During a secretive reign of terror and killing carried out by his followers across Miami in the 1980s, a charismatic cult leader appeared to revel in his ability to get away with it all.
“Are you some kind of fool?,” Yahweh Ben Yahweh, the founder and leader of the murderous Nation of Yahweh who called himself “the black God,” said malevolently during a moment of preaching. “You can’t kill God.”
To those who still tried to cross him, “he sent out the ‘death angels,'” former FBI agent Herb Cousins says in the next episode of People Magazine Investigates: Cults, which airs Monday on Investigation Discovery (9 p.m. ET), an exclusive clip of which is shown above.
The audio of Yahweh Ben Yahweh depicts the sinister edge that eventually overtook the religious group, which began by offering Biblical inspiration to young African Americans during a period of racial tension and won endorsements from local leaders for tangible steps to clean up drug-riddled and dilapidated properties around South Florida.
But the group devolved into a cult of personality with an increasingly strong-armed leader who ruled by intimidation — and then violence.
Yahweh Ben Yahweh — the former Hulon Mitchell Jr. — was charged in 1990 along with 15 of his followers with multiple counts of murder, attempted murder, racketeering, arson and extortion. In 1992 he and six of those followers were found guilty, with the leader himself sentenced to 18 years for conspiracy to commit murder.
• For more on the Nation of Yahweh and its charismatic leader’s murderous reign, watch Monday’s People Magazine Investigates: Cults at 9 p.m. ET on Investigation Discovery.
The first killing in 1981 targeted a former sect member who challenged Yahweh Ben Yahweh’s teachings and left to form a splinter group with others. When the defector returned to seek out the leader at a warehouse remade by the group as its so-called Temple of Love, he was beaten by members of the leader’s security team, some of whom carried stainless steel machetes.
“I saw a hammer,” a witness to the beating, former follower Kahlil Amani, says in the excerpt above. “He’s just being pounded out on the floor. … I still could hear him breathing with that sound of death.”
Sometime later in the Everglades, “we find a head and body pieces,” former Assistant U.S. Attorney David DiMaio says on the episode. “They were sending a message with this killing.”
Other defectors, including a woman named Mildred Banks, went to police with their suspicions. She and her husband were then attacked in their home; her husband was killed, and she was left for dead but survived and entered witness protection under a new name.
“They’re going to cut his head off,” Banks recalled of the attackers, she says on the episode.
“She was in fear for her life,” PEOPLE Senior Editor Alicia Dennis says in the excerpted clip. “God was helping them kill their enemies.”
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In another audio viewers will hear on the episode, Yahweh Ben Yahweh asserts of his power: “If you don’t love me … you’re a snake.”
Says Cousins, the former FBI agent who slapped the handcuffs on Yahweh Ben Yahweh upon his arrest: “To do what he did, and the way he did it, I personally believe that he was just plain evil.”
The People Magazine Investigates: Cults episode on the Nation of Yahweh airs Monday (9 p.m. ET) on Investigation Discovery.