First known as the Salem Baptist Church and better known as First Baptist Church, it was built in 1935 and is one of the oldest baptist churches in the city of Miami. In 1985, the church which was known as the First Baptist Church at the time, was bought by Yahweh ben Yahweh. He 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.
Yahweh emphasized that God and all the prophets of the Bible were black and blacks would gain the 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 apparently pledged to kill his enemies.
According the court papers, to become a member of the inner circle of his organization, applicants had to kill a “white devil” and bring Mitchell a body part – an ear, nose or finger – as proof of the kill. 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.
Still, at the time his business and charity efforts earned him respect in the community. Miami Mayor Xavier Suarez declared October 7, 1990, “Yahweh ben Yahweh Day.” This occurred a month before his indictment for his crimes.
From 1990 until his release on September 26, 2001, he 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 restricted from any form of speech by telephone, computer, radio or television that could place him in contact with any congregational 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, U.S. 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 and that their present literature downplays and has nearly erased all past racism.
Alternative Program Inc.
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. Then-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 things that were completed 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 damages caused by vandals, the former church building was finally demolished in May 2017.