Hale's group a terrorist threat?

Public should not be complacent, FBI and hate-group experts warn

Peoria Times-Observer/November 10, 2001
By DeWayne Bartels

White supremacist Matt Hale doesn't like being called a domestic terrorist threat.

In an interview at his East Peoria home, Hale said neither he or his followers are terrorists of any kind. "That's asinine ... Our intent is not to terrorize anyone, but to educate people and inspire people," Hale said. Authorities say otherwise.

Ignoring Hale is the last thing that Americans should do, one high-ranking federal official said last year.

"On the national level, formal right-wing hate groups, such as the World Church of the Creator and the Aryan Nations, represent a continuing terrorist threat," said Louis Freeh, while director of the FBI on May 10, 2001, during testimony before the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

One hate group expert agreed with Freeh.

"Louis Freeh is absolutely accurate when he states that radical organizations within the militia movement are a continuous terrorist threat," said Sean Gilmore, a professor at Baldwin-Wallace College, in Ohio. "The Church of the Creator and the Aryan Nations both preach hate and are embedded in a movement that trains domestic terrorists how to use weapons to bring about destruction."

Gilmore spent the summer interviewing and interacting with members of hate groups.

The spectre of domestic terrorism seems larger today than in May. The federal government suggested domestic terrorists may be behind recent anthrax attacks.

Local public safety organizations began preparing for a domestic terrorist threat more that three years ago, according to the Peoria Fire Department. That came as a suggestion from the U.S. Department of Justice. The reason, in large part, was Matt Hale.

Yet, many locally still write off Hale as a member of a fringe group, public safety officials say.

Hale says while he is no domestic terrorist, it would be a mistake for people locally to write off him and his followers off as on the "fringe."

Hale, while not happy to be labeled a potential domestic terrorist threat, is not toning down his rhetoric a bit. If anything, it may be getting a little bolder.

'I'm a propagandist'

Hale who usually welcomes any kind of media attention, said he did not relish talking about this subject. He agreed to speak, he said, only to defend himself.

"The FBI, the justice department knows full well we're not terrorists. I'd say I'm one of the most watched people in Illinois," Hale said. "Certainly if I was about to commit anything close to terrorism, I wouldn't be free to talk here now."

Hale, typically, blames Jew for causing the FBI and justice department to say things about him publicly.

"Perhaps the FBI is saying these things to placate them and actually doing nothing. I'm in contact with the FBI and have been for some time," Hale said.

The Peoria office of the FBI did not return calls.

"We've had a good working relationship with the FBI for some time. I'd be surprised if the average local FBI agent believed we're domestic terrorists."

Hale said terrorism is not his style.

"My interest is peaceful, legal change," he said. "People should ask themselves this question: How many terrorists demonstrate on a street corner with a sign and a flag?

"I'm a propagandist, imparting ideas to the people. We have ideas. Some people don't like our ideas. That's something they'll have to deal with."

Fringe no more

Something else Hale said local residents will have to deal with is the fact that his church is growing, especially after Sept. 11.

"It is gaining ground. We are gaining new members in this area," Hale said.

The Sept. 11 attacks are part of the reason is Sept. 11, he said. The other is a concerted effort to consolidate his followers in the Peoria area.

On the fringe?

World Church of the Creator leader Matt Hale poses on front of his group's flag, which hangs in his office at his parent's home in East Peoria. He hopes to attract more racists to Central Illinois.

"I would definitely disagree with the notion that somehow we are still just a fringe group," Hale said. "I think a lot of people, especially after what happened on Sept. 11, feel we have been right all along. A lot of people are ready to draw the line."

Hale said that if his ideas scare people, they will have to deal with it.

"If they're fearful, that's too bad. They should join us or leave," he said.

Hale bristled when Benjamin Smith's name was brought up, and asked if his beliefs had contributed to Smith's actions. Smith, a former follower of Hale's was involved in a killing spree in July of 1999, targeting blacks, Jews and Asians. Two people were left dead and seven wounded throughout the Midwest, before Smith took his own life.

"You have to pin blame on the person responsible, not on a belief system. It's as simple as that," Hale said. "That's guilt by association. I thought that was bad. No belief makes anyone do anything."

Too dangerous to ignore

It can be dangerous to ignore people like Hale, as inviting as that may seem, according to one expert in white supremacy groups.

Dr. Jennifer Holmes, an associate professor of government at the University of Texas, said it is very dangerous to ignore Hale and his followers, especially at this time. She said that even if Hale and his followers are harmless, the people they could attract may not be.

"People of a like mind attract each other. It's likely other hate groups are already in your area, or headed there," Holmes said. "There's always the possibility that Peoria is home to other underground hate groups. That's something you really need to watch."

Holmes said, however, the response to hate groups has to be very measured.

"The deal is with most of these groups is they are very reactive. When they feel threatened by the government they can become very dangerous," Holmes said. "They do merit watching. But, if you crack down on them that's when they become dangerous."

Holmes said many hate groups are growing rapidly, especially after Sept. 11. The Southern Law Poverty Center, which watches hate groups, has labeled the World Church of the Creator as the fastest growing hate group in the nation.

"Denying Hale his law license was absolutely the wrong thing to do," Holmes said. "It gives him a grievance to work with.

"That's exactly why this group merits attention. Contact with these groups is essential. There is a lot of ignorance about the groups. People need to be aware. It is dangerous to ignore them."

Gilmore agreed.

"The presence of Hale should definitely concern local citizens because domestic terrorism almost always follows these hate groups," he said.

"Whether Hale commits acts of terrorism or his followers, these groups should be taken as a serious threat. All soldiers within violent movements need a violent revolution in which to believe. Hale provides domestic terrorists that revolution."

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