Followers of Charismatic New Age Influencer Accused of Two Different Murders in Alabama

“I’m not a cult leader,” said Rashad Jamal, currently in jail on child molestation charges. “I stand for righteousness.”

On a recent phone call from Barrow County Jail in Georgia, a recording of which was uploaded to his YouTube page by one of his disciples, Rashad Jamal’s voice was controlled but furious. 

“I am a god, and all of my people, the Black and Latino people, are gods,” he declared. “And we were made in the image of our creator. Therefore, I am an extension of Her/Them and I am the creator and destroyer of my reality, so I take full responsibility for all events that I have experienced through this lifetime, for this is what we call shadow work in the spiritual realm.” He paused. “But I have never, and will never, harm an innocent child.”

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Rashad Jamal White, or Rashad Jamal, as his followers know him, is a charismatic figure, a New Age spiritual leader and rapper with an extensive criminal history who claims to be a semi-divine being sent back to Earth “to enlighten and inform and increase the frequency of the planet, and to rid this planet of its parasitical invaders.” His fans and followers are many, and they are ardent, flocking to his lectures on TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube as well as, according to several people familiar with his work, in-person mass meditations that he held across several states earlier this year.

Jamal preaches a mixture of esoteric spirituality, Black empowerment, polygamy, and conspiracy theories, including anti-vaccine rhetoric, claims that NBA players are synthetic robots, and references to the government doing things like modifying the weather and shutting off “stargates,” by which he means rainbows, which lead to the numerous alternate dimensions he claims surround us. He leads something called the University of Cosmic Intelligence, a platform for his lectures, in-person meditations, the sale of crystal jewelry, and rap videos.

Jamal’s in-person engagements hit a speed bump earlier this year. The 35-year-old has been in jail for the past several months, accused of sexually abusing the child of his previous romantic partner and facing an additional count of cruelty to children. In his recent address, he said the child abuse charges were false. “The oppressors seek to label me a pedophile because I had the courage to speak out against them and expose their lies, plots, and plans within their Satanic kingdom,” he said, “as opposed to labeling me what I really am, which is a Black activist, scientist, philosopher, historian, philanthropist, author, revolutionary poet, and a public speaker working hard to raise the vibration of the collective consciousness.” He likened himself to, among others, Martin Luther King Jr., Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, Left Eye, Princess Diana, Michael Jackson, Kanye West, Bill Cosby, and Kobe Bryant—all of whom, he asserted, were assassinated, brought down by false charges, or “put under MK-Ultra” for trying to expose the unspecified Satanic plots and schemes he seeks to uncover. 

“Rashad Jamal spoke out and now he gets falsely accused of child molestation,” Jamal added. “Let him who has eyes see clearly.” 

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A review of Jamal’s extensive online presence reveals no connection between his work and violence, and neither his messianic claims nor his bespoke belief system (“We descend down into this material realm in complete perfection, but the moment upon our inception or birth we are injected with nanobot technology,” he explained in his address) are entirely unusual. The concept of an Afrocentric and relentlessly, sanctimoniously spiritually conscious Black man is familiar—they’re sometimes jokingly referred to as “hoteps”—and they have been satirized for years, particularly for their sometimes retrograde beliefs about sexuality and a woman’s place. Esoteric belief systems encompassing both Black self-empowerment and ideas about the nature of the cosmos and reality, in other words, aren’t uncommon, nor do they indicate ties to or a propensity for violence.  

Several people with documented connections to Jamal—ardent followers and fans of his work—are, however, under investigation for murder. 

Two of them, as Motherboard previously reported, are Yasmine Hider and Krystal Pinkins, the suspects in a bizarre recent shooting in Alabama. Hider allegedly posed as a stranded motorist, hailed down a passing couple, and attempted to rob them at gunpoint; Hider, police say, shot one of the victims, college student Adam Simjee, after he produced a gun of his own, while Pinkins watched from the woods.  (A judge has put lawyers and investigators involved with the case under a gag order; there’s no evidence, though, that anyone other than Hider and Pinkins was involved in the botched robbery.) Pinkins subsequently fled into what police described as an off-grid community of people living in tents, where investigators found Pinkins’ five-year-old child wielding a shotgun. 

(Local forest officials referred Motherboard to the U.S. Forest Service when asked about the off-grid community. “Forest Service Law Enforcement officials are not aware of an off-grid community presence on National Forest lands in Alabama,” said a Forest Service spokesperson. They referred further questions to the Clay County Sheriff’s Department, which is under the gag order.)

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It’s unclear how Hider and Pinkins came to know one another, but both were linked to Jamal. Videos and social media posts from earlier this year show Pinkins with one of Jamal’s most vocal and devoted disciples, a Memphis woman who describes herself as a real estate agent and a “sovereign empress” and has a small following online as another self-styled New Age spiritual leader. (The woman responded to a request for comment by sending Motherboard a copy of a letter she wrote to the judge in Jamal’s case, asserting his good character and trustworthiness around children. In the letter, she says she lived with Jamal and his wife for several months.) Hider not only began re-sharing Jamal’s videos in the months leading up to the murder and parroting some of his obsessions, but was also tagged into a group photo by the same Memphis woman. 

This wasn’t, though, the first time this year that an ardent Jamal follower who before their encounter with his work seemingly lived an ordinary life has been arrested on murder charges. It wasn’t even the first case in Alabama. As area media reported in January, the father of a man accused of a bizarre murder blamed Jamal’s TikTok videos for playing a role in his son inexplicably killing his own mother.  While Jamal played no known role in this crime and is only loosely tied to the alleged murderer—and while there’s currently no clear explanation for how a normal young person could in a span of weeks or months go from watching videos online to being accused of murder—the father still blames him for what happened. 

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“I think he deserves to die,” Hubert Washam said, after a Motherboard reporter told him that Jamal is currently in jail. “I think he should die.” 

Washam drinks a lot these days, he said. He also thinks a lot about Jamal.

According to police, on January 16, in the family home in Eight Mile, Alabama—a small, mostly Black community just outside Mobile—Washam’s 23-year old son Damien killed his mother with what was later described as a “ninja-style” sword. He also attacked both his autistic older brother Desmon and his uncle, who was bedridden with cerebral palsy. Washam learned this, according to an affidavit filed by a detective with the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office, when Desmon contacted him and told him “Damien had killed mommy.” The document goes on to describe Washam calling police to tell them that he had found his wife dead and his brother-in-law with half of his face cut off. Damien hid in an abandoned house; when Washam told police he’d been seen there, he fled the scene with the sword in a 2000 Honda Accord, and engaged sheriff’s deputies in a chase that ended only when a local police department deployed spike strips. He’s currently in jail; shortly after his arrest, investigators said, he displayed no remorse.

Photo via Mobile County Sheriff's Office.

Damien, Washam said, had no known mental-health issues, and was a good and normal kid—his mother had perhaps nurtured him too much, he told police—up until the weeks preceding the murder. While playing Call of Duty, though, he learned about Jamal through an online chat. And after he began watching the would-be prophet’s videos, he began acting strangely.

“He was listening to those conspiracy kind of videos and it was dumb as hell,” said Washam. “It was stupid. I tried to look at some of these videos and I can't even listen to them, it's so dumb. Lizard people and aliens.” 

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Watching the videos coincided with a sudden change for Damien; if anything, Washam was at first glad, because one of the first things he did was sell some of his gaming systems. “I was feeling good because I thought he was done with the gaming,” he said. “But I didn't know that these videos he was watching were as crazy as they are. My son started doing some crazy-ass stuff.”

Some of this amounted to nothing much at all—in addition to selling his PlayStation equipment, Damien, who’d previously had a minor run-in with the law over marijuana, began smoking it after seeing Jamal do so, Washam said. But in all, in a matter of weeks, his son’s personality seemed to radically change. Shortly after the killing, Washam told Oxygen that his son had recently become infatuated with the sun after watching Jamal’s videos, evidenced an obsession with Egyptian gods and the underworld, and ordered bizarre edged weapons. He told KTVZ that his son was “using metal kick bars to block the front and back doors from the inside.”

Do you know anything we should know about Cosmic Intelligence, Divine Insight, an off-grid community in or near Talladega National Forest, or anything else related to this story? Contact the reporters at anna.merlan@vice.com or tim.marchman@vice.com; they can both be reached securely on Signal at (267)-713-9832.

During this time, Damien made a number of strange purchases. There was the sword, about which Damien and his mother had argued in the week leading up to her murder. But as Washam later found out, there were other things, too—a Glock and armor-piercing rounds, and thousands of dollars worth of crystals he bought from the University of Cosmic Intelligence’s online store. This was strong evidence that his interest in Jamal and mysticism went much deeper than simply watching videos.

“My son must have spent three to five thousand dollars on crystals,” said Washam, who noted that since he didn’t know Jamal was incarcerated, he’d reached out to him through Facebook to see if he could sell them back to him at a discount. “A necklace sells for over a hundred dollars, it’s like $118. Bracelets, too. And then you have these crystal spears he was selling, they’re almost $300. I’ve got a box of it here.”

Current offerings at the University of Cosmic Intelligence's online store

The family didn’t, Washam said, ignore Damien’s behavior, but talking to him about it didn’t much help. “He was acting strange. He got really strange,” he said. “And it didn't seem like, you know—it was strange, but it wasn’t like a mental illness to us. It was more like—I don't know. I don't know how to explain it.”

What exactly led to Damien’s alleged attack on his family remains unknown. His lawyer, a public defender, declined to comment; prosecutors did not respond to inquiries; and the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office did not answer several questions. In February, after a hearing, the case was sent to a grand jury. “That could take several months or even a year or more depending on their backlog,” said a court clerk, who confirmed that there had been no developments in the case since then. 

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At that hearing, an investigator with the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office offered the closest thing there is to a known motive, testifying that Damien had told him that he had simply “lost it” after arguing with his mother over marijuana. Subsequently, the same investigator filed an affidavit supporting a request for a warrant that would allow him to search two iPhones and two computers belonging to Damien, as well as an iPhone that belonged to his mother. Along with the devices, the affidavit noted, investigators had recovered a sword, several pictures of the Egyptian god Osiris, two handwritten notes, and a crystal necklace and bracelets.

One other element of the case remains a mystery for now. Police from two other states, said Washam, were interested in talking to him, and one had traveled to Alabama to do so.

“They had similar cases,” he said, describing people accused of specific crimes who had, he said investigators told him, also been watching Jamal’s videos. (Washam did not provide contact information for these police officers, and the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office did not answer a question about them.)  “So they came down to talk to me about my son's behavior compared to theirs.” 

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Washam is left to wonder what might have gone differently.

“It just bothers me that I missed it,” he said. “I should have watched some of those videos myself, but as I see it, I can't sit down and look at that man talk for a whole video. I have to turn it off because it’s so dumb.” 

Jamal remains in jail in Barrow County. In his YouTube missive to supporters—which was titled “the State of the Cosmic Union Address”—he laid out a list of grievances, which included only being allowed out of his cell for 30 minutes a day, not being provided with fruit, and being forced to use fluoridated toothpaste. In the address, which came days after Motherboard’s initial report on the connection between him and Hider and Pinkins, he mentioned neither their case nor the Washam one. 

It’s unclear if he currently has legal representation; according to court filings obtained by Motherboard, the most recent activity in his case was an order for counsel to withdraw. In the address, he accused two attorneys who have represented him of misconduct. One, he claimed, “sold him into slavery” at a bond hearing by not playing clips of his YouTube videos or introducing “over 1,000 character witness letters” he said had been written by his supporters. He accused the other attorney of taking $30,000 in cash as a fee and not doing any work; nevertheless, he added, “I wish them both the best in life.”

Gerald Griggs, the attorney who represented Jamal at his bond hearing, is also the president of the Georgia NAACP

“There were videos played at the bond hearing,” Griggs told Motherboard. “Those videos, I believe the judge indicated, were the reason why he didn’t grant bond. The public record speaks for itself. But I briefly represented him. We tried vociferously to argue for bond. He had numerous supporters who were there. His mother and his wife testified.” 

Griggs added, “I understand Mr. Jamal’s plight. He’s facing serious charges and he wants zealous representation within the bounds of law. I believe I gave that to him. He still needs to focus on the underlying charges.” 

The second attorney did not respond to multiple requests for comment from Motherboard.

“I was called a cult leader,” Jamal said in his call from jail, addressing why he’d been denied bond. “I’m not a cult leader. I stand for righteousness.” He implied, grimly, that he’d soon be silenced for doing so.

“Peace to the gods and goddesses of planet Kai,” he said. “Peace to all the high-vibration human beings. If y’all never hear from me again or my video visits are taken or they don’t allow me to see my wife and kids, then y’all know that everything I said was true. Because right now I should have the right of freedom of speech to speak my mind. But now we rise. I leave as I come.”

Tagged:

Rashad jamal, alabama off-grid shooting, TikTok, new age, influencers, ALIENS, cults, adam simjee, yasmine hider, krystal pinkins, damien washam

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