As the millennium approaches, radical fringe members of the Black Hebrew Israelite (BHI) movement may pose a challenge for law enforcement. As with the adherents of most apocalyptic philosophies, certain segments of the BHI movement have the potential to engage in violence at the turn of the century. This movement has been associated with extreme acts of violence in the recent past, and current intelligence from a variety of sources indicates that extreme factions of BHI groups are preparing for a race war to close the millennium.
Violent BHI followers can generally be described as proponents of an extreme form of black supremacy. Drawing upon the teachings of earlier BHI adherents, such groups hold that blacks represent God’s true “chosen people,” while condemning whites as incarnate manifestations of evil. As God’s “authentic” Jews, BHI adherents believe that mainstream Jews are actually imposters. Such beliefs bear a striking resemblance to the Christian Identity theology practiced by many white supremacists. In fact, Tom Metzger, renowned white supremacist, once remarked, “They’re the black counterpart of us.”28 Like their Christian Identity counterparts, militant BHI followers tend to see themselves as divinely endowed by God with superior status. As a result, some followers of this belief system hold that violence, including murder, is justifiable in the eyes of God, provided that it helps to rid the world of evil. Violent BHI groups are of particular concern as the millennium approaches because they believe in the inevitability of a race war between blacks and whites.
The extreme elements of the BHI movement are prone to engage in violent activity. As seen in previous convictions of BHI followers, adherents of this philosophy have a proven history of violence, and several indications point toward a continuation of this trend. Some BHI followers have been observed in public donning primarily black clothing, with emblems and/or patches bearing the “Star of David” symbol. Some BHI members practice paramilitary operations and wear web belts and shoulder holsters. Some adherents have extensive criminal records for a variety of violations, including weapons charges, assault, drug trafficking, and fraud.
In law enforcement circles, BHI groups are typically associated with violence and criminal activity, largely as a result of the movement’s popularization by Yahweh Ben Yahweh, formerly known as Hulon Mitchell, Jr., and the Miami-based Nation of Yahweh (NOY). In reality, the origins of the BHI movement are non-violent. While the BHI belief system may have roots in the United States as far back as the Civil War era, the movement became more recognized as a result of the teachings of an individual known as Ben Ami Ben Israel, a.k.a Ben Carter, from the south side of Chicago. Ben Israel claims to have had a vision at the age of 27, hearing “a voice tell me that the time had come for Africans in America, the descendants of the Biblical Israelites, to return to the land of our forefathers.”29 Ben Israel persuaded a group of African-Americans to accompany him to Israel in 1967, teaching that African-Americans descended from the biblical tribe of Judah and, therefore, that Israel is the land of their birthright. Ben Israel and his followers initially settled in Liberia for the purposes of cleansing themselves of bad habits. In 1969, a small group of BHI followers left Liberia for Israel, with Ben Israel and the remaining original migrants arriving in Israel the following year. Public source estimates of the BHI community in Israel number between 1500 and 3000. 30 Despite promoting non-violence, members of Ben Israel's movement have shown a willingness to engage in criminal activity. For example, in 1986, Ben Israel and his top aide, Prince Asiel Ben Israel, were convicted of trafficking stolen passports and securities and forging checks and savings bonds.31
BHI in Israel are generally peaceful, if somewhat controversial. The FBI has no information to indicate that Ben Israel’s BHI community in Israel is planning any activity - terrorist, criminal, or otherwise - inspired by the coming millennium. Ben Israel’s claims to legitimate Judaism have at times caused consternation to the Israeli government. BHI adherents in Israel have apparently espoused anti-Semitic remarks, labeling Israeli Jews as “imposters.”32 Neither the Israeli government nor the Orthodox rabbinate recognize the legitimacy of BHI claims to Judaism. According to Jewish law, an individual can be recognized as Jewish if he/she was born to a Jewish mother or if the individual agrees to convert to Judaism.33 At present, BHI in Israel have legal status as temporary residents, which gives them the right to work and live in Israel, but not to vote. They are not considered to be Israeli citizens. While BHI claims to Judaism are disregarded by Israeli officials and religious leaders, the BHI community is tolerated and appears to be peaceful.34
While the BHI community in Israel is peaceful, BHI adherents in the United States became associated with violence thanks to the rise of the NOY, which reached the height of its popularity in the 1980s. The NOY was founded in 1979 and led by Yahweh Ben Yahweh. Ben Yahweh’s followers viewed him as the Messiah, and therefore demonstrated unrequited and unquestioned obedience. Members of the organization engaged in numerous acts of violence in the 1980s, including several homicides, following direct orders from Ben Yahweh. Seventeen NOY members were indicted by a federal grand jury in Miami in 1990-91 on charges of RICO, RICO conspiracy, and various racketeering acts. Various members were convicted on RICO conspiracy charges and remain imprisoned.
While the overwhelming majority of BHI followers are unlikely to engage in violence, there are elements of this movement with both the motivation and the capability to engage in millennial violence. Some radical BHI adherents are clearly motivated by the conviction that the approach of the year 2000 brings society ever closer to a violent confrontation between blacks and whites. While the rhetoric professed by various BHI groups is fiery and threatening, there are no indications of explicitly identified targets for violence, beyond a general condemnation and demonization of whites and “imposter” Jews. Militant BHI groups tend to distrust the United States government; however, there are no specific indications of imminent violence toward the government.
Part VII - APOCALYPTIC CULTS
Table of Contents
28 See Fall 1997 edition of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Report, “Rough Waters: Stream of Knowledge Probed by Officials.”
29 Linda Jones. “Claiming a Promised Land: African-American settlers in Israel are guided by idea of independent Black Hebrew Society,” The Dallas Morning News, July 27, 1997.
31 See Fall 1997 Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Report, "Rough Waters: Stream of Knowledge Probed by Officials."
32 Jones, Dallas Morning News, July 27, 1997.
34 Ibid. In fact, in the community of Dimona where the BHI community resides, the Dimona Police Chief spoke in complimentary terms as to the group’s discipline, leadership, and integrity.