Microkhan by Brendan I. Koerner

The King of Guyana, via The Cleve

July 14th, 2009 · 4 Comments

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.


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4 Comments so far ↓

  • scottstev

    I wonder if there is tend from criminal cults to take on pseudo-Semitic trappings like Yaweh ben Yaweh http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yahweh_ben_Yahweh. Or if they just stand out in memory more.

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    @scottstev: Fascinating question, and one I can only speculate about.

    I think there’s an undercurrent of Ethiopian mythology in all of these cults–that is, the tale of how the Ark of the Covenant was spirited away to Ethiopia, thus transferring the whole Chosen People moniker to the citizens of that nation.

    But there’s also the whole “Lost Tribe of Israel” narrative at work here–the same narrative that underpins Mormonism, as well as other, less prominent religious groups. Because the tribe is lost, pretty much anyone can claim lineage without being proven wrong. So it’s a great leaping-off point for folks looking to develop their own faiths.

    As an aside, I live a few blocks away from the NYC headquarters for these guys, who are on something of a Yahweh ben Yahweh groove:


  • scottstev

    OMFG! – these guys (or someone stealing their playbook) have a Public Access show down here in Richmond. I remember watching them for about 10 minutes and they were performing a close reading on some Old Testament verse.

    They were really down on the Sodomy and homosexuality. It’s eh, um… reassuring to know that their NYC brethren have the same outlook.

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    @scottstev: I always get a kick out of seeing those guys getting ready for their services on 124th Street btw. Madison and Park. They pull up in minivans with their families, then put on their golden robes and headdresses in front of the podiatry school on that block. Makes them seem slightly less bonkers somehow.