Resort Hotel at 7350 Biscayne Boulevard claiming they owed $317,477, plus interest.
The sect also shut down its Overtown supermarket, Yahweh First Rate Foods, at 1490 NW Third Avenue. The Yahwehs owned another supermarket located at the sect’s headquarters, but by August, a foreclosure suit was filed for Temple of Love.
His followers published advertisements in local newspapers. “Why is the U.S. government attacking Yahweh ben Yahweh? Why does the government want an end to his good works?” reads one advertisement in The Miami Times. “What if Yahweh ben Yahweh is the Christ promised return?” Another advertisement in The Atlanta Voice starts, “Yahweh ben Yahweh is being held in the Police State of America. His expected ransom is the destruction of the African-American race.” One advertisement titled ‘The Crucifixion of Yahweh ben Yahweh‘ features a depiction of Hulon Mitchell Jr. crucified on a cross.
Public opinion on Mitchell’s arrest was split among the African-American community. Some viewed him as a hero having improved once-blighted areas of the city. A neighbor of the Temple of Love told The Miami Herald, “They should arrest those people dealing crack cocaine, not innocent religious people. The Yahwehs don’t beg and they don’t bother anybody—this is all racist.” Others viewed the sect’s charitable work as nothing more than a mask for their more heinous acts. Another neighbor of the Temple of Love said, “It’s about time they arrested these people. They’ve killed people, taken over all the buildings, and they scare me.“
From 1990 until his release on September 26, 2001, Mitchell served 11 years of an 18-year sentence on a RICO conviction after he and several other Nation of Yahweh members were convicted of conspiracy in more than a dozen murders. He was acquitted of first-degree murder charges in 1992. Yahweh was released on parole in 2001 and returned to Miami, but his activities were strongly restricted until a few months before his death. He was prohibited from reconnecting with his old congregation. To assure this, he was forbidden from any form of speech by telephone, computer, radio, or television that could place him in contact with any sect members.
In 2006, as he became increasingly ill with prostate cancer, his attorney, Jayne Weintraub, petitioned the U.S. District Court for his release from parole to permit him to “die with dignity“. A ruling on a failed appeal, United States v. Yahweh Ben Yahweh (792 F. Supp. 104) starts:
“Violent crime cases are the exception in federal courts. The instant case is arguably the most violent case ever tried in a federal court: the indictment charges the sixteen defendants on trial with 14 murders by means such as beheading, stabbing, occasionally by pistol shots, plus severing of body parts such as ears to prove the worthiness of the killer. They were also charged with arson of a slumbering neighborhood using Molotov cocktails. The perpetrators were ordered to wait outside the innocent victims’ homes wearing ski masks and brandishing machetes to deter the victims from fleeing the flames.”
Ultimately, his lawyers’ attempt to end the conditions for his parole eventually succeeded, just a few months before he died of prostate cancer on May 7, 2007. Despite his death, the Nation of Yahweh is still active with its members spread throughout the United States. Its members also claim to have abandoned their past racism and the leader’s daughter has apparently stated that all people are children of God. They insist that their current war with the government is a non-violent verbal battle, that their present literature downplays and has nearly erased all past racism.
Salem Baptist Church
This church was one of many buildings owned by the Nation of Yahweh. First known as the Salem Baptist Church and better known as First Baptist Church, it was built in 1935 and was one of the oldest Baptist churches in Miami. The church was purchased by the Nation of Yahweh in 1985 and converted into the Yahweh Education Center, a school for the children of Little Haiti.
In 1982, civil rights activist Georgia Jones-Ayres worked with Judge Tom Petersen to open the Alternative Program Inc., a nonprofit organization that offered an alternative to jail time. Many years later, congresswoman Carrie Meek got Ayers a $2.2 million federal grant to turn the run-down former church into a daycare center and community auditorium. She bought the church for $693,000 in 1998 from Frank Alter, who loaned Yahweh capital for the building, only to acquire it back when the sect fell behind on the mortgage. According to county records, $1 million was spent on hiring architects and contractors, and about half a million went towards salaries.
The county returned the grant’s last $83,000 to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, with a simple note saying the agency’s work was “70 percent done” and the organization would seek other funding sources. The project was never completed as construction was halted in 2004 when Miami city inspectors disagreed with each other about the quality of the air conditioning work. Ultimately, the only completed things were a new roof and the installation of impact-resistant windows.
In later years, the building became a target for burglars. Despite a police watch order in place and a decoy police cruiser parked out front, everything from thousands of confidential files to snacks and sodas were taken. According to Ayers, “I put barbed wire up, they take the barbed wire and tried to take the fence. I put bars on the windows; they break the bars.” On top of the constant break-ins, Ayers was being harassed by former devotees of Yahweh who post fliers saying they want their building back.
Georgia Jones-Ayres died on February 17, 2015, at the age of 86. Due to the deterioration of the buildings and the extensive damage caused by vandals, the former church building was finally demolished in May 2017.
Meaww, Kunal Dey. (March 10, 2019). ‘Bring me the ears of the White Devil’: The fall of the Nation of Yahweh
SunSentinel, Lisa Ocker. (March 23, 1992). YAHWEH DEFENDANT DENIES MURDER CHARGE
United Press International. (December 23, 1981). A convicted murderer was charged Wednesday with murder in…
United Press International. (January 6, 1981). Four blacks go on trial in riot deaths
Justia. (retrieved July 6, 2022). United States v. Yahweh, 792 F. Supp. 104 (S.D. Fla. 1992)
The Miami Herald. (November 16, 1990 p. 140). Yahweh probe slowed by politics, religion
The Miami Herald. (June 22, 1989 p. 337). Sect must pay tenants for terror
The Miami herald. (March 10, 1992 p. 94). Yahweh to blame flock members
The Miami Herald. (August 5, 1991 p. 39). Yahweh sect sees its $100 million empire in danger
The Miami Herald. (November 8, 1990 p. 493). Sect history: Good deeds, ugly rumors