Hale's speech draws a crowd of his opponents

No arrests made during 2-hour talk by white supremacist

News Gazette/September 10, 2001

Champaign -- Matt Hale got the theater he wanted, if not the recruits. The white supremacist from East Peoria came to town to preach unity for white people, but succeeded mainly in uniting those in opposition to him. His speech at the Champaign Public Library on Sunday night consisted mainly of him spewing racial epithets and audience members heckling back, something like a two-hour Jerry Springer show.

Aside from violent words, there was no violence and while some opponents were escorted out of the library auditorium for getting out of their chairs, there were no arrests.

Close to 100 audience members of different races filled the auditorium, while about 20 members of the media and an equal number of police in riot gear observed. Several streets around the library were blocked off as police from Champaign, Urbana, the University of Illinois, Parkland College, Champaign County and the Illinois State Police prepared for every eventuality.

Hale arrived about 7:15, accompanied by two white-bereted escorts in black shirts and fatigues and carrying the red banner of Hale's World Church of the Creator. Five other supporters also accompanied him. The audience laughed at Hale's entrance. "I've given many a speech and no laughing is going to shut me up," Hale said.

Audience members continued to shout, swear, sing, clap and raise banners as Hale attempted to speak. Aside from his coarse and obscenity-laced rhetoric about other races, Hale reserved special criticism for "Mayor Schweinhundt," for Mayor Jerry Schweighart's having urged the public not to attend.

"We are hated because we love white people," Hale said, to which a black man replied, "We don't hate you, man. You're just ignorant." And so it went for two hours, though usually not with as much tact. Midway through, about half the audience got up and left in protest. Toward the end, Hale said the evening was a success.

"This has been a difficult speech ... but I accomplished what I set out to do, which is lift my voice for my people," he said. More than 225 people assembled outside of temporary fences north of the library as Hale arrived to sing hymns and to speak out about racism.

While some hecklers cursed at Hale and his supporters as he arrived on an MTD van, the event was largely completed without incident. Two area religious organizations, the Ministerial Alliance of Champaign-Urbana and the Religious Leaders for Community Care, held a joint prayer vigil outside the library.

Approximately 100 people of various races sang hymns arm in arm, quoted Scriptures, and spoke out about racial harmony during the 40- minute prayer vigil.

"We have come together to witness to our love of God and of one another, and to pray together for the healing of our community, our nation and our world," said the Rev. Dr. Evelyn Underwood, vice president of the ministerial alliance and associate pastor of the New Freewill Baptist Church in Champaign.

After the prayer vigil dispersed, about 125 protesters remained, with many of them giving speeches about racism. Others carried signs reading, "Hatred Not Welcome Here," "C-U: No Place for Hatred," and "Get the Hale out of my city." "This guy's fringe racism needs to be put in its place," said Tom Bassett of Urbana.

Some of Hale's supporters were also on hand to show support for his views. "I'm supporting my race and my people," said Alan Gunderson of Champaign. Jeff Van Haight of Champaign wore a Confederate flag T-shirt and a necklace bearing the Nazi cross to show his solidarity with Hale.

"I like Matt Hale's ideas, but I don't agree with some of the violence some of his supporters have shown," said Van Haight.

As Hale's speech concluded, a number of protesters gathered south of the library to meet him. But the MTD van carrying Hale quickly turned around on Randolph Street and sped away to the north. The protesters than dispersed without incident.

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