Is Hate on The Rise?

Racist groups may not be growing, but they're finding deadlier recruits

Time Magazine/July 19, 1999
By John Cloud

Before last week, it was hard to imagine Matthew Hale ever amounting to much. Hale, 27, runs a racist hate group he grandly named the World Church of the Creator. But even as one of the largest such organizations in the nation, WCOTC has at most a few thousand dues-paying $35-a-year members, many of whom were recruited on the Internet and have never so much as gathered in a beer hall. The group's headquarters is Hale's bedroom in his dad's house in East Peoria, Ill. It measures members' success by the number of racist leaflets they can distribute in a month, which is absurd to those of us who trash anything left under windshield wipers. A law school graduate, Hale can't even practice his profession: a state bar panel said in December that his racism makes him morally unfit. Should we really fear people like this, guys twisted enough to make a religion of their race--and dorky enough to live with their parents?

Unfortunately, last week the answer seemed to be yes. Benjamin Smith, a 21-year-old WCOTC sympathizer who had been so close to Hale he moved to Peoria to be near him, recently became convinced that the group's goal of white victory in the coming racial holy war couldn't be achieved through propaganda alone. Setting off July 2 from the Chicago suburbs where he was raised, Smith shot 11 Asian Americans, blacks and Jews, killing two, before committing suicide July 4 in southern Illinois.

To be sure, organized hate groups have not achieved great financial or political power; in fact, the old Aryan Nation-style groups are struggling. But authorities believe violence motivated by hate is increasing, in part because hate groups now wield powerful new tools, including the Internet and the arts of media management, to attract a different breed of racist. More college kids and suburban residents have joined, and WCOTC is even making direct appeals to women. Also drawn to the fiery words are loners who feel profoundly disaffected by societal change, young men who are already on the edge of violence.

The blow-dried Hale doesn't like to discuss these violence-prone members. He insisted last week that Smith didn't represent WCOTC. "We don't condone these actions," he told TIME. But neither would he condemn the murders. Instead, WCOTC staged a live Internet chat to keep up last week's publicity.

Lawyers for antihate groups are considering lawsuits against WCOTC on behalf of Smith's victims, one of whom filed his own suit on Friday. The broader suits would probably charge that Hale and his group's rhetoric were responsible for Smith's shooting spree. Proving anything will be difficult, but antihate lawyers hope such a lawsuit might bankrupt the group. In 1994 the Southern Poverty Law Center won a $1 million fine against the WCOTC's previous incarnation--called simply the Church of the Creator, a group founded by a former Florida legislator--because of its ties to violence. In the '90s alone, at least 10 of its members pleaded guilty to or were convicted of racially motivated crimes. Before Hale revived the group in 1996, it was nearly dead and gone because of faltering leadership and the successful lawsuit.

Even today, WCOTC's websites contain plenty of incendiary language. One of its "16 Commandments" is to "destroy and banish all Jewish thought and influence." Hale has written of the need for a "total solution to the ills of this planet," echoing Hitler's call for a "final solution." That's just the sort of nonsense that could provoke a troubled loser looking for someone to blame for his plight. "The sophisticated bigots know they're not going to have a mass movement," says Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, an antihate group in Los Angeles. "But with the help of the Internet they can recruit individuals who are prepared to act out."

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