Georgia Sect Alarms
Associated Press, July 27, 1999
By Patricia J. Mays
EATONTON, Ga. (AP) - A sect founded by an ex-convict has
built two 40-foot pyramids and a giant sphinx amid the pines
and red clay of middle Georgia, alarming some with its armed
guards and prophecies of deliverance by spaceships from
The sheriff and the sect had an armed confrontation in April
when he tried to escort a building inspector onto the
property, and tensions are running so high that mediators
from the U.S. Justice Department were called in earlier this
The members call themselves the Yamassee Native American
Nuwaubians and claim to have created a utopian society on
their 476-acre compound of Egyptian-style architecture.
Many people in and around Eatonton - a rural community that
was the birthplace of Alice Walker, author of "The Color
Purple,'' and Joel Chandler Harris, creator of the Uncle
Remus tales - fear the Nuwaubians are similar to Heaven's
Gate, the cult whose 39 members committed mass suicide in
1997 in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., and the People's Temple
followers of Jim Jones.
"This group here has a combination of all those schools of
thought,'' Sheriff Howard Sills said.
About 100 Nuwaubians live in trailers on the compound. An
additional 300 to 400 reside elsewhere in Putnam County. The
Nuwaubians, most of whom are black, claim to be descended
from the Egyptians and the Yamassees, a tribe of Indians
indigenous to this part of Georgia.
Past the armed guards at the compound's entryway, Nile River
Road stretches between two rows of statues of Egyptian
royalty. A gold pyramid serves as a mini-mall, with a
bookstore and clothing store. A labyrinth leads to the black
pyramid, which serves as a church. Inside, an Egyptian-like
chant hums over speakers 24 hours a day.
The group's lodge houses busts of King Tut and Queen
Nefertiti and a glass tomb holding an alien-like creature
with a huge head and bulging eyes.
Members say they pay no dues and are free to come and go.
And they insist that suicide is not in their plans.
The group's founder, Dwight York, who calls himself Malachi
Z. York, served time in New York in the 1960s for assault,
resisting arrest and possession of a dangerous weapon.
York has claimed to be from a galaxy called Illyuwn and has
said that in 2003 spaceships are going to descend from the
sky and pick up a chosen 144,000 people for a rebirth. Most
recently, York has referred to himself as Chief Black Eagle,
a reincarnated leader of the Yamassee Indians.
"It's a constantly opportunistic evolving ideology,'' the
sheriff said. "We've gone from an extraterrestrial to a
Christian pastor to an Indian leader with willful and wanton
resistance to legal authority time and time again.''
The group's spokeswoman, Renee McDade, and Marshall Chance,
who is referred to as the Nuwaubians' leader, distance
themselves from the space prophecies of York, who lives on
the compound and refuses to give interviews.
"We're all awaiting the coming of the real Messiah,'' Chance
said. "We are a biblical people. If it's not in the Bible,
then we're not concerned about it.''
The group moved to Georgia in 1993 from New York, where it
had operated under other names, including the Ansaru Allah
Community. A 1993 FBI report linked that group to a myriad
of crimes, including arson and extortion.
Until recently, the Nuwaubians pretty much kept to
themselves. Then last year, the county rejected a request to
have the property rezoned from agricultural to commercial.
Since then, the Nuwaubians have been at odds with county
Shortly after the building inspector was denied access, the
sheriff and his deputies tried to enter.
"The armed guards literally stood in front of my car,''
Sills said. "It was obvious to me that this was provocative
and they wanted to provoke some sort of armed confrontation,
so I decided to leave.''
When the sheriff returned two months later, "we were served
with this cockamamie lawsuit that said we'd be fined $5
million if we went onto the property,'' Sills said.
The Nuwaubians said they have met all the permit
requirements. "We feel they're trying to impede us from our
progress here. It feels like they're trying to put us out of
our land,'' Chance said.
Mediators from the Justice Department's Community Dispute
Resolution unit were asked to get involved after the
Nuwaubians leveled charges of racism against officials in
Putnam County, which has about 17,000 people, more than
one-third of them black.
"The Nuwaubians felt they were being harassed, the county
officials said they were being harassed,'' mediator Ernie
Stallworth said. "Everyone was pointing a finger and that
has lessened, but I still believe we have work to do.''