'Bring me the ears of the White Devil': The fall of the Nation of Yahweh
Oxygen's Uncovered: The Cult of Yahweh ben Yahweh takes us deep within the cult of the Nation of Yahweh, which began as the last hope for African American communities in Liberty City, Miami, after the 1980 race riots.
As word spread that the jury had acquitted four white Miami-Dade police officers in the 1979 death of Arthur McDuffie, a real estate agent and former marine who was allegedly killed during a heated confrontation with police, a sea of rage rolled across the African American community and for three days people continued to pour out into the streets to show their anger, the turmoil ended with 18 dead and 400 injured, thereby resulting in the 1980 Miami riots.
In the aftermath of the riots, there was no question that a great deal of work was needed to rebuild the economic vitality of the city. The African American community was in dire need of a strong leader who would take pride in their culture and hold the elite accountable. Enter Yahweh ben Yahweh, a religious leader with a mission to bring peace; one who instantly struck a chord with his African-American brethren and inspired thousands of followers in a matter of months to eventually form the 'Nation of Yahweh.'
Giving us a glimpse into the rise of the Nation of Yahweh at the time is retired FBI Special Agent Jim Bernazzani as he says in Oxygen's latest documentary 'Uncovered: The Cult of Yahweh ben Yahweh': "There were legitimate concerns of the disenfranchised. These people needed help."
Several areas across Liberty City were left neglected and in total disarray after the riots. Yahweh ben Yahweh, born Hulon Mitchell Jr., began buying up properties in downtrodden neighborhoods and started renovating them to bring back residential complexes and public utilities that were destroyed in the mayhem. Led by example, his followers helped communities in run-down areas and provided employment opportunities to the less-fortunate elements of society, thereby seriously bolstering his popularity among the masses.
"My father created jobs," says Venita Mitchell, Yahweh ben Yahweh's daughter. "He created cologne factories, soap factories, they made their own lotion and sold them for low prices within the community."
But while the neighborhoods were getting back on their feet at an unprecedented pace, there was something not quite right within the ranks of the Nation of Yahweh. Though the Nation of Yahweh, on the outside seemed like a religious organization dedicated to helping the black community, darker things were going on behind the closed doors of the Temple of Love, a mixed-use complex where many members of the cult lived. If any dared to question Yahweh’s teachings or practices within the group, they were subject to discipline, beatings and in some cases even murder.
In a short span, the Yahwehs grew immensely strong in stature and their enforcers could be spotted all over the city. Even the roughest and toughest gangsters in the ghetto did not want to "mess" with the Nation of Yahweh fearing the consequences. Soon, residents grew uneasy after they witnessed various vicinities turn into totalitarian police states.
No matter how you spin it, Yahweh Ben Yahweh's rhetoric was focused on black pride and black nationalism. According to him, traditional stories claiming that Jesus, the son of God, was a white man were a lie; and it was him who was going to bring God's honest truth to his African American brothers and sisters, in turn alienating them further from assimilating within a modern, cosmopolitan society. It was only a matter of time that an authoritarian power structure such as the Nation of Yahweh would turn rogue and show its true colors.
In 1986, nine murder victims in Miami-Dade County were found with their ears severed. At the time, local law enforcement made an arrest in an unrelated double-homicide and an investigation into the incident led them straight to the Nation of Yahweh.
On October 30 that year, Robert Rozier Junior, one of the top enforcers of Yahweh ben Yahweh, was arrested in connection with the shooting deaths of two men at an apartment complex in Opa-Locka. The property had just recently been purchased by a Mitchell Jr. An investigation later discovered two firearms that were used in the shooting and police were able to confirm that one of them had been stolen from a recent victim whose right ear was dismembered. What's more? Rozier's fingerprints were a perfect match to those taken off the severed ear.
Rozier, a former star football player for UC Berkeley, folded under questioning and revealed that he was a "Death Angel" for the Nation of Yahweh, which meant he was vested with the responsibility of keeping "the flock" in line. According to him, his duties spanned everything from driving the bus to committing cold-blooded murders, including a couple of ear dismemberment cases.
Agent Bernazzani is heard in “Uncovered: The Cult of Yahweh ben Yahweh,” explaining how prospective members had to perform a barbaric ritual to become Death Angels. “In order to get into his inner circle, [Yahweh said] ‘Bring me the ears of the white devil,'" he says.
Daniel Borrego, a former Miami-Dade homicide detective featured in the documentary, says that Yahweh “wanted white devils killed in retribution or revenge for any black person that was being murdered out in the community." While cooperating with the government, Rozier claimed that Yahweh had personally ordered the deaths of multiple civilians or rebels within the cult. However, followers of Yahweh still maintain that Rozier acted on his own volition.
“I do not approve of murder. I’m against murder, and I’m against the wantful taking of life by anyone," Yahweh told reporters during a television appearance following Rozier's arrest.
Rozier was eventually sentenced to 22 years in prison after he admitted to committing seven murders and pleaded guilty to four of them in exchange for testifying against Mitchell Jr. In court, he claimed that six of the murders were committed at the behest of their leader.
Yahweh's fall from grace became evident after he was found guilty of plotting 14 murders, two attempted murders, and a community firebombing. While he was sentenced to 18 years for conspiracy to commit murder, he was later acquitted of first-degree murder charges for one of the ear killings. This man who called himself the reincarnated Messiah, passed away in 2007 at age 71 from cancer.
“Uncovered: The Cult of Yahweh ben Yahweh” premieres Sunday, March 10 at 7/6c on Oxygen.