Joe Arpaio Films Video With Former Cult Member 'Michael the Black Man' at Border

Former sheriff Joe Arpaio visited the border on Thursday with a former member of the Yahweh ben Yahweh cult.
Former sheriff Joe Arpaio visited the border on Thursday with a former member of the Yahweh ben Yahweh cult. Shiva Ayyadurai/Twitter
Former sheriff Joe Arpaio filmed a video at the U.S.-Mexico border with a former Florida cult member who goes by the name Michael the Black Man.

In the video posted on Thursday, Michael has his arm around Arpaio as the ousted former sheriff promotes his improbable race for Arizona's open Senate seat during a visit to the border fence in Naco, Arizona.

Michael was a follower of the Yahweh ben Yahweh cult, a black-supremacist religious sect in Florida. In 1990, the feds charged Michael and over a dozen fellow cult members with conspiracy related to brutal murders in Florida.

Alongside Arpaio and Michael in the video is an independent Senate candidate in Massachusetts, Shiva Ayyadurai, who shared the live video on Twitter.

Born in India, Ayyadurai is a scientist and MIT graduate who claims that he invented email. He began his Senate campaign as a Republican before switching to run as an independent. Ayyadurai’s campaign uses the slogan, “Defeat #FakeIndian Elizabeth Warren,” as a derogatory jab at his Democratic opponent.

“First of all, I’m from Massachusetts, so of course I’m supporting this great guy,” Arpaio says of Ayyadurai in the video. “He’s gonna win.”

Michael says, “We’re at the border right here, between Arizona and Mexico.” He turns to Arpaio to ask if he has anything to say to the camera. The aging former sheriff brings up his law enforcement background.

“It’s great to see the border again; I haven’t seen it in a while,” Arpaio says. He then raises a theme that he tweeted last week, claiming that their campaign couldn't cross the border because of death threats from the cartels and local Mexican police.

"Maybe you and I, we just go over and walk in there?" Arpaio says.

"Let's do that," Ayyadurai responds, and the video cuts off abruptly.

But, of course, they didn't have the gumption to just walk "in there."

Michael and Ayyadurai also appeared at an Arpaio campaign event in Cave Creek on Wednesday, where they gave speeches along with several other Arpaio fans.

In live video from the event, Michael told the crowd in Cave Creek that he came all the way from Miami to support Arpaio in live video. Arpaio and Trump are "quoting God" with their promise to build a wall on the border, Michael says in the video.

"We just need the rest of you to stop being patsies, and being so afraid of these Demon-crat Confederate rebel dogs and stop cowering down to them," he says.

Quoting from the Book of Exodus to end his speech, a fired-up Michael suggests that the government should shoot people who cross the border illegally. If border-crossers knew that the government would shoot them, "you wouldn't run your behind through that wall," Michael says.

Before walking offstage, he tries to lead the crowd in a chant: "Latin, black, and white must unite."

When reached by phone on Friday, Ayyadurai said that during his visit to the border, the only person he knew was Arpaio.

In an interview, Ayyadurai and a campaign representative, Arvind Kumar, berated Phoenix New Times. They seemed confused and irrational, accused a reporter of being a racist for no discernible reason, and went on diatribes about how Ayyadurai had previously exposed Hillary Clinton of racism.

“We oppose racism in all forms, and we believe everyone has the right to practice any religion they choose,” Ayyadurai finally said.

Michael was charged and later acquitted on two murders stemming from the Yahweh ben Yahweh cult’s activities in Florida. He’s also a conspiracy theorist who has made wild-eyed accusations about Hillary Clinton, tying her to the KKK, and has called Oprah Winfrey the "devil" and a "hell-bound jezebel."

Michael has also become a familiar face at President Trump’s rallies. He often manages to get a prime spot behind Trump’s podium – at the president’s Phoenix rally last year, Michael held a sign that said “Blacks for Trump.”

“This is Michael the Black Man – blacks for Trump, for our man here, sheriff Joe Arpaio,” Michael says in the video from the border. Arpaio’s campaign vehicle is visible in the background.

Watching him cheer on Trump or hang out with Arpaio, you would never know Michael's personal history and his years in the Florida cult.

Born Maurice Woodside, Michael was a follower of the Yahweh ben Yahweh cult during the 1980s and 1990s, as reported by sister publication Miami New Times.

Cult leader Hulon Mitchell Jr. – who went by Yahweh ben Yahweh and wore elaborate white robes – founded the black-supremacist sect in the late 1970s after moving to Miami, where the group descended into criminal activity. In 1990, the federal government charged Mitchell and other cult members, including Michael, with racketeering, extortion, arson, and conspiracy in 14 murders.

Michael’s brother Ricardo agreed to testify against the cult, according to Miami New Times, telling a jury that Michael was among the cult members who beat a man senseless before beheading him in the Everglades in 1981. Ricardo also said that Michael helped murder a 22-year-old former national karate champion, Leonard Dupree, by stabbing him through the eye with a sharpened stick.

Michael was acquitted, as were six other cult members. But Yahweh ben Yahweh leader Mitchell was found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder and sentenced to 18 years in prison. He died in 2007.

In the aftermath of the trial, Michael changed his last name to Michael Symonette in an attempt to leave the cult behind. And although he avoided a guilty verdict in the Yahweh conspiracy trial, Michael has had many run-ins with the law.

There are a litany of other charges against him dating back to the late 1990s, but none have ended in a conviction. According to extensive reporting by Miami New Times, these charges include grand theft auto, threatening a police officer, attempting to board a plane with a loaded gun in his carry-on, and operating a stolen vehicle with a handgun alongside him.

Michael’s trademark white T-shirt proclaims that Trump and Republicans are not racist, and he wore the shirt during his meeting with Arpaio. A link on the T-shirt, www.Gods2.com, redirects visitors to a bizarre, incomprehensible website rife with conspiracy theories in all-caps, multicolored text.


“Republican Senators blocking Trump are Cherokee/Mormon Canaanites & are infiltrators in the Republican Senate like McCain to block Trump,” the website continues.
Michael's website also claims that various groups including ISIS, Planned Parenthood, Democrats, and “Canaanites” are “targeting, hunting & Kidnapping Black, Latin, Ashkenazi & White Women” to kill them and harvest their organs for vitamin D.

Update, July 28: In an emailed statement, Arpaio's campaign spokesperson Chris Hegstrom said that Michael “was forthcoming to this campaign about his history before his Phoenix appearance.”

“Symonette was found not guilty and acquitted of any crimes he was accused," Hegstrom wrote. "Sheriff Joe Arpaio is not going to judge a man by his past, but by his current actions. Arpaio is pleased to accept the endorsement of 'Blacks for Trump' and will continue working with their coalition.”
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Joseph Flaherty is a staff writer at New Times. Originally from Wisconsin, he is a graduate of Middlebury College and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.
Contact: Joseph Flaherty