Religious rift brews in rural Georgia
Group claims harassment; county wants building code enforced
June 29, 1999
EATONTON, Georgia (CNN) -- Suspicion and apprehension are mounting between local authorities in rural central Georgia and a black religious group -- the Nuwaubians -- who have declared themselves a separate nation and deny they are a cult.
The group's spiritual leader, Malachi York, appeared in Putnam County Court on Tuesday to answer contempt charges stemming from the Nuwaubians' continued defiance of court orders to get building and zoning permits for their structures.
Five-hundred supporters cheered when York emerged from the courthouse a free man. His attorneys now have 10 days to file a brief explaining why he should not be held in contempt, and possibly jailed.
They call their land, purchased in 1993, The United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors. Perhaps 200 people live on the property, which is protected by armed guards.
Their church, a pyramid, has been padlocked by the county.
York, according to the New York Times, is a convicted felon who has admitted serving three years in prison in the 1960s for resisting arrest, assault and possession of a dangerous weapon.
Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills says a 1993 FBI report links the Nuwaubians' New York operations to welfare fraud and extortion.
"The intelligence I've gathered from other law enforcement agencies about criminal activity associated with Mr. York's groups in the past is very alarming to me," Sills told CNN.
Specifically, the sheriff claims that the Nuwaubians are black separatists who may be stockpiling weapons.
York is reluctant to speak to the media, but other Nuwaubians deny the allegations and say the group has been harassed by local authorities.
"We, as in all people, don't want our rights violated," said Nuwaubian spokeswoman Renee McDade. "(Our) civil rights, human rights (and) religious rights ... have been violated."
"There is an atmosphere of tension," Ernie Stallworth, a mediator for the Justice Department told the Times.
The Nuwaubian philosophy includes elements of Christianity, ancient Egyptian polytheism, and a belief in unidentified flying objects (UFOs).
York reportedly has said he is an extraterrestrial being from the galaxy Illyuwn.
He and many in his group say they expect a spacecraft from Illyuwn to visit Earth in 2003, taking with it 144,000 chosen people, the Times reported Tuesday.
"We are basically teaching about a new way of life ... which will be conducive to uplift humanity as a whole," Nuwaubian minister Marshall Chance told CNN.
That peaceful-sounding philosophy seemed evident last weekend as the Nuwaubians -- some coming from as far away as Europe - - held their annual Savior Day's Festival at their Eatonton compound.
"It's like a bit of heaven on Earth," said one woman.
Another visitor said he was impressed because "you don't see no drugs, you don't see no alcohol, you don't see no children fighting (and) you don't see guns. None of that."
Both the Nuwaubians and local officials say they don't want trouble, but without a compromise on the issue of building and zoning permits, the next phase of the confrontation could be York's arrest.
Correspondent Brian Cabell contributed to this report, which was written by Jim Morris
The Ancient ones
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