What triggered white supremacist to violence?

Profile of Benjamin Nathaniel Smith

CNN, July 5, 1999

(CNN) -- Authorities on Monday were piecing together the life of white supremacist Benjamin Nathaniel Smith, trying to determine what triggered what police said was the college student's deadly July Fourth holiday weekend shooting spree that targeted blacks, Jews and Asians.

Two people were killed and seven others were wounded over a three-day period before Smith took his own life on Sunday night.

The following information is known about Smith:

He was 21; 6 feet tall, 135 pounds; tattoo on his chest says "Sabbath Breaker."

He was born and raised in Illinois; his parents live in Northfield, Illinois, a Chicago suburb. Police say the parents have been "unable or unwilling to offer any pertinent information to police."

He attended Indiana University from the summer of 1998 through May when he completed his sophomore year. The criminal justice major would have been a junior this fall. He was not enrolled for fall classes, but school officials say students often wait until late summer to re-enroll.

The Daily Illini, the student newspaper at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana, reported that Smith was a student there from September 1996 to February 1998, when he was expelled. Urbana <illinois.indiana.map1.jpg> police said he had several run-ins with campus police, including for drug possession.

The student newspaper also quoted an ex-girlfriend as saying the timing of the shootings --which began on Friday and continued through the Fourth of July -- was not a coincidence. "This is his Independence Day from the government, from everything," said Elizabeth Sahr. She also said Smith was emotionally and physically abusive during their one-year relationship.

He came under the scrutiny of Indiana University officials last year for distributing racist fliers on campus. The fliers bore the mark of the Illinois-based World Church of the Creator, a Peoria, Illinois-based white supremacist group styled as a religion. Smith paid $35 in dues last year to join.

Matthew Hale, the founder of World Church of the Creator, said Smith did not renew his membership when it expired in May. Nevertheless, Smith's dormitory address is still listed as an Indiana contact on the hate group's Web site.

Smith was a nonviolent, "pleasant person who believes in his people, the white people," Hale told CNN. "I can't say anything bad about him." The church says on its Web site it "neither condones violence or unlawful activities, nor do we promote or incite them." Police and the Anti-Defamation League, however, have linked the church to violence.

During the racist flier controversy on the Indiana University campus, Smith told a student newspaper that the American government favors minorities at the expense of whites.

Richard McKaig, the university's Dean of Students, met with Smith to discuss the fliers. "He was a very common type of student, nothing disturbing or unusual about him at that time. Not his dress or look, except for his racist views, which were pretty abhorrent," McKaig said. "He wasn't confrontational in any way. He just said 'I'm just passing out fliers. This is America.'"

Was a regular contributor to the opinion pages of the Indiana Daily Student, penning letters under the nickname "August Smith".

The Anti-Defamation League said Smith was arrested in late April in connection with distributing racist and anti-Semitic literature in Wilmette, a Chicago suburb. Village Trustee Frank Whitehand said he believes the Wilmette case was pending in court.

Harlan Loeb, Midwest counsel for the ADL, said that the organization had been tracking Smith's activities for years. "He is representative of the aimless, directionless young adult that is searching desperately for affiliation and tragically has found that kinship with organized hatred and bigotry," Loeb said.

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