Leader talks peace and power

07/08/1990 3:48 PM

08/12/2014 2:50 PM

Yahweh Ben Yahweh, the quixotic messiah of the Temple of Love, is not exactly a modest man.

"I am not a genius, " he once testified. "I am the genius. . . . My intelligence cannot be measured. It is immeasurable.

"The earth is mine, " he said. "The silver is mine and the gold is mine, too, saith the Lord, Yahweh. That means all of Fort Knox is mine."

But the gold Rolex on his wrist, he noted, didn't belong to him. He borrowed it from a devotee.

Born Oct. 27, 1935, the year of Oklahoma's great dust storms, Hulon Mitchell Jr., grew up in segregated Enid, where grain silos rise like Gothic cathedrals. He realized he was divine at age 3, he said.

He was the oldest in a family of 15. His father, Hulon Sr., was a strict Pentecostal minister who worked hard all week to make ends meet and preached Sundays at the tiny Antioch Church. His mother, Pearl Olive, was a nurse.

Mitchell always held sway over his brothers and sisters. "We never challenged him, " said younger brother Leon. "We're a tight family."

The Mitchell kids all sang in the church choir. Sister Leona Mitchell is today an acclaimed soprano with the Metropolitan Opera.

She was in Australia and couldn't be reached for comment, but her high school music teacher, Maureen Priebe, said Leona doesn't like to talk about her brother.

Mitchell's childhood friend, the Rev. Phil Porter, said it was sometimes hard growing up in Enid. In third grade, a teacher pinned a sign on Hulon's back that said, "I'm a thief."

"It was humiliating for all of us . . . an affront to us all."

When the Korean War broke out, Mitchell said, he received a "come-and-die" notice from the government. "I didn't think that was too good, so I joined the Air Force."

In October 1954, Mitchell married Nodie Mae. They had four children. When divorced four years later, Nodie Mae signed a waiver relinquishing custody of the children. The youngest, Hulon III, was three months old.

Mitchell studied psychology at Enid's Phillips University and, the ex-wife said, joined the Rosicrucians, a mystical brotherhood whose members believe they possess esoteric wisdom about nature and humanity. "I didn't believe in that stuff, " she said.

Eventually, Mitchell found a new religion in Atlanta: Islam. He got a master's degree in economics at Atlanta University. Brother Leon said he and Hulon ran a restaurant and bakery for a while, but the business failed.

In Atlanta, "I married a woman who had a good job. . . . Chloe, Dr. Chloe Mitchell, " said Mitchell.

But the marriage to the education Ph.D. didn't last either. The couple drifted apart. Mitchell testified he doesn't know if they were ever formally divorced.

Mitchell doesn't talk about it, but, for a while in Atlanta, he rode around in a chauffeured limo as Father Michel, preacher of Modern Christian Church, his old friend Porter said.

In the late 1970s, Mitchell took a new name and moved to a new city, Miami. He became Moses Israel, Yeshua Messiah, Yahweh al Messiah and Yahweh Ben Yahweh, "God, the son of God." He also took a new companion, Linda Gaines, now Judith Israel, who is in charge of the sect's business affairs.

Since the 1986 execution-style slayings of two Opa-locka tenants by Yahwehs, Mitchell and disciples have tried to remake their violent image. They have purchased and cleaned up run-down properties and offered food and housing to poor people. The sect leader has gained political and economic clout here.

On three occasions since 1987, he has testified under oath, portraying himself as a spiritual leader of peace.

He denied ever teaching lessons in the combat use of knives. He said "hatred of white people was really never my focus." The devil, he declared, "is in black, brown, red, yellow and white."

Asked if he ever told followers to "bring the head of a white man in a bag, " Mitchell said he was misunderstood. He was talking figuratively about getting rid of the "heads of industries" that sell substances like alcohol and cigarettes.

"All we have is a record of peace, " he said. He compared himself to the pope. "He is hollering peace every time I hear him on television, just like I am."

Mitchell rarely talks about his family in Oklahoma. Some relatives are pained to hear about a federal investigation of the man they revered.

"I don't get into my son's business, " said his father. "I don't care to know anything about it."

Brother Leon said, "I love him. My brother is a beautiful person." But is he the son of God? "If he's the son of God, how come he still calls home sometimes and says, 'Mama, I have a headache.'?"

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