Thursday, July 12, 2007

Weird Athens

Since we've been hanging out in Athens, my husband and I have been wondering about an unusual, boarded up building on Broad St. We finally found out its story from a book review in Flagpole (see below). Ultra-weird.

The building is in 3 parts, couldn't get a full shot of it for you.

below: the middle part

below: the left wing

below: the right wing

and detail shots...

article is from Flagpole at

An Investigative Reporter’s Take on Dwight “Malachi” York

originally published June 20, 2007

Have you heard this one before? Charismatic cult boss settles his legions in an out-of-the-way spot. They live weird and undisturbed until criminal misdeeds - white-collar tax fraud, building code violations, grotesque cases of prurience - begin leaking out to authorities. The feds come in, bring down the group, and divulge a laundry-list of Biblical abominations perpetrated by the pious leader. Remind you of David Koresh and the Branch Davidians? Beyond just being the template for cult activity, the story should have a ring of familiarity to denizens of Athens since it happened in Georgia, outside Eatonton to be exact, and one remnant of its legacy still stands here in the Classic City: in the deserted bunker daubed with neo-Egyptian pictographs on Broad Street. This particular local tale is about Dwight York, “Grand Master Teacher” of the Nuwaubians, thief, misogynist and monstrous pederast, as told in Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigative reporter Bill Osinski’s new book.

With its catalog of incest, molestation and even cannibalism, Ungodly: A True Story of Unprecedented Evil (Indigo Custom Publishing, 2007) is a grimacing read, and it takes a ponderous kind of self-motivation to push through each example of sexual assault. Osinski’s brisk style reflects his day job: his phrases are unadorned and breathless. A sentence often constitutes a paragraph. His reportorial method dispenses with the gruesome facts as expeditiously and efficiently as possible; but neck-deep in moral filth, the reader is left gasping for air. Such excruciating content begs for the author to pull back and editorialize, to posit and italicize his or her own subjective humanity as a foil to the evil on the page. As it is, Osinski gives us very little in this department. We’re not even rescued by the pneumatically-sealed analysis of the social sciences.

Understanding an Evolution

Osinski does expertly detail how Dwight York gathered his African-American congregation. With their communities and families undermined by crime, drugs, AIDS and dead-end jobs, and struggling to find their racial identity in postmodern America, they came looking for anything that smacked of authenticity and righteousness in a fallen world. Fashioned as a wise man, doctor, prophet, cowboy, priest, quasi-rabbi, god and, lastly, “guest savior” from Planet Rizq, York offered the keys to heaven through the mirage of religious virtue and the austerity of a separatist, communal life. Preying on their anxieties, he both dressed and decorated for the part. As Osinski describes it, his various fiefdoms in New York and Georgia were a farrago of atrocious kitsch, modeled after the tackiest T.G.I. Friday’s between Morocco and Zimbabwe. But they also utilized ornamental and architectural signatures intended to evoke lost historical roots. Thus, the compounds were populated with totems of African pride: inflatable palm trees in upstate New York; leopard skins; big-game heads mounted on the walls; Moorish domes and minarets; and eventually in Georgia, an Egyptian fantasy-land of tarpaper, particle board and polyurethane foam called Tama Re. York’s relocation to the old plantation country of the Peach State, in actuality just an attempt to retrench and renew where the money went farther and more covertness could be had, was construed as a move back to origins.

The giant, flashing question, which Osinski can only guess at, is why intelligent people stuck with it through exponential evidence of bizarreness and depravity. The United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors was just the last, most sensationalist phase of the illustrious career of Dwight York, when both he and his cult mutated into something so larded with cultural refuse it was past all resemblance - like a religious junk store of doctrine and imagery, piling up curios of UFOs, Native Americans, Freemasons, Illuminati and leprechauns. Osinski is quick to point out that York originally started out as a community activist with high ideals and good intentions in New York City. He was drawn to Islam in his own search for authenticity, and Mohammed’s faith seemed to offer an alternative to the colonial whiteness of Christianity. Nevertheless, Osinski paints York’s fall from grace like Satan’s precipitous tumble from heaven. Outward generosity and social concern devolved into self-grandiosity and delusion as York’s talent for persuasion ran amok. Minions hocked his plagiarized, stream-of-consciousness manifestos on city street corners. His Ansaru Allah Community annexed parts of the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn. According to Osinski, they extorted “security payments” from local shop owners Mafia-style and acquired real estate by torching it first to reduce the price (religious and racial sensitivity would keep the cops away). A self-appointed mullah, York interpreted the Koran liberally. He took extra wives and concubines. When he got bored, he went after the kids, even his own. By the time York had made his lair in Georgia, Tama Re was a playground of perversion, where stuffed animals had been equipped with sex toys for grisly initiation purposes.

A World Unraveled

York’s evil finally caught up to him. Finally, some of the mothers of his hundreds of children could no longer stand his deviance. As Osinski enumerates the victims and the sins, it becomes almost impossible to comprehend why dissent took so long. But inside the cult, York’s followers truly lived a world apart. Some, who had been born into the life, did not understand the value of money. Everything percolated down from York: he was their source of spiritual guidance and earthly sustenance. Dethroning him would literally mean the end of their existence, and he galvanized his people by appropriating convenient bogeymen, the last of which were the local building inspector and sheriff of Putnam County. Borrowing a political tactic from the Religious Right, York portrayed his community as being constantly under siege from the outside, “secular” world. Gruesome accusations could always be attributed to the prejudice and racism of the Nuwaubians’ unanimous enemy.

Osinski only hints at it, but there is an infinitesimal apology that could be made for York. A recurring motif continues popping up throughout his biography: York as the lead singer of an R&B band called Passion, the Back-street recording studio in Brooklyn, the recording studio at Camp Jazzir in the Catskills, the recording studio at Tama Re, and the adjoining discotheque in Club Ramses. One has the sense that Dwight York just wanted to be some famous musical somebody, like Don Cornelius or Diddy, enjoying limos, magnums of champagne, easy sex, and all the glamorous trappings of celebrity. In the end, York got many of his wishes, but his Faustian deal earned him 135 years in federal prison for child molestation and racketeering. That’s where York remains, but as Osinski takes noble pains to illuminate, the uncountable victims remain scattered with us, living savagely disfigured lives.

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