Lefkow slayings divide white supremacists

Some laud killings, but others say violence hurts cause

MSNBC/March 9, 2005
By Kari Huus

The execution-style murders of the mother and husband of a federal judge in Chicago prompted celebratory - even triumphant - chatter in some white supremacist circles on the Internet.

But others in the movement are criticizing public displays of jubilation, provoking heated debate in white power circles on the best strategy for achieving racial purity. Skinheads in Nazi regalia and heavy-metal rockers are vying for relevance with separatists who are taking a lower-key approach to fighting race mixing and what they consider Jewish conspiracies.

The current drama in the racial war revolves around U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow, who had ruled against one well-known racist and anti-Semitic group, the World Church of the Creator, and its leader, Mathew Hale, in a trademark dispute, making her an "enemy" to many in the movement. Hale is now in jail awaiting sentencing on his conviction of soliciting an FBI informant to kill Lefkow.

The idea that one of Hale's followers may have killed Lefkow's husband, Michael, and mother, Donna Humphrey, at the family home on Feb. 28 is just one theory that authorities are considering. They have received more than 600 tips about the slayings, according to the Chicago Police Department, and last Friday the FBI announced a $50,000 reward.

The day after the bodies were discovered, some white supremacist Web sites had posted articles about the killings, along with the exclamation "Rahowa!" - an acronym for "Religious Holy War."

"Too bad she wasn't home, too!" said one writer, referring to Judge Lefkow, on a bulletin board run by the Imperial Klans of America Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.

'The real villains'

Some of the most provocative comments have been made by New Jersey-based Hal Turner, who conducts a daily broadcast of fiercely anti-immigrant, anti-Jewish and anti-federal commentary via short-wave radio and the Internet. His Web site calls for three other judges described as "the real villains" in the Hale case - to be exposed to "rousing public debate" and "the pressure of public scorn." He also urges followers to supply information on these judges:

"Needed immediately is: Home addresses. Background and biographical info. Photos. Voting records, property ownership records. Info. about any skeletons in their closets. You know, the whole nine-yards. The full monty."

Judge Lefkow's home address had been posted on the Internet by a member of Hale's group.

Turner's comments on his Web site do not explicitly call for violence against the other judges, and Turner adds: "Please do not break any laws when undertaking your efforts."

Nonetheless, Turner walks a fine line. "We are living in tyranny," he told racists gathered at an Aryan Nations World Congress in 2003. "The only solution for tyranny is to kill the tyrants."

Musing about a hypothetical terrorist attack on Capitol Hill, Hale said: "The Congress of the United States are enemies of the people and they must fall."

Fear of crackdown

In racist Internet forums, cooler heads argue that this type of talk is counterproductive, if for no other reason than it brings on the heat of law enforcement, which stepped up pursuit of white supremacists in the early 1990s and was given expanded investigative powers after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

"The 'movement' is looking pretty stupid right now in the news because of these morons," wrote "Valhalla" in a posting on, a white supremacist bulletin board. Referring to Turner and others making inflammatory statements, he said: "They certainly haven't helped Hale's case one bit by their stupidity. Who here thinks that the prosecution will use incriminating statements by Hale (followers) in the upcoming sentencing hearing."

Hale, his family and his associates were among the first to be questioned by investigators in the Lefkow case.

Hale, now 33, took over the World Church of the Creator in 1995. One follower went on a three-day shooting rampage in July 1999 that left two minorities dead and nine wounded. Other Hale followers have been arrested on charges of aggravated assault, armed robbery, witness intimidation and attempted murder.

Despite this history, Hale issued a statement through his mother, saying: "There is no way that any supporter of mine could commit such a heinous crime."

Deeply suspicious of the system

The Internet forums give expression to the movement's most extreme suspicions that the Lefkow murders were plotted by what white supremacists believe is a Jewish-controlled government and media. Some suggest that Turner and others who make inflammatory statements are agent provocateurs planted to justify a crackdown on white power groups.

In one posting on, Valhalla urged members to keep a cool distance: "Anyone who is advocated or glorifying violence, and thus helping our enemies big time, needs to be totally shunned."

The Vanguard National News site, operated by the neo-Nazi National Alliance, covered the story of the Lefkow murders under the headline: "Media links Hale to killings while sidestepping central theme: scheming Jews destroyed his organization, framed him for solicitation of murder."

Wrote Neil Camberly on "The recent brutal slaying of the mother and husband of federal judge Joan Lefkow is being ruthlessly exploited by Jewish media outlets to stir up support for an end to their #1 enemy: the First Amendment of the United States Constitution."

Disarray in the ranks

The debate over the role of violence highlights how fragmented the white supremacist movement is right now. In many ways, say experts at watchdog groups like the Anti-defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center, the movement is in disarray.

The bankruptcy and then deaths in 2004 of long-time Aryan Nations leader Richard Butler and his would-be successor, Ray Redfeairn, left a leadership hole in the movement. The Aryan Nations, based in Idaho, brought together Klan, Nazi and militia groups from around the country. Other luminaries like Hale - "martyrs" within the movement - populate prisons around the country. Some experts say that more moderate "militia movement" members who could have risen to the top were frightened off by skinheads and white supremacists in Nazi regalia.

But a rudderless movement can sometimes be more volatile than one with effective leadership, because leaders sometimes serve to restrain the rank and file, said Mark Potok, editor of the Intelligence Project, which tracks racist groups for the Southern Poverty Law Center.

"The revolution is always next week - they tell followers to keep their weapons in their holsters until the time is right," said Potok. But in a vacuum, volatile followers may take things into their own hands.

"I think it's very possible that's what you have in the Lefkow case," he said.

Racial divide

Another strategy in the supremacist movement is the "lone wolf" approach. It's most closely associated with Tom Metzger, the California-based founder of White Aryan Resistance, who advocates underground activities rather than a public battle with the government. His Web site warns that "Lone Wolves are EVERYWHERE! We are in your: Neighborhoods, Financial Institutions, Police Departments, Military, Social Clubs, and Schools."

Metzger's site also champions Hale's cause, and offered space for Hale's speeches "before he was falsely accused and tried in Chicago."

Critics note that the lone wolf strategy is convenient for Metzger, whose organization is strapped after a civil court ordered it to pay $12.5 million in damages for recruiting a skinhead gang that killed an Ethiopian student in 1988.

Billy Roper presents a more palatable public image. Roper, a former school teacher who founded the White Revolution after breaking with the neo-Nazi National Alliance, issued a statement following the Lefkow murders, saying, "We regret and grieve for the loss of her family, regardless of who may have been responsible."

Roper, who is a friend of Hale's, publicly disavows violence; he says his position is "not a matter of principle but rather a matter of policy."

"It is inevitable," he writes in a White Revolution treatise on his Web site, "that some groups or individuals will want to resort to violence, but violence is incompatible with our strategy not only in the short term, by giving us a black eye in the courtroom of public opinion and bringing more repressive measures against us by the regime, but also in the long term when we might wish to seek the aid and sympathies of the wider population and the international community."

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