Suspects in arson tied to 2nd hate group

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Two brothers charged Monday in the murder of a gay Redding-area couple have been linked to a hate group called Christian Identity, which has spawned some of the most brutal attacks on unwitting victims the country has known.

Arraignment for Benjamin Matthew Williams, 31, and James Tyler Williams, 29, has been delayed until Thursday. Still in Shasta County Jail, the two are suspected of the June 18 predawn arson attack on three Sacramento-area synagogues.

The FBI is still working on that case but reportedly says it may be months until federal charges are filed.

Police are calling both the slayings and arsons hate crimes.

As the investigation continued this week, reports surfaced that law enforcement officials found anti-Semitic literature at the brothers' homes that linked them to the Christian Identity umbrella group.

Even more revealing, however, is a letter sent by the elder Williams brother to friends and family. It included a anti-Semitic, pro-Christian diatribe and praised Christian Identity leaders.

It claimed, for instance, that "'melting pot' is a derogatory Jew term."

A copy of the letter was obtained by the Montgomery, Ala.-based Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks militia movements and prosecutes hate crimes.

Mark Potok, editor of the SPLC's Intelligence Report, said the brothers' actions and comments show that if they bonded to any one group, "it was Christian Identity, clearly. I don't think there's any question about that."

Potok added that Christian Identity "demands… warlike behavior," including calculated acts of violence toward individuals and property.

Its philosophy, he said, includes the notion that "Jews are part of a Satanic plot to unite the world under a single government, to be taken over ultimately by the Devil himself. The plot is thousands of years old."

Because literature from the World Church of the Creator was found at two of the three torched synagogues, the brothers also have been linked to the Illinois-based hate group.

The two groups "despise each other," Potok said.

Jonathan Bernstein, director of the Anti-Defamation League Central Pacific Region, said the Williamses "went from the World Church, which says Christianity is a 'Jewish concoction,' to Christian Identity, which shows the extent of their dabbling."

It's typical for people involved in the white supremacist movement to float from one group to another, according to the SPLC's Potok.

"Christian Identity is based on the Bible," he said. "World Church of the Creator despises Christianity. [World Church members say] it's that foolish, turn-the-other-cheek religion that allows good white people to be duped into accepting multiculturalism. God is that big super-spook in the sky."

And Christian Identity is responsible for "many, many, many more crimes," Potok said. "World Church of the Creator actually has fewer than 150 members, and Identity has about 50,000 adherents."

Potok said he believes "the fact that World Church literature was found at the [suspects'] home is meaningless."

The brothers, who were raised in a strict, fundamentalist home by devout parents "never seemed to be off the idea of being Christian," Potok said.

On its Web site, Christian Identity asserts that Jews are descended from the snake who prodded Eve to eat the apple in Genesis. Israel rightfully belongs to the "real" chosen people — whites of European descent — its literature claims.

"This is clearly a hateful, racist, anti-Semitic group," Bernstein said. "This information certainly helps get to the motives of these individuals."

Among other things, the group holds that homosexuality is an abomination punishable by death.

Christian Identity followers have been linked to numerous violent crimes.

*Longtime member Eric Rudolph, who remains at large, is a suspect in bombings of abortion clinics in Birmingham, Ala., and Atlanta, and at a gay nightclub and the Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta.

*Ohio resident Larry Wayne Harris, involved with the Aryan Nations, a Colorado-based offshoot of the umbrella group, was arrested in 1995 for illegally obtaining bubonic plague germs by mail. He pleaded guilty to wire fraud, was placed on probation and ordered to perform 200 hours of community service.

*In Spokane, Wash., another splinter group, the Phineas Priesthood, set off bombs on one side of the city in 1996 so it could rob banks on the other side.

*An offshoot called The Order planned the abduction and murder of Colorado talk show host Alan Berg.

*In 1998, an Aryan Nations' "security force" shot at a car whose driver unwittingly drove past its Hayden Lake, Idaho, compound.

Christian Identity's Jew Watch, an anti-Semitic "archive," lists "Jewish Atrocities," "Jewish Genocides Yesterday and Today," "Jewish Hate Groups," "Jewish World Conspiracies" and more.

It also lists Freudianism, homosexuality, civil rights and the millennium as examples of "Jewish Mind Control Mechanism."

Feminist writer Betty Friedan and the late Sen. Bella Abzug are cited as "power lords." And "Jewish Religions" include Judaism, atheism, Christianity, Millennialism, and magic/ Wiccan cults.

Its many Web sites appear to exist solely to peddle pamphlets and books.

The organization has offices in Idaho, Colorado, Missouri and Elohim City, Okla., which Timothy McVeigh visited before the Murrah building bombing in Oklahoma City.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, said he has evidence that at least one of the Williams brothers linked into the world of hate on the Internet.

"The Net is the new battlefield for hate," said Cooper. He noted that Benjamin Smith — a Midwestern white supremacist who injured nine people and killed two during a July Fourth weekend shooting spree before taking his own life — "was definitely involved in this Internet life, and one of [the Williams] brothers was online, too."

Both Cooper and Bernstein cautioned against dismissing the Williams brothers as loners who did not connect to a larger circle.

"That is exactly the way these crimes occur," Bernstein said. The Web is "where these kinds of individuals get their encouragement. It makes them feel like they've got a whole movement behind them."

Said Cooper: "Loners are not created by the Web, hate is not created by the Web, bomb-making is not created by the Web, but the World Wide Web is now part of a subculture…You can get explicit inspiration to act without ever attending a meeting."

Regarding the arsons, the hate literature for World Creator was only one of many incriminating pieces of evidence reportedly found by investigators. According to a Shasta County Sheriff spokesman, Capt. Ron Richardson, recovered items include a piece of a torn note that matched perfectly another torn piece found at one of the torched synagogues, a handwritten "hit list" of 32 civic and Jewish community leaders, and notes about rewards offered for information "about us."

The fires targeted Congregation B'nai Israel and Kenesset Israel Torah Center in downtown Sacramento and Congregation Beth Shalom in nearby suburban Carmichael. Losses have been set conservatively at $1 million, a figure that does not include the contents of any of the synagogues.

News of the arsons sent shock waves around the world, and drew responses from business and political leaders. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew Cuomo made $6 million in guaranteed loans available for rebuilding. A Sacramento-area Unity Fund has amassed nearly $300,000 in contributions.

And agencies and two individuals — Israeli-born businessman Michael Zwebner and Sacramento bounty-hunter Henry Padilla — have offered rewards leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible.

Searching the brothers' homes, investigators stumbled upon a handscrawled note that read, "ZWEBNER-YID — $10,000 reward on us."

Zwebner, contacted by FBI agents, said: "It was that little slip of paper which was enough to give the FBI the break they were looking for in connecting the suspects to the horrific arson crime."

But investigators said they have more evidence than they need to pursue charges. While federal agents refused to confirm that the Williamses are chief suspects, Special Agent Nick Rossi said, "It certainly appears that the people who compiled [the hit list] are in custody."

And will not be released any time soon, FBI agents indicated.

The Shasta County district attorney, meanwhile, has piled on enough special circumstances charges to land both brothers on California's death row if they are convicted.

In connection with the July 1 slayings of Gary Matson and Winfield Scott Mowder, the Williamses face the following charges: two counts of murder; two counts of robbery; one count of burglary; one count of unlawful taking of the victims' vehicle; one count of using a firearm in the commission of the murders, robberies and burglary; and three special circumstances charges — two for felony murder (robbery and residential burglary) and one for multiple murder.

"We are further alleging that the murders were committed as a hate crime because of the sexual orientation of the victims," Shasta County District Attorney McGregor W. Scott told a throng of reporters at a packed Monday press conference.

The fear that has gripped the civic and Jewish community leaders whose name turned up on the "hit list" is apparently typical of how Jews throughout America feel about the threat of anti-Semitism.

According to a recent survey by the American Jewish Committee, Jews cite anti-Semitism as the major threat to living a Jewish life in this county

Although there was a slight increase in vandalism against Jewish institutions and property in 1998, anti-Semitic incidents have declined in proportion to the overall drop in crime nationwide.

But, according to Cooper, there are now 21 Web sites promoting hate.

Said Chris Freeman, a researcher who has tracked the Christian Identity movement for the Center for Democratic Renewal in Atlanta, "This is a prime time for nutcases in the United States."

Rebecca Rosen Lum

Rebecca Rosen Lum is a freelance writer.