U.S. May Investigate White Supremacist Group

Reuters/July 8, 1999
By James Vicini

Washington -- The Justice Department is trying to decide whether to launch an investigation into a group linked to a white supremacist who went on a deadly shooting spree, Attorney General Janet Reno said Thursday.

Reno said the department had not determined whether an investigation was warranted into the World Church of the Creator, a group which espouses anti-minority and anti-Semitic views. White supremacist Benjamin Smith often distributed racist leaflets when he was a member of the group.

The Justice Department's long-standing internal guidelines prevent the FBI from investigating groups simply because of their views -- policies adopted to prevent abuses like the ones that occurred when J. Edgar Hoover was the FBI's director.

Smith, 21, killed two men and wounded eight in a recent three-day rampage in Illinois and Indiana in which he targeted blacks, Asians and Orthodox Jews. It ended with Smith's suicide in a hijacked van in the downstate Illinois town of Salem.

Asked about her reaction to the shootings, Reno said at her weekly news conference, ``I was appalled.''

Reno said the Justice Department must have ``a reasonable indication of criminal conduct'' by the group before it can investigate it.

``We are going to review all the issues with respect to this matter to determine what would be appropriate,'' she said. ``We will be reviewing all the issues that have been brought to our attention to see whether there is any basis for proceeding.''

A Justice Department official said the FBI and the Justice Department's criminal and civil rights divisions were looking at the group's activities in an attempt to determine whether it promotes violence by its members.

The Justice Department already is investigating whether Smith acted alone. And it has brought charges against a 64-year-old unlicensed gun dealer in central Illinois for allegedly selling Smith the guns he used.

Reno said the Justice Department was not expanding the investigation. ``I am talking about seeing whether there is a threshold for proceeding further,'' she said.

The group's leader, Matt Hale, who lives in his parents' home in Peoria, Illinois, near where Smith was living, said his group is nonviolent and uses ``persuasion'' to accomplish its goal of promoting the white race.

However Hale urged his followers to ``win this racial holy war,'' and warned of retribution for anyone who got in the way.


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