Today marks the 30th anniversary of the murder of Father Bernard Darke, a Jesuit priest who worked as a photographer for a Catholic newspaper in Guyana. Darke was beaten to death while snapping pictures of an anti-government protest. His assailants were all members of one of the most curious quasi-religious groups to ever grace the Western Hemisphere: the House of Israel, a black supremacist cult that doubled as a paramilitary in the service of Guyanese President Forbes Burnham.
The House of Israel was essentially the religious fiefdom of an American who was given the name David Hill at birth, but later changed his moniker to the more impressive Rabbi Edward Washington. The tale of how he became Burnham’s muscle is told in this 1984 AP piece:
Washington said he came to Guyana in 1972, after stops in Algeria, Haiti and Cuba, to escape serving prison sentences in Ohio. Cleveland court records show Washington had been convicted of nine counts of blackmail in connection with a boyctt which forced several white-managed McDonald’s fast food franchises in Cleveland to be sold to blacks.
In Guyana, Washington has a private home beside the Carribbean, a rambling, well-furnished, single-story house with a swimming pool. Handwritten labels are tacked to two lounge chairs in the dining room. One says “the king,” the other “the queen.” Washington refers to his Guyanese wife and three children as the royal family.
“Everbody that’s wantin’ is gettin’ now, and that’s my religion,” he said. “I don’t believe in no milk and honey in heaven…I want now. I want land. I want it now. I’m trying to get some more. I want milk and honey. So I buy cows, we get some milk and we get beehives and we get some honey, right now, here on this Earth.”
After his presidential protector died, however, Washington found himself less able to reap milk and honey in Guyana. Details of his post-Burnham comedown can be found in his 2005 obituary.