It was 1985 when Khalil Amani kissed his two children goodbye, told his wife he loved her and ran off, hopping on the first city bus he saw to escape a religious group that he believed would kill him.
Thirty-four years later, Amani is speaking out for an Oxygen documentary titled “Uncovered: The Cult of Yahweh ben Yahweh,” the religious, black separatist sect based in Miami that portrayed itself as champion of the poor, but reportedly kept its followers in line by threats of violence and was at the center of several brutal slayings.
The two-hour documentary explores whether Amani was truly the mastermind of a deadly cult or rather several merciless followers acted alone.
The special features interviews with former and current followers of the group, as well as law enforcement, legal experts and family members.
Yahweh ben Yahweh, a charismatic leader who wore flowing white robes and called himself the reincarnated Messiah, passed away in 2007 at age 71 from cancer. According to the documentary, Yahweh, who was born Hulon Mitchell Jr. in Oklahoma, devoted his life as the spiritual leader of the Nation of Yahweh, which he founded in 1979.
During a time of great racial divide, Yahweh, which in Hebrew means “the Lord son of the Lord,” aimed to rehabilitate the drug-riddled neighborhoods of Miami. However, within just a few years, his controversial leadership led his members to a dark side, which some say turned the organization into a terrifying cult.
In 1990, Yahweh was arrested and accused of orchestrating multiple murders, ordering his inner circle to facilitate these heinous crimes on his behalf.
Amani said he was 19 years old when he first learned about the Nation of Yahweh through his fraternity brothers and was compelled to attend a class for free. Amani said he was immediately lured in.
“When I met him, he was a mild-mannered, leisure-suit-wearing, very light-skinned black man, who spoke very softly,” Amani told Fox News. “He wasn’t what I thought he was going to be. I thought he was very eloquent… But I was actually afraid of him for some reason… I thought I was in the presence of Jesus. He didn’t call himself Jesus, but he alluded to the fact that he was someone in the Bible. He called himself the Spirit of Truth… And he had these hazel and blue eyes that seemed to change colors on me…. He had these long, manicured fingernails… with a clear coat of polish on them… They were immaculate.”
According to the New York Times, the group, led by a former preacher's child, quickly rose to power in Miami. They had a four-story apartment building, restaurants, stores, hotels, as well as hundreds of white cars. In 2001, The Miami Herald reported that the empire’s value reached $8 million.
Daniel Borrego, a former Miami-Dade homicide detective, told “Uncovered,” Yahweh “wanted white devils killed in retribution or revenge for any black person that was being murdered out in the community.” People magazine also previously reported that a select group of men ultimately became his bodyguards and were armed with stainless steel machetes. Yahweh reportedly made all the men line up and drop their pants to see who was circumcised or not. For those who weren’t, he reportedly did the deed to them himself.
In 1981, a group began to raise doubts about his direction. An infuriated Yahweh called them “the hypocrites” and reportedly rallied his followers to retaliate. That same year, 26-year-old Aston Green was beaten by several members and later decapitated.
“I was there for the beating part of it, but not for the actual beheading,” claimed Amani. “I was standing on guard at the time where he was taken to the back room of the temple. Did it shake my faith at the time? No, because he was labeled a hypocrite for leaving. And I knew any sign of weakness could cause me to the same fate.”
A curious Amani left his post and took a peek at what was happening to Green. It was a sight he would never forget.
“They were beating him, stomping on him, hitting him with different objects,” he recalled. “I ran back to my post. I was afraid. I can remember my eyes welling up like I wanted to cry. I was so shaken because I had never seen anything like this before… They brought him by me and he was wrapped in some carpet and duct tape. He was not dead yet because I could still hear him making noises and gasping for air. I knew his fate was sealed because they put him in the trunk of the car. And I saw a machete being out in the back seat of the car and three guys got in. Then they all left.”
Amani said he was shocked and sickened by what he witnessed. He ultimately questioned his beliefs but was too frightened to leave behind the group or his family. And being caught attempting to flee would have resulted in his “death sentence," he said. It wouldn’t be until 1985 while begging for donations to meet his quota for the group, that he was compelled to finally leave.
“If you didn’t make your quota, you had to go to the Room of Understanding,” he explained. “Once in that room, you got on your knees on a very thin carpet… And you were there on your knees for up to nine hours. When I was taken there, there were many people already inside, wailing, crying in pain. If you fell off your knees, the guards would hit you across your head or back with sticks… The pain radiates up your legs, up through the small of your back all the way up your spine. Within 10 minutes, your knees are on fire… I was smiling internally because I then knew my time was near. I was done.”
Amani said he was heartbroken that he couldn’t take his children with him because he himself didn’t know where to go. Amani asked his wife to give him at least a half hour before reporting he was gone.
“I ran as fast as I could,” Amani recalled. “I jumped on that city bus and that was the end for me.”
Amani said after his escape, he walked into the FBI office and “spilled my guts,” telling them everything that he saw and heard over the years. He cooperated and ended up going to the federal witness protection program where he had his identity changed.
Federal prosecutors branded Yahweh the most notorious criminal in South Florida, charging he used his Temple of Love as a front for a cult that enslaved its followers, controlled what they ate, who they married and even when and how they had sex. Two residents who resisted the group’s 1986 takeover of a drug-infested apartment were allegedly shot, and ex-members turned up dead. A Delray Beach neighborhood was bombed after residents and Yahweh’s followers butted heads during a recruiting effort there.
Yahweh, who was finally arrested in 1990, also faced allegations of sexual abuse involving girls as young as 10.
During his five-month trial, Yahweh’s sister and nephew testified he ordered men, women and children to join in the beating death of a sect member. An ex-member testified he ordered another follower executed for gossiping, but spared his life after drawing blood with a machete. It was also alleged that Yahweh ordered the ears of his victims to be cut off as proof they were killed.
In 1992 Yahweh was indicted, tried and convicted of conspiracy, for which he served 11 years of an 18-year federal prison sentence stemming from his role in up to 23 killings. He was never convicted on murder charges.
At the time of Yahweh’s death, he had been released on early parole and his attorneys said he had advanced cancer and wanted to die with dignity, but prosecutors argued that even though he was ailing he was still a threat.
As for Amani, he is today an author and a grandfather of 11 who describes his life today as “wonderful.” He hopes viewers watching “Uncovered” will understand that not only cults are real, but that anyone can easily be swayed to the dark side.
“I hope they understand the extremism that’s out there,” said Amani. “I think we’re living in very extremist times… And with social media, people are very bold in sharing their so-called opinions. But the cult phenomenon is very real. And there’s a lot of work to be done.”
"Uncovered: The Cult of Yahweh ben Yahweh" airs March 10 at 7 p.m. on Oxygen. The Associated Press contributed to this report.