Second white supremacist group targets Lewiston

Associated Press/November 29, 2002
By Ann S. Kim

Lewiston, Maine -- A white supremacist group hopes resentment about the migration of hundreds of Somalis to this overwhelmingly white city will boost its presence in Maine .

The leader of the World Church of the Creator said he decided to come to Lewiston after hearing rumblings about the influx of Somalis into Lewiston in the last couple of months.

Maine has been one of the group's least active states, Matt Hale said. But he hopes a meeting slated for Jan. 11 will change that.

About 1,000 Somalis have moved to Lewiston from other U.S. cities in the last year and a half. A furor broke out last month when Mayor Larry Raymond wrote an open letter to the Somali community urging them to discourage friends and relatives from moving to Lewiston , population 36,000, saying the city's resources were maxed-out.

Since then, another white supremacist group, the National Alliance, set up a Web site to recruit members from the area and anti-Somali fliers downloaded from the site have appeared around the city.

The World Church of the Creator, based in East Peoria , Ill. , describes itself as a religion based on the supremacy of the white race. It has distributed literature around southern Maine before, but the Lewiston speech would mark its first event in the state, Hale said. Hale said he will talk about how whites can mobilize to achieve a ''racially clean society.''

''We need to have rallies, we need to have meetings, we need to have street demonstrations, we need to have marches,'' Hale said. ''We need to be activists just as much as blacks were in the '60s. It worked for them, and certainly it would work for white people too, if they would get out of the easy chair and stand with us.''

City officials last week granted the group permission to use the Lewiston Armory.

City Administrator James Bennett said the decision is not an endorsement of the group's message but that the city has a constitutional obligation to allow the group to express its views.

''Are we happy about it? Of course not,'' Bennett said.

Police Chief William Welch said his department is gathering info rmation about the group's last 20 or so events to determine why some went smoothly and others resulted in violent clashes.

In Wakefield , Mass., some residents wanted the town to simply forbid the World Church of the Creator from holding an event.

But research showed the group had gone to court and prevailed when communities tried to shut it out.

Police Chief Stephen Doherty knew violence was likely if the group's opponents were on hand to ''smash the nasties.''

Police swept Wakefield 's public library for weapons and explosives the evening before Hale's speech, canceled all days off for officers and called in 250 riot-trained officers from 70 communities.

Doherty estimated that the event drew 700 people, and that only 30 or 40 were World Church members.

There were four arrests. One protester was charged with a civil rights violation and assault and battery with a dangerous weapon for whacking a group member on the head with a pole, Doherty said.

The organizer of the Lewiston event, David Stearns, said he is the only enrolled member of the group in Maine that he knows of, but that he's e-mailed with Mainers who agree with his views.

''Some people join and don't say a word because they are afraid. Everybody has their own methods. Some of us are vocal. Some people have the belief that their religion is their own business,'' and work on spreading the word quietly, one person at a time, Stearns said.

Hale said his group disavows any sort of violence. Hale said he would not talk about the false claims of his foes when asked about crimes the Anti-Defamation League linked to its members in other states, including the beating of a black man and witness intimidation.

Fewer than 5 percent of the 9,000 hate crimes reported last year in the United States were committed by members of white supremacist and other racist groups, said Joe Roy of the Southern Poverty Law Center in Alabama , which tracks hate crimes and hate groups.

But, Roy said, these groups foment the kind of atmosphere conducive to such crimes. He estimates the membership of the World Church of the Creator to be between 200 and 300.

In Lewiston , news of Hale's speech prompted several churches and other groups counter his speech with a diversity celebration on the same day. Details are still being worked out.

Abdiaziz Ali, a Somali who works as a city caseworker in Lewiston , was blase about Hale's speech.

Some are curious enough to consider attending, Ali said, adding, ''It's being held in a public place. It's open to everybody.''

Somali leaders planned to talk about whether they need to make any preparations for the event, Ali said, but most people were not worried about the white supremacist group taking root in Lewiston .

''I think they just say what they want to say and just go home,'' he said. ''Because they have freedom of speech, they can say what they want, but they cannot hurt anybody.''

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