MIAMI — The leader of a black sect was arrested Wednesday and charged with directing the slayings of 14 people, including "white devils" who were slain in initiation rites.
A federal grand jury here indicted Yahweh ben Yahweh--"God, son of God" in Hebrew--and 16 followers of his secretive Miami-based Yahweh cult for allegedly using murder, fire bombings and extortion to build a business empire and keep followers in line.
"Any dissenter was subject to extreme violence, including murder, to maintain control of the organization," U.S. Atty. Dexter Lehtinen said.
The cult also used "random violence as a ritual membership initiation rite," he said.
Yahweh, 55, born Hulon Mitchell Jr., regulated all aspects of his white-robed followers' lives, including when and how they had sex, Lehtinen said.
Yahweh, who claims to be the son of God, was arrested by heavily armed FBI agents Wednesday in a New Orleans hotel.
Three other sect members were arrested in Lafayette, La. His top aide, Judith Israel, or Linda Gaines, was taken into custody in Atlanta and another arrest was made in Durham, N.C.
Seven Yahweh members were arrested in a raid by FBI and local law enforcement agents on the sect's "Temple of Love" in Miami's mostly black Liberty City section.
The Yahweh's attorney, Ellis Rubin, who has accused authorities of persecuting the group, said he was stunned by the raids because he had already indicated that the Yahwehs would surrender after the long-expected indictment was handed up.
In Washington, FBI Director William S. Sessions strongly denied there was any harassment or racism in the arrests.
The seven arrested at the temple appeared before a U.S. magistrate and were ordered held without bond pending a hearing Friday.
Yahweh, who faces up to 60 years in prison if convicted on all charges, was expected to waive removal proceedings from Louisiana, Rubin said.
Four of the 17 defendants were still being sought, according to the FBI.
The Yahwehs consider themselves the true chosen people, and Yahweh ben Yahweh is their self-appointed leader, who in the past has referred to all whites as devils.
Seven white men reportedly were killed by those applying to join the "Brotherhood." Entering the secret group within the sect required a ritual killing, sometimes a "white devil."