Originally created 01/26/03

Plea has future of sect in doubt



ATHENS, Ga. - Doctor, reverend, master teacher, rabbi - Dwight "Malachi" York has used those monikers almost interchangeably. As he prepares to assume a new title - inmate - the future of his empire hangs in serious doubt.

Most people say the religious sect Mr. York founded 10 years ago on 400 acres of Putnam County farmland, the United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors, peaked in the late 1990s, when thousands attended the group's Savior Day celebrations each June.

Flush with the success of his movement, Mr. York bought a $550,000 home in a quiet Athens subdivision and spent $385,000 on a commercial property on West Broad Street.

His followers, dressed in their colorful, quasi-Egyptian garb, were welcomed warmly in the Classic City, where they participated in parades and were feted as honored guests at the fall 2000 local NAACP banquet.

Today, though, there are few signs that the Nuwaubian movement continues to thrive. Work has halted on the faux-Moorish building at the corner of West Broad and South Church streets, first proposed as a lodge, then licensed as a bookstore.

Mr. York's store at an Atlanta Highway strip mall, All Eyes on Egypt, was closed Friday, the same day he pleaded guilty to 77 counts of child molestation and related charges.

The aura surrounding Mr. York also seems to have faded among his followers.

Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills described a "noticeable exodus of sorts" at the Putnam County compound.

"I can say a lot of them disappeared from around here after his arrest," Sheriff Sills said.

While as many as 200 followers have packed court hearings for Mr. York in the past, only two supporters were present for his guilty plea Friday.

"Based on what I saw today, (the group) has definitely weakened," Putnam County Assistant District Attorney Dawn Baskin said. "I would seriously doubt they would continue as a community in Putnam County."

Others aren't so sure. Manchester Attorney Ronny Jones said he believes Mr. York's daughter, Hagar York-El, could step into the void left by her father.