Behind the Sect at the Center of the Kyrie Irving Controversy


  • Kyrie Irving was suspended for a tweet linking to an antisemitic film.
  • The Black Hebrew Israelite movement believes that certain people of color are the true chosen people of God.
  • Extremist sects of the group have become more militant, per the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The Brooklyn Nets announced on Thursday that they will be suspending Kyrie Irving for promoting an antisemitic film on Twitter.

In a now-deleted tweet, Irving shared the link to “Hebrew to Negroes: Wake Up Black America,” a 2018 film that claims to prove that certain people of color, including Black Americans, are the true descendants of the biblical Israelites.

The film also alleges that Jews have conspired to oppress and defraud Black people, including through the transatlantic slave trade, and that Jews have falsified the history of the Holocaust to “contain their nature and protect their status of power,” according to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

The incident has sparked renewed interest in the Black Hebrew Israelite (BHI) movement that espouses this belief — extremist factions of which have a long history of antisemitism, homophobia, misogyny, and xenophobia.

The beliefs of the increasingly aggressive BHI factions have also filtered into mainstream discourse. In a 2020 episode of his podcast, the actor Nick Cannon said, “They have taken our birthright,” espousing the idea that Jews are actively working to steal the identity of Hebrew Israelites.

More recently, Kanye West landed in hot water when he said he would go “death con 3” on Jewish people in a now-removed tweet. West defended himself by saying he could not be antisemitic because “black people are actually Jew [sic].”

Who are the Black Hebrew Israelites?

In the late 19th century, William Saunders Crowdy, who was born a slave and escaped slavery when he was 17, pronounced he had visions where God told him that African Americans are descendants of the Hebrews in the Christian Bible. In 1896, Crowdy established the Church of God and Saints of Christ, one of the first congregations of the Black Hebrew Israelite movement.

While BHI doctrine incorporates certain aspects of Christianity and Judaism, it rejects the widely accepted definitions of both religions, claiming Black Americans are the true chosen people of God. The movement also created its own interpretations of the Bible: Black Hebrew Israelites believe that Jesus is not white, for example, citing a passage in the Bible that describes Jesus’ feet “like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace.”

Some churches like Crowdy’s support unity among all races and genders, but other sects of the Black Hebrew Israelite movement that sprung up in the following decades have taken on a more extremist approach.

Some BHI factions preach hateful rhetoric

Many extremist factions of the BHI movement originated from the One West Camp, which encouraged young men to create their own camps dedicated to amplifying the hateful and militant threads of the ideology, according to the ADL.

Radical Black Hebrew Israelites refer to European Jewish people as the “synagogue of Satan,” per the ADL, arguing they are “devilish impostors” who are responsible for the slavery of millions of African Americans. They also contend that African Americans are racially superior, although some sub-groups also believe Native and Latin Americans are descendants of Israelites as well and have attracted followers from those demographics.

The ADL notes that Black Hebrew Israelites are not the same as Black Jews or Jews of color, and that not all sects of the BHI movement are extremist.

Israelite School of Universal Practical Knowledge preachers in Miami

Members of the Israelite School of Universal Practical Knowledge preaching in Miami Beach.

Jeffrey Greenberg/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The movement’s extremist sects often adhere to a strict hierarchical structure. “Bishops” and other high-ranking members are considered divine, per the ADL. In many camps, women are not allowed to wear pants or fraternize with male members. (A two-part video series on YouTube titled “Black women are out of control in America,” posted by the extremist group the Israelite School of Universal Practical Knowledge, gained 40,000 views in total.)

Certain sects also believe that homosexuality is “a plague in the so-called Black, Hispanic, and Native Indian community,” condemning the LGBTQ community for their “nasty disgusting lust.”

Extremist sects in the movement are becoming more militant

A broad swath of BHI sects have become increasingly militant over the years. In 2019, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) listed 144 Black Hebrew Israelite organizations “as Black separatist hate groups because of their antisemitic and anti-white beliefs.”

In December 2019, two suspects killed four people in a deadly shooting at a kosher supermarket in Jersey City. They were believed to have held antisemitic views and had expressed interest in the BHI group, investigators found. The Israelite Church of God in Jesus Christ in New York, a BHI sect, denied any connection.

Earlier that year in January, the BHI movement also caught national attention when videos of a standoff between Covington Catholic High School students and Native American activists went viral.

Many have also experienced aggressive behavior from Hebrew Israelite street preachers in their confrontations with their perceived enemies. Videos show groups of robed street preachers harassing mostly white passersby, sometimes making them cry. Zacharyah ben Ya’aqov, a former Hebrew Israelite who was active in the movement in the 1990s, called the activities of camps “evangelical terrorizing,” according to the SPLC.

“All you white people get ready for war. We’re coming for you, white boys,” a preacher said in a scene from the 2007 documentary, “The Gods of Times Square.” “Negroes are the real Jews. Get ready for war!”

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