Black Sect Pledges To Cooperate

The Associated Press, June 30, 1999

EATONTON, Ga. (AP) - A mostly black religious group whose spiritual leader claims to be an extraterrestrial pledged greater cooperation with anxious neighbors and local authorities.

The United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors, who claim to be descended from Egyptians, occupy a 476-acre tract in Putman County east of Atlanta. After a two-hour meeting on Tuesday, called by a judge hearing a contempt case, group leader Dwight York said he is optimistic he and county offiicials can resolve their disputes over zoning and other matters.

"Peace is made,'' York said to cheers from hundreds of supporters who filled the courtroom or stood in the rain and prayed on the courthouse lawn. Hundreds of law enforcement officers were also on hand, as well as a helicopter and an armored personnel carrier.

The Nuwaubians have said their difficulties with the predominantly white county stem from discrimination.

The group arrived in 1993 from New York City and has since constructed a 40-foot-high black pyramid with statues of Egyptian gods and goddesses on the grounds.

York had been charged with contempt of court after armed guards prevented the sheriff and county building inspector from entering the community to carry out a court order in April. The county had filed several lawsuits accusing the Nuwaubians of violating zoning and building regulations.

Hostilities intensified to the point where representatives from the Department of Justice tried to intervene to mediate, and Gov. Roy Barnes called the sheriff for a briefing on the situation.

At Tuesday's court hearing, York declined to answer where he lived and invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. That prompted Judge Hugh Wingfield III to ask everyone but the principals to clear the courtroom.

"I want to move beyond the contempt hearings and get to the meat of the matter,'' Wingfield said.

Ralph Goldberg, one of York's lawyers, said the Nuwaubians would go forward with the permitting process.

"We agreed to stop attacking each other, and, for lack of a better word, we aired some concerns,'' he said.

Wingfield did not rule on the contempt charge against York.

York has claimed he's from another galaxy and promises that ships are going to descend from the sky in the year 2003 to pick up a chosen 144,000 people for rebirth as supreme beings.

Such predictions about spacecraft remind some of the group's neighbors of the Heaven's Gate sect in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., who committed mass suicide in 1997.

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