Civil Rights Group Sues White Supremacist

Plans to use historic Anti-Klan Act to bankrupt Matt Hale

American Lawyer Media/April 6, 2000
By Molly McDonough

Elevating the profile of last July's racially-motivated shooting spree to still a higher level, the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights has filed suit against the white supremacist group it claims is responsible for the two-state tear that left two dead and nine wounded.

In a federal lawsuit filed here Tuesday, lawyers for a Decatur pastor wounded during the spree allege World Church of the Creator leader Matthew F. Hale not only encouraged, but conspired with shooter Benjamin Nathaniel Smith to "commit wholesale acts of genocidal violence in furtherance of their self-proclaimed 'racial holy war' against any and all African-Americans, Jews, Asians and other ethnic groups."

Filed on the anniversary of the assassination of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the suit seeks unspecified actual and punitive damages from Hale, Smith's estate and the World Church of the Creator for the Rev. Stephen Anderson, a pastor of Greater Faith Temple Church who suffered three gunshot wounds July 3, 1999, while standing in the driveway of his home in Decatur.

Lawyers are suing under the Illinois Hate Crimes Act and the historic Anti-Klan Act, enacted in the 1870s to financially damage white supremacist organizations engaging in acts of terror, intimidation and violence.

The Center for Constitutional Rights has been involved in one other similar case. Back in 1982, in Crumsey v. Justice Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, the Center won a $535,000 judgment against the Klan members for five Chattanooga women injured during a 1980 shooting spree.

This suit seeks to cause similar damage to Hale's organization, which seeks the deportation of all "mud races" from American soil.

"It is our hope, indeed it is our intention, to put Hale and his ilk out of business," said Pamela Armour, lead counsel in the Center's suit.

The Rev. Anderson was one of nine shot July 4th weekend by Smith, who killed two others before shooting himself to death as police closed in on him. Left dead were former Northwestern University basketball coach Ricky Byrdsong and Indiana University doctoral student Won Joon Yoon. All of the victims were black, Jewish or of Asian descent.

This is the second such suit filed against Hale, an Illinois bar applicant who has been denied a law license on moral fitness grounds.

Indeed the Center's suit appears to link Hale's rejection into the bar to Smith's "rampage." In late June, the state bar's Committee on Character and Fitness again denied Hale's petition to join the bar. Smith, who had testified as a character witness for Hale that April, began shooting two days later. "Immediately after the Illinois State Bar's decision and as part of the World Church of the Creator's war, Smith ... began a rampage of genocidal violence," the lawsuit states.

And while Hale himself has linked the shootings to his bar application in the past, he said Tuesday that it's ridiculous to think he had any control over Smith.

"Certainly I had a lot of contact with Ben Smith, I never denied that for one minute," Hale said. "If every lawyer who knows someone who commits a crime is a conspirator, the legal profession would cease to exist."

Hale's lawyer, New York attorney Glenn Greenwald, took a similar tact in responding to the suit. "It's all just guilt by association," said Greenwald, who isn't sure yet whether he will be representing Hale on this latest federal action.

He did, however, seem interested in taking the case on. He compared it to the first suit, which alleged Hale ordered Smith to target minorities.

"All they can say Matt Hale did is express the view that Jews and blacks are inferior, he said. "There's just no question that expressing those views is a core First Amendment activity."

Further, Greenwald said, "I find that the people behind these lawsuits are truly so odious and repugnant, that creates its own motivation for me."

The first suit, filed in state court by Chicago attorney Michael Ian Bender on behalf of two Orthodox Jewish teens shot at in Rogers Park, is pending, though a circuit judge in Chicago threw out allegations that Smith's parents were somehow responsible for the shootings.

In addition to the Center for Constitutional Rights, Chicago's Latham & Watkins and the People's Law Office represent the Rev. Anderson.

"We signed onto this because we felt strongly about this case and this cause of action [for the Rev. Anderson] as a victim of a hate crime," said Mary Rose Alexander, the Latham & Watkins partner handling the case. "We feel justice should be served." The case is Rev. Stephen Tracy Anderson v. Matthew F. Hale, The World Church of the Creator, etc., and the Estate of Benjamin Nathaniel Smith, No. 00C2021.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.