Chicago gunmans hate group among fastest growing

WASHINGTON — The World Church of the Creator may spew hatred against Jews, but it was quick to accept the support of both the ADL and a prominent Jewish attorney.

Matthew Hale, an unabashed anti-Semite who heads the World Church, had twice been denied a license by an Illinois state panel that evaluates the "character and fitness" of prospective attorneys because he espouses racial hatred.

He got help from the most unlikely places.

The Anti-Defamation League, while calling Hale's views "abhorrent," said that denying him a law license "sets a dangerous precedent."

And Alan Dershowitz, a prominent Jewish attorney, came to Hale's defense after the initial denial, arguing he had a right to free speech and a right to practice law, no matter how objectionable his views.

Dershowitz offered to represent Hale, but Hale later declined, saying that Dershowitz's association with his cause had already given him the publicity he sought and aided his widespread recruiting drive.

Few people had heard of the World Church of the Creator or Hale before two recent hate crimes — the weekend shootings in Illinois and Indiana, and the June 18 Sacramento-area synagogue arsons. The alleged gunman in the Midwest shootings was a former member of the hate group. In Sacramento, the group's literature was found at the site of two of the three synagogues targeted.

The World Church of the Creator was founded in 1973 in Florida, but in recent years it has experienced a resurgence under Hale's leadership and is now what law enforcement officials call one of the fastest-growing hate groups in the country.

The group teaches that Jews and non-whites are subhuman "mud people" who threaten the survival of the "white race."

The July 2 to 4 shooting spree carried out by Benjamin Nathaniel Smith, a 21-year-old follower of Hale's, was only the latest in a string of violent attacks associated with the group.

The group's predecessor, the Church of the Creator, was linked to the 1991 murder of a black sailor in Florida returning from the Persian Gulf War, as well as to foiled plots to assassinate black and Jewish leaders and to bomb black and Jewish agencies, synagogues and churches.

In the last year, three members of the group have been accused of pistol-whipping and robbing a Jewish video-store owner in Florida, purportedly to raise money for "the revolution."

In January, Smith was named "Creator of the Year," its highest honor.

The June 1999 issue of The Struggle, the church's newsletter, announced that Smith had relocated to central Illinois "to assist" Hale at "world headquarters."

Though now the group's leader, 27-year-old Hale was not its founder. The church was the invention of Ben Klassen, a one-time Florida state legislator who formed the organization in 1973, according to the ADL.

Klassen committed suicide in 1993, leaving a leadership vacuum.

The group foundered until 1995, when Hale — who had been active in various white supremacist and neo-Nazi organizations for close to a decade — took over and launched a new recruitment effort.

He now claims that the group has 7,000 members, although the ADL estimates the figure at closer to 2,000.

On Monday, the ADL called on the Justice Department to launch an immediate full-scale investigation into the World Church of the Creator.

Harlan Loeb, Midwest civil rights counsel for the Anti-Defamation League, said his agency stands by its statement from earlier this year on the denial of Hale's law license.

"As an agency that is a strong supporter of the First Amendment, we stand by our commitment that viewpoint discrimination is murky territory," Loeb said.

But now that "we've made our statement on the free speech and free expression issue," he said, his group "will devote all of our energy to exposing Matt Hale for what he is."