Hate group honored gunman for his abilities as a recruiter

Los Angeles Times/July 6, 1999
By Stephanie Simon

They call themselves a church.

Hate is their religion.

They hate Jews most of all. But they hate Christians, too. They hate blacks and Asians and gay people; they hate the government and the media. They hate public schools. They despise low IQs. And they have nothing but contempt for whites who ignore their call for a racial holy war that will prove their own supremacy.

The World Church of the Creator, with several hundred members, is one of the fastest-growing hate groups in the nation, according to those who monitor white supremacist organizations. It boasts at least 46 chapters across the country, up from just eight in 1995. It aggressively recruits on college campuses. And it reaches out to children with a "kiddie Web page."

Although the group's leader, Matt Hale, insists he does not promote or condone violence, he teaches that whites must one day wipe all other races from the planet.

And so, analysts said, 21-year-old Benjamin Nathaniel Smith - who was named the group's "1998 Creator of the Year" for his skill in wooing potential converts - was only following church doctrine to its logical end when he launched a mini-racial war of his own over the Fourth of July weekend, killing two people and wounding seven others before shooting himself Sunday as police closed in on him. 'Building the bombers'

"While [church leaders] are not building the bombs, they are certainly building the bombers," said Mark Potok, editor of the Intelligence Report on the radical right published by the Southern Poverty Law Center. "This is a religion for and by sociopaths, and the killings in Illinois and Indiana are merely the latest reflection of it."

As they are riled up by church doctrine and the constant calls for a racial holy war, Mr. Potok added, followers such as Mr. Smith "feel they can murder anyone who doesn't look like them."

Mr. Potok and others have linked World Church of the Creator members to a half-dozen hate crimes over the last few years, including the bombing of an NAACP office in Washington, the beating of a black veteran in Florida, a planned attack on synagogues in Portland, Ore., and a plot to bomb the First African Methodist Episcopal Church in Los Angeles.

Law enforcement authorities in Sacramento, Calif., have also said that the World Church of the Creator, known to be active in the area, is among the groups whose followers are being looked at in connection with three synagogue arsons in the city last month that injured no one but caused more than $1 million in damage.

"We have not ruled out that the Church of the Creator may be involved here," Paul Seave, U.S. attorney in Sacramento, said Monday. But federal authorities and the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles said Monday that there is no known link between Mr. Smith and the synagogues case.

The activity of its members raises doubts about the church's peaceful claims. "Hale is trying to dissociate himself from the violence, but that's a baldfaced lie," said Devin Burghart, who monitors hate groups in the Midwest for the Center for New Community. "It's the logical outcome of his hateful rhetoric."

That rhetoric reflects a militant us-against-the-world view that holds the white race (except Jews, Christians, gay people and others perceived as deviant) responsible for "all that which we call progress on this Earth," as the church Web site puts it. Works as violinist

Clean-cut and well-spoken, the 27-year-old Mr. Hale - who supports himself as a violinist when he isn't serving as the church's "pontifex maximus" - has raised the group's profile dramatically since taking over four years ago. The church, in fact, had been on the verge of collapse after its founder's suicide when Mr. Hale stepped in to re-energize it.

By all accounts, he has had remarkable success. From his base in East Peoria, Ill. - where he lives with his father, a retired police officer - Mr. Hale has set up chapters nationwide, building special strength in California and Florida.

"He's articulate, he's got a bit of charisma and he's a veteran hater. He's been doing this for well over a decade," said Mr. Burghart, who has tracked Mr. Hale since he began distributing neo-Nazi literature as a teenage political science major at Bradley University in Peoria.

"He's also very media-savvy," Mr. Burghart said. "He knows controversy sells, and he looks for it at every opportunity. When he finds it, he jumps into the fray with great gusto."

Mr. Hale made his biggest splash in defeat, when the Illinois State Bar refused to let him practice as an attorney - though he had passed the bar exam - because of "gross deficiency in moral character." Mr. Hale parlayed that rejection into nationwide exposure for the church, announcing his Web site and address every time he was interviewed.

Though unmistakably neo-Nazi, Mr. Hale's World Church of the Creator differs from other supremacist groups in philosophy. Those differences, analysts say, have helped fuel the group's rapid expansion. Mr. Hale says the church has 7,000 members, but outsiders peg membership at several hundred.

Most notably, the church is virulently anti-Christian as well as anti-Jew. Other neo-Nazi organizations, including Aryan Nations, promote their ideology as a Bible-based Christian Identity. But Mr. Hale's group shuns Christianity as part of a worldwide Zionist conspiracy. More revolutionary

"That makes them more revolutionary," Mr. Burghart said. "It also makes them more attractive to young people, who would rather sit around talking about a racial holy war than studying the Bible."

Also, although the church opposes feminism - that, too, is viewed as a Jewish conspiracy - it works hard to recruit women and to promote them to leadership roles, unlike other neo-Nazi groups.

The church's most effective recruiting tool has always been its literature. In his hotline message, updated last week, Mr. Hale boasted that his group has handed out 100,000 leaflets in the last two years - and urged his followers to disseminate the next 100,000 in half that time.

But he lost one of his best propagandists when Mr. Smith shot himself in the head.

Hailed in the church's newsletter for handing out more than 5,000 copies in a single month of "Facts the government and media don't want you to know," Mr. Smith was apparently skilled at slipping pamphlets under doors at night or inserting them into newspapers so they would reach even those people who turned him away when he tried to shove fliers in their hands on the street.

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