Kansas ‘cult’ leaders separated children from their parents and forced them into unpaid labor, feds say

The Washington Post/October 27, 2021

By Andrea Salcedo

For over a decade, leaders of a Kansas-based group some describe as a “cult” persuaded hundreds of parents to enroll their children in a Kansas City school, promising a first-rate education and life skills development through work at the organization’s businesses, federal prosecutors said.

What top members of the United Nation of Islam, or UNOI, didn’t tell parents, court records state, was that their children, some as young as 8, would be sent to cities across the country to work up to 16-hour days at restaurants, gas stations and factories — without receiving pay or a formal education.

But the abuse did not end there, federal prosecutors said.

After long work days, some minors and young adults returned to crowded UNOI-run dormitories or households of non-familial adults under the strict supervision of group leaders, court records state.

The leaders allegedly controlled what youths ate, read or viewed, as well as how they dressed. The children were not allowed to speak without permission or have contact with their family members, and some underwent routine weight checks and colonics performed by adults, a federal complaint first reported by the Daily Beast states.

Last week, prosecutors charged eight UNOI leaders with conspiracy and forced labor in connection with the alleged abuse that took place from 2000 to 2012, according to an indictment filed in Kansas federal court and unsealed on Tuesday.

Those charged include Kaaba Majeed, Yunus Rassoul, James Staton, Randolph Rodney Hadley, Daniel Aubrey Jenkins, Dana Peach, Etenia Kinard and Jacelyn Greenwell. None of the defendants could be immediately reached by The Washington Post late Tuesday. Court records do not list attorneys representing them.

Royall Jenkins, a trucker who believed that he was Allah or God — contrary to the teachings of the Islamic faith — founded the organization in 1978, according to the lawsuit. Jenkins claimed that around that time, he was abducted by angels who taught him how to rule the Earth. The organization has no ties to the Islamic faith. It was previously called the Value Creators, The Post previously reported, and split off from the Black separatist group Nation of Islam in 1978.

The organization was originally based in Maryland, where its first gatherings began, but headquarters were later moved to Kansas City, Kan., in 1990, drawing hundreds of members. Jenkins — who created and asserted the principle of “required duty,” or unpaid labor — led the group with the help of his wives and officials until 2012, the lawsuit states.

In 2018, a federal judge issued a warrant for Jenkins’s arrest after he ignored multiple court orders seeking to determine the extent of his assets. He has not yet been apprehended; as of last July, it was not known where he resided.

Jenkins, who is not charged in the indictment unsealed Tuesday, could not be reached for comment. A man who answered a call to a phone number listed for Jenkins in court records said that Jenkins had died — a claim The Post was unable to independently verify as of early Wednesday.

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From Oct. 28, 2000, through Nov. 30, 2012, UNOI opened and operated at least 10 businesses in Kansas, New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Maryland and elsewhere — all of them staffed entirely by unpaid young people, court records state.

Once youths were recruited and moved into housing provided by the organization, prosecutors said, UNOI dispatched the members to work in different cities, at times without their parents’ knowledge or consent. The victims were rarely allowed to live with their parents, court records state.

Victims were generally allowed to read only UNOI publications; outside newspapers and books were forbidden, prosecutors said. Youths often had to ask for permission to speak and were prohibited from using words like “hello” and “say.” The defendants allegedly controlled whether the youths could speak to their families. If they did, court records state, UNOI leaders usually monitored the calls.

They also ordered youths to shower in a certain way and restricted many of their diets to bean soup, salad and, occasionally, fruit, the complaint states. Many were allegedly allowed to eat just twice a day and were forced to drink only lemon juice for days to “cleanse” themselves.

“Conversely, the defendants and their immediate families typically resided in spacious accommodations, ate what they wanted, and worked at their own discretion,” the indictment states.

The group’s leaders allegedly required the youths, especially girls and young women, to stay below a certain weight, which they monitored with weekly weigh-ins. Those considered overweight would be humiliated and forced to fast, court records state. They were also rarely allowed to see doctors.

Whenever a victim committed what a defendant considered an “infraction” they were publicly humiliated, given the silent treatment, hit with a paddle or forced to work extra hours, court records state.

Majeed, Rassoul, Staton, Hadley, Daniel Aubrey Jenkins, Peach, Kinard and Greenwell were arrested earlier this week in various U.S. cities, court records state. If found guilty, the eight defendants could each face up to five years in prison for the conspiracy charge and up to 20 years on the forced labor charge.


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