DECATUR, Ga -- It's a 48-year-old brick building bursting with ancient imagery. Its misspelled sign outside urges the eyes of passersby to "behold Egipt." There are obelisks covered with symbols. There's a bookstore inside. There's a robed attendant who is very guarded when approached by a reporter, who asks: Do you follow the teachings of Dr. York?
"Yes, we do," answers the man, who identifies himself as Amman Ra.
Malachi York is the founder of the United Nuwaubian Nation of Moors. In the 1990s, York and his followers bought 480 acres of land in rural Putnam County, seventy miles southeast of Atlanta. They built pyramids and obelisks, and at its peak, the property housed 500 followers, including families with children.
"I'm talking about a real nation, talking about our own nation, right here," York is heard saying to an auditorium full of supporters in Eatonton, on video obtained by WXIA. "With our own passports and our own tax system; where no one tells us what to do but us," York says to applause.
"We called it a cult," said Putnam Co. Sheriff Howard Sills, who led the investigation that put the man he knew as Dwight York in prison in 2002. York is serving a 135 year sentence for child molestation and racketeering.
"Almost all of these cults have a disastrous end to them in some way," Sills said. "Sometimes, if it's Jim Jones, it's mass suicide -- or whether it's York molesting a bunch of children."
Although York went to prison, his followers remain. The Nuwaubian temple and book store in Decatur quietly started three years ago. Behind the property are artifacts that appear to date back to the group's heyday in Putnam County. Their sanctuary features an image York, whom they call "master of heaven and earth." In the 1990s, York's followers believed he came to earth from a planet called Risq.
An online lecture at the Decatur temple appears to mix messages of Egyptian symbolism and black supremacy. "Ghosts produced the caucasoid race," a woman is seen saying on a Youtube video. "The negadoo or negroid race is the personification of the original creators."
The group has always been guarded around outsiders. Its new-found presence raises questions about why its members remain drawn to the teachings of a man jailed for victimizing countless children -- and led to the seizure of the property in Eatonton. But Decatur temple leaders declined repeated requests for an interview.
But the group has had defenders -- including the Rev. Jesse Jackson, and state Rep. Tyrone Brooks. In May 2002, Brooks told WXIA: "They are industrial people. They are not violent people. They are -- and I don't consider them a cult, whatever that may be. I've only seen decent hardworking citizens from the Nuwaubians -- even Dr. Malachi York, their leader."
York is serving his sentence in the supermax federal prison in colorado. His followers say one of their goals is to spearhead his appeals -- to free their leader from what they say is his unjust incarceration.