Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Yaweh ben Yahweh Cult

Black Role Model

Spreading Yahweh's word was expensive, and Mitchell put his economics degree to work to make ends meet. He opened a food-distribution firm, a housing business, and a bottling company that cranked out bottles of Yahweh beer, Yahweh wine and Yahweh soda-drinks the Yahwehs themselves were forbidden from tasting.

Everyone contributed to the greater good, Freedberg writes. One member, a former hair dresser, created a line of hair unguents for black folk that was a national success. Others hawked merchandise on the city streets, selling cassettes of Mitchell's sermons, Yahweh key rings, pencils and T-shirts.

Some of the people they approached had heard of the cult's shady activities and wanted nothing to do with them.

"You go Yahway, and I'll go ma way," they shouted at the people in the white robes.

The street peddlers worked 18-hour days, and the sales of each one were meticulously recorded. If they failed to meet a sales quota, they were sent to the prayer room - also known as the "pain room" - where they were forced to kneel for hours at a time as the temple guards watched and hit them with a switch if they got up without permission.

Those Yahwehs who still held jobs in the outside world were required to deposit their entire paycheck into the Yahweh bank account.

But these sacrifices weren't enough. Mitchell cut back on food, serving one meal - usually consisting of beans - a day. Some of the kids became emaciated and developed pot bellies.

Mitchell saved money by starving and overworking his flock, and he invested it in real estate. He bought and renovated rundown apartments in blighted neighborhoods.

The messiah-cum-slum lord presented himself as the ghetto's savior and was lauded in the business community. As his influence grew, he was able to secure loans and buy more buildings, and his real estate empire - motels, apartment complexes and grocery stores - helped the Temple of Love, Inc.'s fortunes rise to $8.5 million. It became one of Miami's largest black-owned corporations.

Mitchell was hailed as a black role model and credited with eliminating the drug trade wherever his businesses were located.

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