Extremist religious group books Raleigh Convention Center for national event

An extremist religious group says it has rented the Raleigh Convention Center for its annual Passover celebration.

The Israelite School of Universal Practical Knowledge, or ISUPK, is a Philadelphia-based nonprofit that has chapters across the United States.

It’s considered one of the “extremist sects within the Black Hebrew Israelite Movement,” according to the Anti-Defamation League, which tracks and fights antisemitism. The Southern Poverty Law Center calls the ISUPK a hate group and one of the most prominent sects within the “Radical Hebrew Israelites” group.

“Since the late 1960s the Radical Hebrew Israelites ideology splintered to form increasingly anti-Semitic, anti-white, anti-LGBTQ, xenophobic and misogynistic sect of groups who preach they and only they are the true Israelites of the bible and perpetuate the anti-Semitic belief that ‘so-called’ Jews have stolen their identity and ‘birthright,’” according to the SPLC.

The Raleigh Convention Center is owned and managed by the city of Raleigh. The center’s website shows it’s holding a private “Passover celebration” on April 1, at the same time the ISUPK says it will be at the convention center.

“We received the details that they were hosting a Passover Observance dinner for families,” said Kerry Painter, director and general manager of the convention center, in an email Tuesday.

“We treated the event as we would any other booking,” Painter continued. “After contract review, and details of the event were solved, we contracted for use of our ballroom. We expect that they will adhere to all contract terms.”

Visiting Stagville, Black Wall Street

The celebration is just one event in a multi-day itinerary in the Triangle, according to the ISUPK’s social media accounts and websites. Tickets for “The Lords 54th Annual Passover” at the convention center are $200 per adult.

Starting on Wednesday, the group is holding events in Clayton, Raleigh and Durham through Sunday. On Thursday, events includes tours of Black Wall Street and the Stagville Plantation state historic site, and a party at the Durham Armory, a city of Durham facility.

The city of Durham did not respond to an email sent Tuesday morning. A phone call and text message to Durham Mayor Elaine O’Neal was not returned.

Stagville Plantation was one of the largest plantations in North Carolina, with more than 900 enslaved people. The upcoming visit wouldn’t be the first time the ISUPK has visited the site in northern Durham County. One of the group’s YouTube channel shows leaders of the ISUPK getting a tour of the large barn, built by enslaved craftsmen. The caption of the video says “FORGET Auschwitz & Buchenwald ...You NEED to SEE The Stagville Plantaion (sic).“

Auschwitz was the largest concentration camp operated by Nazi Germany in Occupied Poland. Buchenwald was the largest concentration camp within 1939 Germany’s borders.

Another YouTube video shows the group’s leader “General Yahanna” responding to a radio DJ’s question about the SPLC’s hate group classification.

Yahanna said it was “absolutely untrue” and asked why the SPLC wasn’t calling the New York Police Department or Los Angeles Police Department hate groups.

“How are you going to call us a hate group?” Yahanna said. “You’ve got to call the whole United States a hate group at this point. So, you see, they call us a hate group because we turn around and say the white man is the devil for the things he has done.”

“And the word devil just means adversary,” he said. “This man has been an adversary to Black and brown people for the last 400 years. And it hasn’t let up yet.”

‘Street teaching’ concerns

The SPLC says there are five ISUPK groups in North Carolina: Charlotte, Durham, Greensboro, Greenville and Fayetteville. But the groups have shown up in other locations including in downtown Raleigh to engage in “street teaching.”

The ISUPK is known for its street teaching, sometimes reading scriptures but also antagonizing pedestrians in downtowns across the United States. The group’s website and social media includes dozens of clips of sidewalk confrontations between ISUPK members and passersby.

In a TikTok video, members of the ISUPK can be seen at Moore Square in downtown Raleigh yelling into a microphone accusing another nearby religious group of being pedophiles . The video was posted in February.

Another February TikTok video from Moore Square shows an ISUPK member talking to a Black man about his white girlfriend.

“We are taught to love every-damn-body except for loving ourselves first,” the ISUPK speaker said. “Loving yourself meaning you choose your people over no oppressor’s daughter.”

On social media, as recently as this past week, people have complained about the group and shared their encounters with the group at Moore Square and throughout downtown.

It’s one reason the city of Raleigh is considering a new ordinance that makes harassment a criminal misdemeanor.

There’s a group that comes out to Moore Square and screams obscenities at people,” said Raleigh Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin. “Harasses people. We’ve gotten a lot of complaints. And so that’s part of it. And then the other part is the abortion protest.”

Upcoming ordinance vote

The Raleigh City Council vote was 7-1 with Council member Mary Black the lone vote against the ordinance on March 21. Afterward she said she wanted to better understand how the ordinance would balance the rights of people to protest and the real concerns of harassment.

The ordinance will be placed on the agenda of the April 4 City Council meeting because state law requires two votes for ordinances that include criminal offenses.

During the March 21 meeting, City Attorney Robin Tatum said the ordinance offers “additional remedies for people who are experiencing harassing conduct in some public spaces in the city.”

“We do have authority to regulate threatening or intimidating conduct,” she said. “What it does is prohibits harassing conduct in public spaces, which are streets, sidewalks, alleys, public property or any city owned property.

“And it would prohibit any person from harassing another person in a public space,” Tatum said. “And basically, that happens if you are following a person with the intent to threaten or intimidate them, or in a manner that would place any reasonable person in fear of their safety, or if they surround or crowd or corner a person and physically interfere with their movement through a public space with the intent to intimidate them.”

The Raleigh city attorney did not return a phone call about the ISUPK renting the Raleigh Convention Center Tuesday afternoon and, last week, declined to comment on the ordinance.

The Raleigh Police Department did not respond to N&O questions about the group at Moore Square and in downtown Raleigh.