70ºF

Yahweh ben Yahweh and the Nation of Islam

Hulon Mitchell Jr., who would later become Yahweh ben Yahweh, is mesmerized by the teachings of Elijah Muhammad before he leaves to create his "Temple of Love" in Miami.

There are many Miami killings linked to the Yahwehs, but investigators believe there is only one that happens inside the Temple of Love. When a karate champ shows up, Yahweh Ben Yahweh challenges him to fight one of his people. But when the disciple loses, the karate champ is beaten to death. A former Yahweh member says that the spiritual leader calls him speaking in code. Yahweh Ben Yahweh says a goat was sacrificed in the Temple Of Love. Khalil Amani knew exactly what he meant.

To listen, click on your podcast provider below

The start of Miami's "Temple of Love" and Yahweh ben Yahweh takes form 20 years before Hulon Mitchell, Jr. createst his Nation of Yahweh.

It is the early 1960s and Mitchell discovers the Nation of Islam (the Black Muslim movement, which emphasizes the role of Islam as the true religion of the black community and its role in fighting white supremacy in the United States). 

He is mesmerized by Elijah Muhammad, then-leader of the Nation of Islam, who becomes a mentor to outspoken activist Malcolm X, Nation of Islam's Louis Farrakhan, and to Mitchell.  

Muhammad finds Mitchell charismatic. He urges Hulon to drop his surname, which Muhammad says is a "slave name," and refer to himself as Hulon X. 

X, Muhammad says, signifies that the black man had lost his identity in slavery and did not know his true name. Yahweh ben Yahweh would adopt this same idea for his followers when he eventually founds his "Temple of Love," having all of his disciples take the last name of Israel.

In 1964, the same time that Hulon X is steeped in learning about the black Muslim movement, a boxing champ named Cassius Clay makes headlines when he joins the Nation of Islam. He tells the news media, praising his leader and teacher, the most honorable Elijah Muhammad, for giving him a new name.

Cassius Clay told ABC's Howard Cosell that he prefers to be called Muhammad Ali.

During an interview with ABC's Howard Cosell, he tells the sports announcer he will no longer be referred to as Cassius Clay, but prefers to be called Muhammad Ali.

Hulon X discovers his message

It is the Nation of Islam's beliefs that resonate with Hulon X: that God is one and it is time for blacks to return to the religion of their ancestors, Islam. That the black man of America is God across the planet earth.

"That was the first time I heard we were God," Yahweh ben Yahweh is later quoted as saying. 

Growing up in the shadows of his Pentecostal minister father, this is a message that Mitchell can make his own.

Elijah Muhammad gives Hulon X his own mosque to minister in Atlanta, Mosque No. 15. He becomes his holiness Hulon Shah.

Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad addresses black Muslims in Chicago in 1967 as world heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali listens intently.

Venita Mitchell, his biological daughter, the second oldest of his four children, is the author of "The Biological Children of Yahweh ben Yahweh Speak Out: Living the Life and Understanding It: Experience the Joy, Pain, Agony and Lessons Learned." She tells The Florida Files that her father was proud of becoming one of the top ranking ministers in the Nation of Islam. But, Mitchell says, an incident in the family home, just a few miles away from Mosque No. 15, would be a turning point and personally force Hulon Shah to distance himself from the Nation of Islam.

Nation of Islam targets Hulon Shah

It's 1967. Minister Shah is preaching at his Mosque No. 15. The family home is less than a quarter of a mile away from the temple on Bankhead Highway in Atlanta. Venita and her three other siblings are home alone.

Venita says the two men entered their house that night to take Mitchell's children hostage. She says that someone had put out a "hit" on her father.

"(That night) we thought maybe it was our father playing a trick on us," she says. 

She remembers her father playing tricks on his children.

Yahweh ben Yahweh was once tied to the Nation of Islam.

"He'd come up to the kitchen window and scare us," she recalls. "Little did we all know that he was getting us ready for events to come."

She and her two sisters, Nadea and Levia, and her brother, Macabees, were watching television in the family room. Venita, who says she was about 8 years old at the time, heard a noise. 

"I went into the bedroom and I would turn the lights on and the noise would stop, and when I would turn the lights off, the noise would start," she says. "I told my older sister, I thought someone was trying to get into our bedroom. She said, 'Go get the bat. It might just be dad playing games, but you should get the bat just in case.' We saw these two men come into the house. And they told my sister that our father had sent someone to watch us."

Her sister told the men her father would never send someone.

"It was then that the taller man pulled out a gun with a silencer on it," she says. "We all stood up. We didn't scream or holler, but my sister took the bat and knocked the gun out the man's hand. When she did that, I took off running."

Venita ran to the mosque and saw her father preaching and guards standing around the podium.

"I screamed out, 'Daddy, Daddy, they are trying to kill us,'" she says.

Shah and his bodyguards all ran back to the house. They were able to chase the men, but not catch up with them.

Venita says that the family discovered later that the men were sent by one of the Nation's captains. 

"His name was Mr. Lawson, and he wanted to be one of the high ranking ministers," Venita says.

She says her father decided that if his family was going to be placed in danger, it was time to leave the Nation.

"Our whole lives changed for the better after that," she recalls. "My father became an entrepreneur."

Venita says he opened up two bakeries in Atlanta, a men's clothing store and a childcare facility.

"Yahweh ben Yahweh became a multimillionaire before moving to Miami and becoming the founder of the Nation of Yahweh," she says.

From poverty to riches

Once he is in Miami, he tells his followers at the "Temple of Love" this: "We have moved from poverty to riches. Few people would give up their riches. I gave it all away. I came here with nothing and look what I built here in seven years. I built over $50 million."

It is 1986 when Yahweh gives this speech. It's the same year as the Delray Beach firebombings. It's the same year of the shootings at the Opa-locka apartments where Rudy Roussard and Anthony Brown are murdered. It's the same year Robert Rozier is found hiding in bushes near the apartment shortly after the shootings. A police K9 sniffs him out.

Police ask him his name. He says Neariah Israel, child of God. When they ask his age, he says 404. Robert Rozier is 33 at the time. When they ask about his background, he says he can't remember his life before he was Neariah. 

More questions from the cops. Neariah says after each: "Praise Yahweh." 

There's a lot of crazy stuff going on in the mid-1980s in Miami, the heyday of the Cocaine Cowboys. So, shortly after the pre-dawn shooting, then Opa-locka Mayor John Riley says it is unclear whether the Yahwehs are responsible or if it is just another shootout over drugs.

But only a day after the Opa-locka incident, Oct. 31, 1986, Rozier is charged with murder and put in jail.
After eight months behind bars, Rozier wants to talk to Yahweh. He calls the Temple, but an assistant says Yahweh doesn't want to speak with him. It's June 10, 1987. Hours later at televised public press conference, Yahweh discredits Rozier and calls him a "black devil." 

"We do not advocate murder, we do not advocate violence and we do not know of Mr. Rozier's activites at Opa-locka or anywhere else," he announces.

Venita Mitchell tells me her father couldn't have been involved, that he didn't believe in violence and had always promised that anyone who acted against the will of Yahweh would be banished.

She says this is why her father sought to distance himself from Robert Rozier. 

"Yahweh ben Yahweh never gave them orders to go shoot anyone," she says. "In fact, if you ever listen to his videos, he spoke against guns. He said we don't need guns to win this war. This is a spiritual war. In fact, he spoke against us carrying guns. He never gave those orders. That was all made up."

In an interview with Miami Beach radio station WMBM, host Ira Everett asks Yahweh ben Yahweh about guns and specifically about the Opa-locka incident.

"I don't need a gun to accomplish my purpose," Yahweh ben Yahweh tells Everett. "This is what will enforce the reality that Yahweh is sovereign, that he has all power over man. Men have been trying to solve their problems for 6,000 years with weapons and there is no peace on the earth. Men who believe weapons formed by the hands of men would solve their problems have brought the earth to the brink of total destruction. My father forbids me to carry weapons and I forbid my disciples to carry any weapons. No one that follows me will ever pick up a gun. Anyone who claims to follow me, they are a liar and antithetical to what I teach."

Everett asks him: "When you took over the apartments in Opa-locka, Mr. Rozier was involved in the shootout. Did you disavow any knowledge of him representing the church or the organization, or did he do that as an individual and he was removed from the body of Yahweh?"

Yahweh ben Yahweh responds: "The latter. He acknowledged, according to the papers and television having done this himself, which made it an individual act. And there are hundreds of millions of us who believe in Yahweh all across the world. We couldn't possibly be responsible for the act of any individual who claims to believe in Yahweh."

The detailing of missing ear homicides

Former Miami Beach Police Department homicide investigator Danny Borrego, who worked the case, believes that Rozier's banishment and Yahweh's public show is when the dominoes begin to fall. 

"We had another break when Yahweh ben Yahweh excommunicated Robert Rozier," Borrego says. "He initially had had hired an attorney to represent him. Shortly thereafter, Rozier realized that the Yahwehs were not going to defend him any longer. Once he realized that, he agreed to cooperate and began debriefing him."

Rozier begins to talk and talk. He goes into detail about several 1986 murders that all have the same MO but are unsolved.

"He admitted to all of these murder cases and the reason he was doing this was on orders of Yahweh ben Yahweh," Borrego says. "He would ask them to go out and kill 'white devils' and they needed to come back with proof that they killed people. Rozier was part of these 'angels of death,' which were his closest advisers and members who he trusted to go out and do these things."

I tell Borrego of the theory that maybe Rozier was just acting on his own and set up Yahweh ben Yahweh.

"That never came up," Borrego says. "There was a reason why Rozier was taking the ears. Anyone can just kill someone, but the ritual act of coming back with an ear, there was more to this. He was not alone. There were people that were doing this with him."

Borrego said when Rozier decided to flip and cooperate, that led to everything else.

The 1986 victims: Glendell G. Fowler, 52, and Kurt Doerr, 44, found stabbed to death in bed in a Coconut Grove apartment on April 19, 1986; Clair Walters, May 22, 1986, his throat slashed and left ear cut off. A male prostitute finds the body of James Lee Meyers on July 21, 1986. He's stabbed to death, his right ear cut but not completely severed. Lyle Austin Bellinger is found by a fisherman in a field in Miami on Sept. 5, 1986. On the same date, Raymond Kelly, is discovered stabbed to death behind the Teepee Lounge and one of his ears gone, the other found underneath his car. Rozier confesses to this murder. 

There's Harry Byers, 68, stabbed and killed on Oct. 1, 1986, his left ear missing. Oct. 10, 1986, Reinaldo Echevarria, stabbed to death.

Betraying the son of God

Jayne Weintraub, the Miami attorney who defended Yahweh ben Yahweh on first-degree murder charges in Dade County circuit court in 1992, has a different take on Rozier's "flip."

Jayne Weintraub, pictured here during an interview with Local 10 News in 2001, defended Yahweh ben Yahweh during his 1992 murder trial.

"Yahweh ben Yahweh wanted the image of the Yahwehs to be spiritual, well dressed, well kept. He was very aware of the image," she says. "The indictments were horrific, and they were based on people that betrayed him in some ways financially and jealous of others that wanted to bring him down and made things up, like Robert Rozier, who was really crazy. The things that Rozier testified were not true. After coming back from one of the murders, he gave crazy detail of what people were wearing, what Yahweh said, where he was. We were able to prove with other people and with other independent witnesses that half the things that he said claimed happened didn't take place at all. The one thing that was true that as soon as Yahweh ben Yahweh saw that there was blood on Robert Rozier's shirt. He banished him and Rozier subsequently said he told me to do it."

Investigators say there was only one actual killing inside the "Temple of Love," the 1983 murder of karate champion Leonard Dupree, whose body has, to this day, never been found. 

According to the government's indictment, Dupree was known to be a karate expert, so Yahweh openly challenged him to fight one of the Temple's members, a martial arts expert. The two men squared off in front of about 30 to 60 Yahweh members. Dupree quickly knocked out the Yahweh member. Yahweh ben Yahweh then ordered everyone in the room to attack Dupree. Yahweh told no one to leave and made everyone, including children, strike Dupree's lifeless body. He was beaten to death, according to documents. 

Former Nation of Yahweh member Khalil Amani says that his wife had called him after he was sent to Newark, New Jersey, to recruit new members and told him what had happened. 

"She was shaken up about the beating," he says. "Yahweh ben Yahweh wanted them all to beat the man so that they would be complicit in the crime."

Soon after Amani finishes the conversation with his wife on the telephone, he gets another call. He says it is Yahweh ben Yahweh speaking in code about Yahweh sending the Temple a scapegoat.
"Yahweh sent us a goat tonight," Amani recalls Yahweh saying. "I knew what he was talking about."
When Amani returns from Newark after his assignment, he's told he is no longer living in the main building. He is separated from his wife and children and sent to a building blocks away. He says he realizes Yahweh has taken over his wife. 

He's rethinking the times he was standing guard inside the temple and sees Yahweh ben Yahweh leaving the rooms of married women and younger women in the middle of the night. He thought Yahweh ben Yahweh was delivering prayers to the women.

He says much of it still haunts him as if it happened yesterday, the howls of men after submitting to Yahweh ben Yahweh's urging that all the followers who lived under his roof be circumcised -- Yahweh insisting on a $100 donation to get the surgery.

Leaving the 'Temple of Terror'

It's time, Amani says, for him to escape the "Temple of Terror." He doesn't want to leave his wife and children behind, but his wife has already told him she isn't going to leave.

"I would have loved to have her and my children leave with me, but Yahweh had taken her away," he says.

She would stay in the cult with the children for another five years after Khalil leaves his family behind, as well as his Yahweh name: Yahuda Israel.

This is an aerial view of Yahweh ben Yahweh's "Temple of Love" in Miami's Liberty City circa 1990.

Amani said in 1984, he started to have ideas that "he was in a world of trouble being in this religion. I kind of knew it was a cult by now." But, he said, it took him until 1985 to actually leave. 

"I was just trying to figure out how to get out," he says. 

Amani says it wasn't that he was forced to stay, but that his own devotion and subsequent brainwashing made it difficult for him. 

Rick Alan Ross, an expert on cult culture and the founder of the Cult Education Institute, talks about Yahweh ben Yahweh in his book, "Cults Inside Out: How People Get In and Can Get Out." Ross has no doubts Yahweh ben Yahweh was a cult leader.

I ask him why it is so difficult for people to leave places like the "Temple of Love."

"That's one of the hallmarks of a destructive cult is that there is no legitimate reason to leave and anyone that leaves is wrong and those that they leave behind that don't want to go with them or who are so captivated by the group psychologically and emotionally they will shun a family member that does leave," he explains. "Many times that anchors people indefinitely in these groups. They think: 'I can't leave, there's no legitimate reason to leave, and if I do leave, I am going to lose my family.'"

Amani did leave.

Khalil Amani changed his name while in the witness protection program after testifying about what he saw inside Yahweh ben Yahweh's "Temple of Love."

After he left, Amani says, he just wanted to get his life together and forget his nightmarish past. But when he started to hear about crimes, such as the bombings in Delray Beach and the shootings at Opa-locka, he decided he needed to go to the police. 

"I knew that was Yahweh. That's the MO," he says. "There came a day where I just said enough is enough someone has to inform. Someone has to speak up."

Robert Rozier and Khalil Amani talk to the police and the FBI. There are other witnesses, but some aren't as fearless. They are afraid of Yahweh ben Yahweh and what witnesses describe as his "death angels." They are fearful for what might happen to them after the beheading of Aston Green, the shooting of Carlton Carey and the gruesome slashing of Mildred Banks. Others just don't want to talk at all to law enforcement. They don't trust them. Many leave the temple and get far away from Miami. They abandon their Yahweh surnames of Israel, and go back to their "slave names," making it difficult for investigators to track them down. 

SWAT team raid in the early morning hours

Eleven years after the founding of the "Temple of Love" and 14 homicides later, former Local 10 News reporter Rad Berky says he gets a tip. Things are about to go down at the "Temple of Love."

"I got a tip that I should be at a certain location and when I heard where it was, I knew it was the 'Temple Of Love,' he remembers. "And, at that point, we were there before dawn very early. We sat in the car and waited and all of a sudden it just happened."

Berky's on-the-scene report from Nov. 7, 1990: "The FBI and SWAT teams swoop in in the pre-dawn hours before any of the Yahwehs were awake. Police raided the massive 'Temple of Love' in Liberty City as another SWAT team went through the front door. The Yahwehs leader who claims to be the son of God, Yahweh ben Yahweh, was arrested in New Orleans, giving up without a struggle."

He talks to a Yahweh member, all who go by the last name Israel, who says: "Our people were lying down on the floor with shotguns in their faces and heads."

Yahweh ben Yahweh's attorney, Ellis Rubin, spoke to the press about the arrests and calls it persecution.

"The FBI swooped in in the middle of the night like (the Yahwehs) were common criminals," he says.

Once the Yahwehs were praised for being model citizens and good business leaders. Now prosecutors branded them as terrorists who use murder to get their way.

Next on The Florida Files: U.S. Attorney Richard Scruggs, the prosecutor on the Yahweh ben Yahweh case, talk to The Florida Files. He hasn't spoken publicly about the case ever. Plus, hear what Venita Mitchell says was flying over the "Temple of Love" to greet her father.