- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 4, 2004

EATONTON, Ga. (AP) — The leader of a quasi-religious black sect is headed to trial today on charges that he molested young followers, after months of protests by supporters dressed as Egyptian pharaohs, mummies and birds.

Dwight “Malachi” York leads the United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors, a group whose neo-Egyptian compound on a Georgia farm includes pyramid-like structures. Hundreds of supporters have turned out for his hearings, sometimes dressed in American Indian garb, beating drums or handing out antigovernment literature.

Officials are doing all they can to keep the courtroom from turning into a circus.

“It’s like living in bizarro world,” said Frank Ford, a lawyer who has argued with members of Mr. York’s group in court. “They cannot stand being told no, and they cannot stand being ignored.”

U.S. District Judge Ashley Royal ruled last week that Mr. York’s supporters won’t be allowed to demonstrate outside the courthouse during the trial, which was moved 225 miles from Macon to Brunswick because of pretrial publicity.

Mr. York, also known to his followers as “Chief Black Thunderbird Eagle,” faces 13 federal counts of molestation and racketeering. He reached a state and federal plea bargain that would have given him 15 years in federal prison and 14 years in state prison, but the federal judge rejected the agreement.

Mr. York spent three years in a New York prison in the 1960s for assault, resisting arrest and possession of a dangerous weapon.

The Nuwaubians, founded in New York in the early 1970s, once claimed 5,000 members but are down to a few hundred. Mr. York moved the sect to a 476-acre Georgia compound in 1993, and the group has gone through several transformations since then. Mr. York has said he is from the planet “Rizq.”

Prosecutors maintain Mr. York used his status as a religious leader for sex and money, enriching himself, marrying several women and abusing young girls who were part of his sect.

Mr. York, 58, says he’s being unfairly prosecuted because of a vendetta by small-town authorities who dislike his group’s unusual practices and compound.

One of his wives, Kathy Johnson, was arrested with him in May 2002 and implicated in child molestation involving at least 13 children, including her son. She pleaded guilty to a federal charge of failing to report a crime, but the state case against her is on hold.

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