"BROTHER LOVE: Murder, Money, and a Messiah" by Sydney P. Freedberg

"BROTHER LOVE: Murder, Money, and a Messiah"

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A gripping yet somewhat unsatisfying account of one of America's weirder stories: the saga of Yahweh Ben Yahweh (God Son of God), the Miami-based charismatic black man who called himself the Messiah. Freedberg, who won a 1991 Pulitzer Prize for her Miami Herald coverage of Yahweh, reconstructs events in an animated narrative. Hulon Mitchell Jr., born in Oklahoma in 1935, led many lives: gung-ho Air Force man; NAACP supporter; Black Muslim proselytizer; Atlanta radio evangelist; and Orlando street preacher. In 1978, he moved to Miami and launched a new religion that boosted black identity, denigrated whites, and declared that a journey to a Promised Land was near. He built a headquarters for the group (whose many names included the Nation of Israel and the Tribe of Judah) in riot-scarred Liberty City, where his turbaned, white-robed followers not only proselytized and sold taped sermons and food, but also contributed tithes and welfare checks. Laggards were punished and critics beaten, one even killed in the group's Temple of Love. Meanwhile, Yahweh's followers won favor with local politicians, manipulated the media, and gained a reputation as a group that could reclaim ghetto real estate. Then, one month after Miami Mayor Xavier Suarez had proclaimed Yahweh Ben Yahweh Day in 1990, the FBI swooped in to arrest Yahweh and several followers. A bizarre and complex trial led to the convictions of Yahweh and some of those charged with him for conspiracy involving various acts of violence (Yahweh got 18 years); but Yahweh beat three state murder raps. Though Freedberg scores the justice system for not addressing the political corruption that accommodated Yahweh and his personality cult, she does too little to explain the sect's appeal to blacks or to question the coddling posture of establishment institutions toward Yahweh (or her own newspaper's delay in picking up on the story). Good on the trees, but not enough forest.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1994
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Pantheon