White supremacist leader says his law battle set off shooter

Church leader denied attorney license twice

CNN, July 5, 1999

CHICAGO (CNN) -- Matt Hale, leader of the World Church of the Creator, said Monday he believed alleged white supremacist Benjamin Nathaniel Smith, who police say went on a two-state shooting spree before committing suicide Sunday, was probably upset by the denial of Hale's license to practice law in Illinois.

"I strongly suspect that the denial of my law license set him off," Hale told CNN in an interview Monday. "Why? Because of the timing involved and because I know he was very passionate about me getting my law license. He had testified for me at the hearing I had on the matter."

Hale, 27, said he had been denied membership in the Illinois bar on Friday because of his views on race. It was the second time state hearing panels deemed Hale unfit to become a lawyer in Illinois.

In a report released last week, the bar's Committee on Character and Fitness quoted racial slurs from Hale's own Web site as evidence of his "bad character."

"He is absolutely entitled to hold those beliefs, but at the same time the public and the bar are entitled to be treated fairly and decently by attorneys," the panel said.

Authorities say Smith shot himself three times Sunday while trying to evade arrest and later died at a hospital. He was captured after a weekend shooting spree that started in Chicago and left two dead and nine wounded.

Hale said Smith had been a member of the World Church of the Creator until May, when his $35 membership expired. Styled as a religion, the church is run by Hale from his parents' home in a middle class neighborhood of East Peoria. 'Ben, brother, this isn't the way'

The church espouses the elimination of non-whites. But Hale said his group's rhetoric of racial hatred could not have been a motive for the shooting spree by a former member.

"It is a sad day for a lot of people. It wasn't the correct way to promote our cause -- the way of the World Church of the Creator," said Hale.

"If I had had any inkling of this, I would have, of course, taken him aside and said, 'Ben, brother, this isn't the way. We need you free, we need you alive, we need you amongst the public to pass the word, to spread the message of truly the greatest idea the world has ever known, and that is our religion, creativity.'"

Earlier, Hale had called Smith "a pleasant person" and said he was shocked to hear Smith might be involved in the shootings.

"He is a pleasant person who believes in his people, who believes in his people, the white people, I can't say anything bad about him," Hale said. Church tenet: Racial holy war Hale said he does not advocate violence and was saddened to hear about the shootings.

"This is all a shock to me. I am very sad to hear about it," Hale said.

But he said he felt no responsibility for what happened.

"For the same reasons that the pope in Rome does not feel responsible for abortion clinic bombings and arsons," Hale said.

But he said he felt no responsibility for what happened.

"For the same reasons that the pope in Rome does not feel responsible for abortion clinic bombings and arsons," Hale said.

"He urges Catholics to be against abortion but not take out violence against people," Hale said. "And we urge people to have strong feelings on the racial issue, but also urge them not to be violent."

He added: "There is a war for the survival of the white race but that doesn't mean that we are trying to hurt anyone. It is a war for our own people, for our own survival and the way to do this is to persuade white people. That is our method."

Many people, he said, are shocked at the church's tenets which call for a racial holy war. But, he said, people trip over the word "war."

"There's such a thing as a war on drugs in this country, but it doesn't mean drug dealers are being killed by the government," Hale said. "There's a war on poverty, but that doesn't mean poor people are being killed. And certainly there is a war for the survival of the white race, but that doesn't mean that we're trying to hurt anyone."

Other church members convicted of murder Police and the Anti-Defamation League, however, have linked the church to violence. Members were convicted for the beating death of a black sailor and investigated for conspiracies to bomb gay, black and Jewish institutions on the West Coast.

"Some of the hate literature and the calls to action on their Web site really walk a very fine line between just ignorant speech and inciting harmful actions, violent conduct," said Bloomington, Indiana, Mayor John Fernandez, who was briefed on Smith and the church by the FBI.

To Harlan Loeb, counsel for the ADL, the World Church of the Creator is all about "gutter-level racism and bigotry." There is no church building, no physical presence beyond Hale's Web site and his home office.

Founded in 1973 by Ben Klassen, a former Florida state lawmaker born in Ukraine and raised in Canada, the church attracted neo-Nazis and skinheads.

After church members were convicted of the murder of the black sailor in Florida -- prompting the victim's family to file a lawsuit seeking $1 million from the church -- Klassen sold off group property and swallowed four bottles of sleeping pills to kill himself in 1993.

Thought leaderless and defunct since Klassen's death, the organization has undergone a revival since Hale was elected Pontifex Maximus -- an ancient Roman title meaning "supreme leader" -- on a Montana ranch.

White supremacist hires Jewish lawyer Hale attracted national attention earlier this year when he agreed to hire famed Jewish lawyer Alan Dershowitz in an attempt to win his law license.

A violinist with degrees in music, political science and law, Hale is overseeing a widespread recruiting drive. He established regional branches in Montana, California and Florida and claims there are as many as 3,000 members nationwide, a number which is hard to prove.

In a special report on the organization, the ADL called the reappearance of Klassen's group under Hale's leadership a "disturbing development."

"While the newly resurrected COTC might be small in numbers, the organization is compensating with an aggressive barrage of mailings and recruiting efforts," the report states.

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