Leader of Hate's Church Mourns 'One White Man'

Los Angeles Times/July 6, 1999
By Stephanie Simon

A terrible loss, Matthew Hale said. A sad and terrible loss.

He was talking about the white man.

The white man, Benjamin Nathaniel Smith, shot himself to death Sunday after going on a shooting rampage. He had killed an African American man. And a Korean man too. Among his other victims, he had wounded six Orthodox Jews.

But when Hale totaled up the victims, he saw only one: the white man. The others, he explained, didn't count. He sounded exasperated at having to go over this all again. It was, to him, so obvious. Still, he patiently spelled it out: The others were irrelevant because they were subhuman.

"As far as we're concerned," he said, "the loss is one white man."

Hale calls himself a reverend.

Hate is his religion.

As leader of the World Church of the Creator, Hale preaches white supremacy. He says he's not out to conquer the world; he insists he's not into violence. The way he looks at it, in fact, killing blacks and Jews and gays and Asians is really a waste of time. They'll die off anyway, sooner or later, because they're so inferior. "They can't even feed themselves when left to their own devices," he sniffs.

His reasoning is, apparently, persuasive.

Movement Is Spreading Rapidly

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," full of crossword puzzles, coloring books--and simple explanations of the group's hateful ideology.

That ideology, Hale says, boils down to one chief doctrine: "White people are the most gifted creations on Earth." Everyone else--especially Jews, but also Christians, homosexuals and people of any color--will eventually have to go.

Hale insists he doesn't condone violence. But he concedes that he's not too upset when "subhumans" get killed. "Our church doesn't make any bones about the fact that we don't interest ourselves in that." Hate-group monitors find that reasoning disingenuous.

In their view, Smith, who was named the group's "1998 creator of the year" for his skill in wooing 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 nine others before shooting himself Sunday as police closed in on him.

"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, Potok added, followers such as Smith "feel they can murder anyone who doesn't look like them."

In fact, Potok and others have linked World Church of the Creator members to half a dozen hate crimes over the last few years, including the bombing of a National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People 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.

Violence a 'Logical Outcome' of Doctrine

Law enforcement authorities in Sacramento 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 Smith and synagogue bombings.

In any case, Hale rejects all attempts to link his group to violence as a "desperate attack to stop the onward rush of our movement."

Though he talks about a holy war, he says: "This is no more a war with guns than the War on Drugs or the War on Poverty." Instead, he explains, it's a war of propaganda. His troops are simply out there spreading their message, trying to convince other white folks to stand up for their race and leave the "subhumans" to wither.

If a few of his members happen to turn violent, Hale said, that's not his fault. Blaming the church for a few loose cannons, he said, "is similar to saying the pope in Rome is guilty every time someone blows up an abortion clinic. It just doesn't add up."

Devin Burghart, who monitors hate groups in the Midwest, responds to that argument this way: "It's a baldfaced lie." Shootings and bombings and arson, he says, are "the logical outcome of [Hale's] hateful rhetoric."

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

Minority groups, or "mud people," are destroying civilization, according to church doctrine. So it's up to those who believe in white superiority to save the day. And, according to Hale, the day needs saving fast. The church's rallying cry, RAHOWA! stands for Racial Holy War. Warning that the white race is sinking quickly, Hale constantly urges his followers to "strive harder" to get their message across.

Otherwise, he wrote in a recent newsletter, "we will condemn our children to a world of inferiority and savagery at the hands of our racial enemies. . . . Take action now and save this planet! RAHOWA!"

Clean-cut and well-spoken, the 27-year-old Hale, who supports himself as a violinist when he's not 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 founder Ben Klassen, a former Florida state legislator, committed suicide.

By all accounts, Hale has had remarkable success re-energizing the group. >From his base in East Peoria, Ill.--where he lives with his father, a retired police officer--Hale has set up chapters all over the country, 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 Burghart, who has tracked Hale since he began distributing neo-Nazi literature as a teenage political science major at Bradley University in Illinois.

"He's also very media savvy," 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."

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." 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, 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. (Hale claims the church has 7,000 members, but outsiders peg membership at just several hundred.)

Most notably, the church is virulently anti-Christian as well as anti-Jewish. Other neo-Nazi organizations, including Aryan Nations, promote their ideology as a Bible-based Christian identity. But Hale's group shuns Christianity as part of a worldwide Zionist conspiracy. "That makes them more revolutionary," 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 promote them to leadership roles, unlike other neo-Nazi groups.

World Church of the Creator members have sought innovative ways to attract younger followers as well, "not only college and high school students but even middle-school students," Potok said. Two former church members, for example, founded Resistance Records, which became the nation's leading distributor of white-power music.

Church Lost a Skilled Propagandist

The church's most effective recruiting tool, however, has always been its literature.

In his hotline message, updated last week, 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 Smith killed himself.

Hailed in the church's newsletter for handing out more than 5,000 copies of "Facts the Government and Media Don't Want You to Know" in a single month, 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.

"He had been a rising star in the group for some time," Burghart said. "He was clearly one of Hale's most effective [operatives]."

His prowess in spreading hateful views without opposition might have emboldened Smith to embark on his shooting outburst, suggested Leonard Zeskind, who tracks hate groups for the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights in Kansas City, Kan.

"This guy felt fairly powerful because he was relatively unchallenged," Zeskind said.

"People always say, 'We can't stop [racists] because of their free speech rights.' " he said. "Well, there is free speech, but that doesn't mean we can't do anything about [hate groups]. We need to stand up. We need to organize people away from this stuff. We need to speak out against it."

Times staff writer Patrick J. McDonnell in Los Angeles and researcher John Beckham in Chicago contributed to this story.

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