Church of Creator hate group weakened, divided after arrests

Church members serving time or awaiting trial

Miami Herald/August 3, 1999

Last week's conviction of the former Florida leader of the World Church of the Creator and the sentencing of two former underlings on hate-related charges has left the white supremacist organization enfeebled and reeling.

The handful of remaining local members are bickering among themselves, mailing in their resignations to world headquarters, joining other local white-power groups or forming new ones.

''They're dropping like flies,'' says ex-leader Guy Lombardi.

Rebuilding the group won't be easy. Not only do members hate Jews, blacks and others not in the majority, they hate the other traditional haters.

''We hate the Klan, the Aryan Nation, the Hammerskins. We don't even get along with the Nazis,'' said one church member.

It is difficult to gauge the size of hate groups, because they tend to exaggerate their membership, but Lombardi says this of the World Church's numbers: ''There are about five left in Broward, and that's going to fizzle.''

Lombardi, a former church leader who was national director of its security arm, the White Berets, has renounced his ties to the organization.

After spending four months in jail last year for threatening the life of a witness to a hate crime, he is now under house arrest.

The handful of remaining members, who claim their ''only religion is the color of our skin,'' are in their teens, with two members in their mid- to late-20s, one active member says.

Church members say they've essentially gone underground, although they resurfaced briefly last week during the trial of former state leader Jules Fettu on charges that he kicked and stomped a Miami man and his son. Residents of a Hollywood neighborhood woke up last week to find racist leaflets littering their lawns.

Members say they targeted the predominantly Jewish neighborhood of Emerald Hills to get media attention, not recruits. World Church doctrine suggests using the media in its holy war to enhance the white race.

Not over yet

Sunrise hate-crime investigator Donald Cannon has followed the moves of the white power group for the last 10 years and says it's a mistake to think that a few arrests will mark the end.

''We put a good dent in them, we put them back on their heels a little bit, but I'm not saying this thing is over,'' said Cannon, who has helped put several members in jail. ''There's always going to be people with racist philosophies who will take things too far, but we're well aware of them and they're well aware of us.''

Prohibited by law from infiltrating or spying on the group's activities, Cannon said he monitors the group's moves by logging onto their Web sites, visiting their chat rooms and calling local hotline numbers.

Members say the arrests and bad publicity are not to blame for the group's troubles. Some blame their ''Pontifex Maximus'' for the church's slow demise.

National leader Matt Hale, whose last trip to Broward was on New Year's Eve in 1997, is being criticized for having a Jewish attorney, for being unable to recite one of the church's commandments on a recent Jerry Springer episode and for generally ''going Hollywood.''

''That's all he wants is media attention. 'Look at me. Look at me,' '' said Lombardi, 35, of Fort Lauderdale.

''Hale, in my opinion, is selling out. He's money hungry and recruiting anybody without doing criminal background checks and mental health checks. That's how we ended up with Benjamin Smith.''

Getting attention

Benjamin Nathaniel Smith, a former member, shocked the nation July Fourth weekend when he went on a bloody Midwest shooting spree, killing two men and wounding several others -- all minorities -- before turning the gun on himself.

Although Hale said Smith had quit the organization a month earlier, the spree brought the World Church unprecedented notoriety.

Fettu, who awaits sentencing on the battery/hate crime conviction delivered Wednesday, says he is no longer the church's local leader or minister of Internet affairs but remains a reverend in the church.

In an interview with The Herald on Wednesday, Fettu said garnering attention is the whole point of the church's battle cry ''RAHOWA,'' short for Racial Holy War, which is found on T-shirts, posters and fliers, and tattooed on members' skin.

''It's a propaganda word, a battle cry equivalent to the word ''Jihad,'' which is a word that polarizes people around the world,'' said Fettu on Wednesday, minutes before he was hustled away in handcuffs after he was found guilty of battery/hate crime.

To that Cannon responded: ''A lot of people are being killed in the name of Jihad. I don't buy it. Any group that proclaims a racial holy war is not passive by any means. 'War' means a prolonged conflict between nations. Doesn't sound peaceful to me.''

Some former members, like Lombardi, say they retain some of the church's beliefs even if they no longer want the attention that comes with being in the group.

When Judge Victor Tobin asked Lombardi on Friday if he'd be willing to have his more ''offensive'' tattoos removed, Lombardi quickly agreed. Out of the dozens branded on his flesh, Lombardi promised to remove the brightly colored Confederate flag scrawled across his neck and another that depicts a South African symbol for white pride.

''It doesn't bother me one bit because it's hard to get along with society with them,'' Lombardi said. ''Do you know how hard it is to get a job, to talk to the average person on the street? I want people to approach me, where before I was so full of hate, people could feel it surrounding me.''

A church with no god

The World Church of the Creator may be unique among churches in that its members call themselves atheists. Like other churches, the organization has a tax exemption, meaning that donations made to the organization can be deducted from the givers' income taxes.

''Because of the historic separation [of church and state], you and I can say we're a church and until the IRS audits, we won't know,'' said Sam Serio, IRS spokesman.

This ''church'' holds its meetings at leaders' homes. The anointed reverends read chapters and preach from founder Ben Klassen's gospels, The White Man's Bible and Nature's Eternal Truth, both mandatory reading. A study ensues, during which members analyze the racist teachings of Klassen, a former state lawmaker from Lighthouse Point.

''When I was leading, we'd really discuss and try to comprehend what he was saying. It wasn't 'Let's go out and wage a bloody racial holy war,' '' Lombardi said.

When Klassen committed suicide in 1993, he bequeathed a parcel of land to the church worth about $10,000. The money was used to kick-start the '90s version of the organization.

As with other fringe groups, the Internet has been a boon to the World Church.

''Before they could only reach the guy around the block. Now they can reach people around the world, relatively cheaply,'' Cannon said.

One thing law enforcers say is in their favor, however, is Florida's hate-crimes law, used to elevate the seriousness and penalty associated with a crime. Only a few states have such laws.

Being charged with a hate crime in Florida can bump up a misdemeanor to a felony, and, if a defendant is convicted, it can mean the difference between probation and prison.

The law was first applied in 1991 when Fort Lauderdale attorney Herb Cohen was physically and verbally attacked after going to a man's house to retrieve earrings for a female friend.

On Friday, the law will be applied again when 24-year-old Donald Hansard faces sentencing in connection with the same savage beating that led to Fettu's conviction.

And Hansard's attorney will be the man who first benefited from the passage of the law: Herb Cohen.

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