Sect leader Yahweh Ben Yahweh dies at 71

Miami Herald/May 8, 2007
By Amy Driscoll and Martin Merzer

Yahweh Ben Yahweh the South Florida sect leader whose brand of black supremacist preachings drew his followers into a brotherhood of murder and terror in the 1980s, has died in Miami, his lawyers said.

Lawyer Ben Kuehne said Ben Yahweh, 71, died in his sleep overnight. ‘’Cancer is the cause,'’ Kuehne said. Ben Yahweh had been ill with prostate cancer.

The self-proclaimed ‘’Black Messiah,'’ Yahweh based his operation in the bunker-like Temple of Love in Liberty City, once telling his followers that white people were terrorists and that unbelievers were devils.

Federal prosecutors, however, branded him the most notorious criminal in South Florida. Convicted of conspiracy, he served 11 years of an 18-year federal prison sentence.

Born Hulon Mitchell Jr. in Oklahoma, the preacher and activist moved to South Florida in 1978 and changed his name to the Hebrew words for “God, son of God.'’

A charismatic leader, he founded the Nation of Yahweh, boasting thousands of followers who often dressed in white and who once won praise for rehabilitating blighted Miami neighborhoods.

According to a book on Yahweh written by former Miami Herald reporter Sydney P. Freedberg, Yahweh was the oldest child of a minister. He joined the Nation of Islam before turning up in Orlando as Brother Love and eventually finding fertile ground among the poor and black in Miami.

Yahweh, who called himself a prophet and wore a turban and flowing white robes, preached racial and religious separatism for blacks.

At the same time, he amassed a real estate and business empire worth at least $8 million. He won favor with prominent local politicians, who considered him a positive force for inner city neighborhoods. Yahweh and his followers opened grocery stores, hotels and apartment complexes.

Just a month before Yahweh’s indictment in 1990, then-Mayor Xavier Suarez declared Oct. 7 as Yahweh Ben Yahweh Day.

Federal prosecutors, however, accused him of plotting 14 Miami-Dade County murders, two other attempted murders and of ordering the firebombing of a Delray Beach neighborhood in 1986 to further his religious empire.

Federal and state investigators spent millions of dollars and more than a decade tracking 20 homicides they believed were connected to the Miami-based religious sect. Yahweh’s only conviction came on the conspiracy charge.

In October 2006, after Yahweh completed five years of parole, two of his lawyers, Jayne Weintraub and Steven Potolsky, went to federal court in an attempt to end his parole. They said the prostate cancer had metastasized and he was dying.

The attempt to free him from parole ultimately succeeded, Weintraub said Tuesday.

Yahweh had been living alone in Miami after his release from prison, his lawyers said, and he had kept away from his former followers.

In court papers, they wrote that Yahweh was “greatly desirous of the simple dignity of being permitted to die a free man, not a parolee.'’

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