Yahweh, a charismatic speaker known for his flowing white robes and jeweled turbans, explored various religious fringe groups before forming his sect in Miami in 1979.Charlie Manson told his followers the same thing.
He controlled a multimillion-dollar business empire that included schools, grocery stores and real estate and once claimed 20,000 followers in 45 cities.
Calling himself the "Original Jew" [that was O.J. Simpson's nickname too!], Yahweh adopted a name that means "God, the son of God" in Hebrew. He said he and his disciples were the true descendants of a long-lost tribe of Israel.
From a ruling on Yahweh's appeal of his conviction:
From the beginning, however, Yahweh's group was associated with an intimidating style that often crossed into violence and murder. Still, he managed to cultivate an mage as a well-meaning, if eccentric, community builder.
Yahweh helped clean up blighted neighborhoods and, at least among his followers, restored a sense of order to a crumbling social structure.
He spoke to crowds of thousands around the country and received the blessings of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. In 1987, the Miami Urban League gave Yahweh its highest humanitarian award, and its president pronounced him "an inspiration to the entire community."
In October 1990, Miami Mayor Xavier Suarez declared a Yahweh Ben Yahweh Day. A month later, Yahweh was indicted on federal racketeering and conspiracy charges.
During his trial, lurid details of life in the sect emerged.
Among other things, Yahweh controlled the clothing, food and sex lives of the people in his group. Twice married and divorced earlier in life, he took many of his young female followers to his bed.
Yahweh was surrounded by bodyguards called the Circle of 10, each armed with a 6-foot wooden staff. Members of an inner circle called the Brotherhood were, according to the federal indictment, required to kill a white person and deliver a severed head or ear to Yahweh as proof.
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 [followers of Yahweh] 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.I don't mind crazy religious sects. There's something quintessentially American about them, even the hate-whitey separatist sort. But I don't remember ever reading that the Shakers, for instance, were very prone to arson or human head removal--and they didn't even have sex.
Update: Since this kind of stuff comes in threes, we've had Kurt Vonnegut, Yahweh Ben Yahweh, and, um . . .