Shooting Suspect's Church Criticized

AP, July 5, 1999
By Christopher Thorne

EAST PEORIA, Ill. (AP) - It styles itself as a religion, but the World Church of the Creator - to which alleged racist killer Benjamin Nathaniel Smith once belonged - has no altar and no place of worship.

Its leader is a skinny 27-year-old who reaches dues-paying members mainly through an Internet site dripping with racism and maintained from a swastika-adorned room in his parents' East Peoria home. An Israeli flag serves as his doormat.

All that's needed to join the church is $35. For that, members get a 25-page manual offering loyalty oaths and a glossary of terms like "Rahowa'' - an acronym that stands for "Racial Holy War'' and is used as a greeting by members.

Followers also can read an Internet newsletter in which Smith, 21, was profiled last November as "Creator of the Month'' for his efforts to distribute racist literature.

To its critics, the church amounts to a loosely connected - but dangerous - group of racists and hate-mongers. Mark Potok, a researcher with the Southern Poverty Law Center, said Monday that the church is thought to have 46 chapters and several hundred active members.

"This is a religion for and created by sociopaths,'' Potok said., which monitors hate sites on the Internet, says the church has the fastest-growing Internet presence among racist groups.

The group dates back to 1973, when it was formed by Ben Klassen, a Florida real estate man from Ukraine who became wealthy after inventing an electric can opener.

Klassen wrote tracts of explosive racism, urging whites to push blacks, Jews and other "mud races'' off the face of the planet. After one group member was convicted of beating a black sailor to death in a Florida parking lot, Klassen committed suicide, swallowing four bottles of sleeping pills in 1993.

The church seemed to disappear until the appearance of Matt Hale, who was made "Pontifex Maximus'' - an ancient Roman title meaning Supreme Leader - in 1995 on a Montana ranch.

Hate-group monitors say they believe the church has grown under Hale's recruiting efforts from East Peoria and with his use of the Internet. Since Smith's death, the Web site has been shut down.

According to Hale, Smith joined in 1998, but allowed his one-year membership to lapse in May.

Potok and others believe the World Church of the Creator is responsible for encouraging violence like the two-state shooting spree that left two dead and at least eight wounded, and ended in Smith's suicide late Sunday in Salem, Ill.

While the church's Web site included a note saying it does not condone violence, it also called for a racial holy war and extermination of non-whites. Members have been convicted of murder, beatings and conspiracies to bomb NAACP offices and black churches.

"Hale and his group are not building bombs, but they are building bombers, creating shooters,'' Potok said. "Hale is saying he's not responsible, but Hale is a hypocrite.''

Hale said he urges church members to stay within the law. Blaming the shootings on his group, he said, is akin to blaming the pope for abortion clinic bombings.

Last week, an Illinois state hearing board rejected Hale's appeal for a law license. The board said Hale's beliefs and character make him ill-suited to practice law, and unable to follow the state's rules of conduct for lawyers.

Smith had testified for Hale before that board in April.

"Our number one goal is to straighten out the white man's thinking,'' he told the panel. "We're the new minority being crushed left and right.''

Smith admitted he had "considered violent acts to achieve racial goals, but Hale counseled me to act peacefully.''

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