23 Apr 19
The Denver Post
Khalil Amani [cq comment=”CQ”] could hear wailing coming from the next room.
Standing guard at the Nation of Yahweh’s “Temple of Love” in Miami, Amani slowly turned a corner and saw a dozen of his fellow cult members stomping on a man and beating him.
The next day, a jogger found the man’s body near the Everglades. His head had been severed.
This was just one example of the brutality and violence that became part of Amani’s life when he was absorbed in the cult of Yahweh Ben Yahweh[cq comment=”CQ”], a charismatic black separatist leader whose followers terrorized Miami in the 1980s.
Then, Amani was known as Brother Yehuda. Today, he is a grandfather who lives in Green Valley Ranch and works as a lab tech. He came to Denver after escaping the cult’s grip and turning into an FBI informant who helped bring down his former leader.
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Amani recently appeared in “Uncovered: The Cult of Yahweh Ben Yahweh,” a documentary on the Oxygen channel, where he detailed the reign of Yahweh Ben Yahweh, who convinced a group of disillusioned men and women to stop having sex for pleasure, firebomb houses and deliver him the ears of white people as proof of their devotion.
“We were all brainwashed,” Amani told The Denver Post in an interview. “I believed he was Jesus in the flesh.”
He knows differently now. Still, 30 years later, Amani still can’t quite shake his past life.
Joining the cult
Amani first heard about the Nation of Yahweh in 1980 when a fraternity brother of his at Miami Dade Community College showed him some of their literature, which taught that black people were the real chose people of Israel and that Yahweh Ben Yahweh would lead them away from white oppression.
“I was like, Wow,” Amani said. “I was intrigued.”
Miami, at the time, was ripe for a cult leader like Yahweh Ben Yahweh to thrive. Just after the group started, the city exploded in violent protests when four white police officers were acquitted in the beating death of Arthur McDuffie, a black insurance agent. [cq comment=”CQ”]
Eighteen people were killed over three days of riots, according to the Miami Herald.
Yahweh Ben Yahweh’s message resonated with the city’s black population.
“Black people were already in a frenzy about the verdict,” Amani said. “So a lot of people were drawn to these teachings. People flocked to us.”
Residents of Opa-locka, Fla., were grief stricken early on Oct. 30, 1986, when people were shot to death after an angry crowd gathered at an apartment complex where a religious sect was evicting families. The Yahweh sect had recently bought the complex and claimed they were only cleaning unoccupied apartments while residents claimed they moved furniture from occupied apartments as well. Two persons were shot to death in the incident and police are holding one person for questioning.
“Who would kill for Yahweh?”
The Nation of Yahweh won public opinion after it bought and rehabilitated apartment complexes, hotels and other buildings in some of the city’s poorest areas.
“We were cleaning up the ghetto,” Amani said. “We got rid of the prostitutes, pushed out the drug dealers. From a political standpoint, that was a good thing.”
But beneath this mirage lay ruthless intimidation.
“We had a reputation,” Amani said. “We were like the mafia. If you understand who the mafia is, you know not to mess with them.”
Amani dropped out of college and committed himself to Yahweh Ben Yahweh, who viewed the 22-year-old as his “spiritual son.”
“He was like the father I never had, even though I had a dad,” Amani said. “My father was very unavailable, and here was this man who showed me all the fatherly love.”
The two talked for hours. They cried together.
“He really found out what I was lacking in my life,” Amani said.
The 1981 murder of Astrid Green, the man Amani saw being tortured, marked the beginning of the cult’s tilt toward violence.
“Yahweh would always talk about death angels,” Amani said, “He would say, ‘Who would kill for Yahweh?’ We would all raise our hands. ‘Who would die for Yahweh?’ We all raised our hands.”
The leader created a group called the Brotherhood. To get in the group, “you had to bring back proof that you killed a white person,” Amani said.
One day a member walked into the temple and handed Yahweh Ben Yahweh an ear. Amani watched him toss the severed body part in his hand like a toy ball.
“Praise Yahweh,” Yahweh Ben Yahweh said approvingly.
“(Yahweh Ben Yaheh) certainly fit the classic profile of a destructive cult leader,” said Rick Ross, an international cult expert who runs The Cult Education Institute. “He became an object of worship; his followers could find no fault with him; he was always right.”
Extreme violence isn’t the reason people join a group like the Yahwehs, Ross said. But it becomes their new normal.
“These cults run a bait-and-switch con,” he said. “They lure you in through false promises. They don’t really reveal what’s really behind the door because that would scare off recruits. These groups are quite predatory; they feed on people’s vulnerabilities.”
Members of the black religious sect known as the Yahwehs enter federal court in Miami, Fla., Nov. 20, 1990, to attend a bond hearing for Hulon Mitchell Jr., known to his followers as Yahweh ben Yahweh. The Yahweh leader was ordered held without bond on racketeering charges that include 14 killings, some of them allegedly ritual initiation rites.
Leaving the cult
Amani in 1985 decided he needed to leave the Nation of Yahweh.
The revelation came as he was locked in the “room of understanding,” punishment because he didn’t hit his quota for getting donations.
“In this room, I had my epiphany,” he said. “I was in some BS.”
After two hours, Amani left the room and then found his wife and children. He kissed them goodbye.
He hit a side street and took off running, his turban and robe left in his wake.
Amani jumped on the first city bus he saw. He didn’t have a cent, but the bus driver waved him back. He slumped into a seat as the bus trudged toward Carol City, his home neighborhood in Miami.
He started crying.
Amani’s first night away from the cult, he slept in his father’s abandoned car.
Hulon Mitchell Jr., also known as Yahweh ben Yahweh, is led into the Federal Court House in New Orleans by FBI agents, Nov. 7, 1990. Ben Yahweh was arrested on racketeering charges accusing him of murder.
Bringing down the Nation of Yahweh
In 1986, the year after Amani left the Nation of Yahweh, the group firebombed beach homes to frighten the community, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Four months later, two men who had criticized the cult were shot to death, the paper reported.
Amani decided he needed to do something.
He walked into the FBI’s Miami bureau and told them everything.
“I was fully expecting to get arrested,” Amani said. “I just knew that this cult had to be brought down. It was time. And whatever I could do to help, that’s what I was willing to do.”
The FBI gave him a code-name: “El Indio.” Amani helped the government identify key players in the cult and convinced other members to testify against their leader.
In 1990, the FBI arrested Yahweh Ben Yahweh, along with a dozen of his followers, on 18 charges of racketeering, including 14 killings, extortion and arson, according to the New York Times.
Amani was the first person called to testify in the 1992 trial.
“I’m sitting on the stand and I’m a little fearful,” he said. “But it was liberating for me to look at (Yahweh Ben Yahweh) and speak my piece.”
A jury found Yahweh Ben Yahweh guilty in connection with the plotting of 14 murders. He served 11 years in prison, where he died in 2007.
After the trial, the government told Amani that he needed to enter the federal witness protection program.
“They told me to check off every state you’ve ever been to, know people or have family,” Amani said. “Those are off-limits.”
Amani chose Denver.
Khalil Amani describes his life as a former member of the the Black empowerment cult Nation of Yahweh on March 30, 2019, in Denver.
“It never goes away”
While Amani feels at home in the Mile High City, the Nation of Yahweh haunts him.
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Once a week, he wakes up in a sweat, hollering from nightmares.
“Sometimes I think Yahweh Ben Yahweh has been resurrected and knocks on my front door,” Amani said. “Sometimes I wonder, in the dream, ‘Maybe he really is God.'”
When his wife asks what’s wrong, Amani responds, “Oh, it’s that damn cult.”
Even though it’s been 30 years, “it never goes away.”