White-power church causes stir in York

The Virginian-Pilot/April 25, 2002
By Cindy Clayton

A white-supremacist group that has met in libraries across the country to spread its racist message will be in Hampton Roads next weekend, and regional authorities are bracing for trouble.

The World Church of the Creator proclaims itself to be dedicated to the "survival, expansion and advancement of the white race.'' Its members have been linked to killings and other violent acts, spurring nationwide controversy.

Peninsula officials have major security plans in place for the group's May 4 meeting at the York County Library at Tabb.

Officers from at least 12 law enforcement agencies, including several from South Hampton Roads, will keep order. The library will be closed to the public, and traffic will be restricted.

"You have to ask for help for something like this,'' said Tom Shepperd of the York County Board of Supervisors. "There is no one police organization around here that could field a force like that.''

The World Church formed in 1973 and is based in Peoria, Ill. Its leader, Matthew Hale, will talk next weekend about "Winning Back the Country of Our Forefathers.''

Group members proclaim they want "RAHOWA!'' -- a racial holy war.

In some cities, that's exactly what they've had.

When members met in January in York, Pa., protesters clashed with supporters and police. Last March, Connecticut state police sprayed pepper gas on protesters in Wallingford.

Virginia Beach police will send 18 to 20 officers to the upcoming meeting, Chief A.M. "Jake'' Jacocks said this week. Norfolk police and the Virginia State Police confirmed Wednesday that they will send officers, but officials would not say how many, citing safety and tactical concerns.

Several calls to the York County Sheriff's Department were not returned Wednesday.

But Shepperd said officers will check World Church members for weapons and will be posted inside the meeting room. A 150-foot safety barrier will be set up outside the library, and parking will be cut to a minimum.

Traffic on Va. 134 will be restricted to one lane, Shepperd said.

"I guarantee you, if we didn't do this, it would be foolish,'' Shepperd said. "Where communities have not prepared, that's when trouble breaks out.''

The meeting is scheduled from noon to 2 p.m. that Saturday, but the library will be closed all day, according to a statement issued earlier this month by county authorities.

"I really think it's a matter of safety concerns for the public and for the staff,'' said Kevin Smith, a supervisor at the library.

Library staff didn't know about the group's beliefs or about the protests at other events until after a local World Church member booked the meeting room, Smith said.

"A few days afterward, we started getting information from other libraries about what happened there,'' Smith said. "That started making bells go off.''

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project, the group has Virginia chapters in Colonial Heights and Pound. The law center, which tracks hate groups and promotes tolerance, classifies the World Church as a neo-Nazi organization.

Smith said he's not sure why the group picked the York library for the meeting.

"I've got a sense that it's because libraries have always been forums for intellectual freedom and for First Amendment rights and freedom of expression,'' he said.

Others in the community said the best way to protest will be to stay away.

"We recognize that they have a right to meet,'' said Arthur Mallory, president of the York-James City-Williamsburg branch of the NAACP. "We will give them the attention that they deserve -- none.''

Some local business owners said they hadn't heard about the meeting until recently.

"My family discussed it, and we feel that everyone should just stay home and let these people do their thing,'' said Claire Passaro, who works at the York Veterinary Hospital.

The World Church wasn't widely recognized until 1999, when a man claiming membership went on a two-state shooting rampage, then killed himself.

Benjamin Smith, 21, killed two people and injured nine, including former Northwestern University basketball coach Ricky Byrdsong, according to news accounts.

Then, in September 2001, Sacramento security guard Joseph Ferguson, 20, killed five people and wounded a California Highway Patrol officer and a motorist before killing himself.

When police searched Ferguson's home, they found white supremacist information, including World Church literature.

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