With the Web, Midwest minister of hate gains a global reach

Unlike many white supremacists, Hale reaches out to women and youth.

Hartford Courant/December 4, 2000
By Michael Greenwood

East Peopia, Ill. - At the headquarters of the World Church of the Creator, Matt Hale is hard at work on the white revolution, organizing his soldiers for the final struggle: RAHOWA, or Racial Holy War.

Hale has been preaching the gospel of hate for more than a decade and recently extended it via cable-access television, confident he will snap people out of their complacency and eventually turn America into a bastion of whiteness.

His vision for the future includes mass deportations of minorities, the execution of interracial couples, and strict loyalty to an all-white government.

On the television screen and over the Internet, his stern, angular face takes on a sinister quality. His diatribes evoke Nazi Germany.

But here, amid the cornfields of central Illinois, Hale has found little support for his grand schemes and few people to listen.

There is no church, only a cluttered office on the second floor of his modest home. Except for a few wayward souls, there are no minions. And after one spends a little time with Hale, the cultivated image of a messianic leader bent on remaking the world starts to crack.

With a hint of acne still clinging to his 29-year-old face, the high priest, or "Pontifex Maximus," as he calls himself, still lives with his father. Racism is his profession; otherwise, he is unemployed. And in his largely white, largely blue-collar town on the muddy banks of the Illinois River, he is viewed pretty much as a flake.

It is only technology - along with a dash of media savvy and a penchant for self-promotion - that has snatched Hale and his tiny band of bigots from complete obscurity. With the click of a mouse, he casts for converts and spreads his racist vision from coast to coast.

It is through the Web that this digital David Duke resurrected an organization that almost vanished before he picked up the mantle in 1996.

The group has produced one of the slickest pages on the Internet devoted to white supremacy. It is a racist's delight: women with flowing blond hair, crude smears against every group, and even a children's page with bigoted crossword puzzles.

Unlike most of his competitors in the supremacist movement, Hale has used the medium to reach out to women and youth. Viewers who e-mail Hale receive a prompt response. Teenagers starting to dabble in racial politics can pick up a copy of the White Man's Bible, or read reams of "facts" the government and media allegedly do not want anyone to know.

Hale applauds the Web's effectiveness. "We wouldn't be as known as we are without it," he said. "It's very important. It's allowing us to bring the message to the people."

The actual strength of the World Church is almost impossible to gauge. Hale claims to have several dozen chapters worldwide, including at least five in prisons. He estimates that 30,000 people in the United States agree with the teachings, but he declines to say how many actually belong.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups, says only 203 copies of the church's monthly newsletter, the Struggle, are mailed to members. And many of the chapters that Hale touts as evidence of growing support consist of a "lonely kid" at the post office.

"Essentially, it is an Internet group. It doesn't really exist in reality," said Mark Potok, a spokesman for the center. "It's a personality cult centered around Matt Hale."

The World Church is not a "church" in any sense that most people understand. Members do not believe in God. Hale lumps Jesus in with a host of other international conspiracies. Their creed is simply white superiority. They worship the white race. The church was founded in 1973 by Ben Klassen, who committed suicide 20 years later.

Like Klassen, Hale is the truest of believers. He chuckles as he wipes his polished brown shoes on the Israeli flag that serves as the doormat to his office. The room is painted blood red, the color of his church, and adorned with enough racist propaganda to put Joseph Goebbels at ease.

"We believe the white race is the elite of the world," he said as if he were talking about last night's ball game. "I'm 100 percent confident we are right. We have the most just cause in history."

He talks about a looming civil war in America that will make the first one look like a playground scuffle. And although "the church" publicly disavows violence, some of its members have shattered that commandment.

Last year, Benjamin Smith, a zealot for the cause and a former confidant of Hale's, went on a shooting rampage in Illinois and neighboring Indiana. By the time he was done, Smith had killed two people and wounded nine. All his victims were minorities. Smith then killed himself.

Hale has summed up the killings this way: "As far as we're concerned, the loss is one white man."

His first cable show was devoted to Smith and setting the record straight on his killing rampage.

The shows are pretty much alike. With the group's white-power flag as a backdrop, Hale stares straight into the camera and ad-libs for nearly 30 minutes.

As offensive as he might be, there is another side to Hale that peeks through from time to time. It leaves one wondering how he preaches what he does.

Before he starts droning on about race and politics, Matt Hale seems normal, even likable.

Polite to a fault and dressed like a successful yuppie in his well-pressed suit, starchy white shirt and conservative tie, Hale greets visitors to his gray two-story home with a firm handshake and a gentle "hello."

One of the nation's most strident white supremacists is also a strict vegetarian, fueling his 145-pound body with fruit, vegetables and nuts. "I'm a big avocado fan," he volunteered. And Hale is educated. He has a bachelor's degree and a law degree from a state university, although he has not been admitted to the bar because of his views. He is widely read and aware of global events.

When he is not preaching white superiority, Hale plays the violin. He picked up the instrument at age 10 and can do justice to Mozart. It is the only thing he has been doing longer than racism.

But those who know Hale are not buying any hints at moderation. He gives lip service to nonviolence because he has to. He has a law degree, and he is smart enough to back down when necessary.

"He's slicker than slick," said Ted Miller, deputy chief of police in Pekin. Miller has arrested Hale before and has watched his career unfold. "He's going to tell you that he doesn't advocate violence, but we all know what has been done. He's definitely an intelligent individual and is dedicated to his mission."

Hale's days in Illinois are probably numbered. He cannot practice law here.

Other than his family, there is not much to keep him here. His father, a retired East Peoria policeman, shares the house with Hale. The home has been in the family for nearly 100 years. It looks like a bachelor's pad, dimly lit and decorated with a hodgepodge of old furniture that gives it a 1950s feel. His three brothers have moved on, and his mother left a long time ago after a divorce. There is no Mrs. Matt Hale, and no immediate prospects for one.

Hale readily agrees to a request to play his violin. He touches the bow to the strings and plays a mournful tune. Hale fiddles away, but the sparks from his words and his actions have not yet caused East Peoria to burn, even smolder. Peoria is fine, too, just across the river. In fact, his message is lost to almost everybody in America. He is largely playing to an empty stadium. But Hale doesn't seem to notice, or he doesn't mind. He is dreaming of future glory.

"I'm a soldier," he said. "I'm in the trenches for my people. I want to make you see what I see. The truth is the truth. I don't care if I'm outnumbered six billion to one. I'm going to do what is right, even if nobody's with me."

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