Space Invaders

  • "I am the lamb, I am the man," declares Dr. Malachi Z. York, 54, on his website. "I am the Supreme Being of This Day and Time, God in Flesh." And by the way, says the native of the planet Rizq, a spaceship is coming on May 5, 2003, to scoop up believers. The believers have been making quite a spectacle in the tiny town of Eatonton, Ga. (pop. 5,000), seat of the not much larger Putnam County (pop. 17,000). There, the man born Dwight York, of Sullivan County, N.Y., decreed the founding of Tama-Re, Egypt of the West, a 19-acre evocation of the ancient land, complete with 40-ft. pyramids, obelisks, gods, goddesses and a giant sphinx. It is the holy see of the Nuwaubians.

    But don't call them a religion. The Nuwaubians describe themselves as a "fraternal organization" of people of different religions, including Christians, Muslims and others who just happen to share a few extra tenets. Says Marshall Chance, head of the Nuwaubians' Holy Tabernacle Ministries: "The main thing that brings us together is fellowship and facts." Among those facts: that black people are genetically su-perior to whites and that the Nuwaubians are direct descendants of Egyptians who, having walked from the Nile Valley to the Americas before continental drift separated the landmasses, are actually the original Native Americans. York and several hundred of his followers wandered from New York to Georgia in 1993, buying up 476 acres of land on the perimeter of Eatonton for $575,000. And now, as a tribe of Native Americans, the Nuwaubians believe they can argue for being a sovereign people not subject to local or state jurisdiction.

    Not so fast, say officials in Putnam County. They have just emerged from a long wrangle with York over building-code violations in Tama-Re. And prominent citizens are smarting from the words of a leaflet campaign the "fraternal organization" inflicted on them. Among those criticized was county commissioner Sandra Adams, whom the Nuwaubians called a "house n_____." "They feel because I am black and they are black I should be in their corner," says Adams. "But I have to obey the law, and so do they."

    Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills, another object of Nuwaubian ire, says he fears that young people are being held against their will. "No one in Georgia has ever dealt with anything like this," he says. "You only draw parallels to Waco, and I don't want a Waco. This is a cult." A Nuwaubian spokesman scoffs at the idea: "There is no one being held on Tama-Re against their will. No one is allowed to move to Tama-Re that is under 18. The children that are here belong to grown adults who have made the choice to be Nuwaubians. Nuwaubians are insulted when they are confronted with accusations that they are brainwashed or are being told by one man what to do." But don't they believe in the spaceship? Says Minister Chance: "Some of us do, and some of us don't."

    Few Nuwaubians speak to the press on the record. Those who do are proud of the group. "You are here on the land," a Nuwaubian man said pointedly to a reporter in Tama-Re. "Do you see a cult or a compound? We are just people who have come together in love and peace." Still, the Nuwaubians, who now call themselves the Yamassee Native American Moors of the Creek Nation, are increasingly high profile in local politics. They have enrolled their children in public schools, registered to vote and joined local branches of civil rights organizations en masse. About 125 of the 550 members of the Putnam County N.A.A.C.P. are Nuwaubians. The people in the county, 30% black and 70% white, expect the Nuwaubians to flex their muscle at the polls any time now. "They're the nicest people," says a young white waitress at Rusty's, a small diner in downtown Eatonton. "But I'm afraid they are trying to take over the town."