Suspect tied to white supremacist groups

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Links between the alleged perpetrator of Tuesday's shootings at a Los Angeles-area JCC and the white supremacist movement underline a grim message, say investigators.

Hate groups may be declining, but the true believers who remain pose an increasingly deadly threat.

And while some investigators believe these grisly crimes are random copycat acts, others point to evidence of a conspiracy, with ties spawned by the Internet.

Tuesday's rampage at the North Valley Jewish Community Center in Granada Hills confirmed suspicions that the radical right is stepping up a concerted attack as the millennium nears.

Buford Oneal Furrow, who turned himself in to police in Las Vegas Wednesday morning, allegedly told investigators the act was intended "to be a wake-up call to America to kill Jews."

Hit by Tuesday's fusillade was a 5-year-old , who suffered severe wounds to the leg and abdomen and underwent hours of surgery; two 6-year-old boys; a 16-year-old girl identified as Mindy Finkelstein; and 68-year-old receptionist Isabelle Shalometh. One of the 6-year-olds, Joshua Stepakoff, was in stable condition late Wednesday. He is the nephew of Cindy and Raoul Stepakoff of San Rafael.

Police say Furrow will also be charged in the killing of 39-year-old postal worker Joseph Ileto later that day.

Furrow assumed he had also killed the children at the JCC, the Associated Press reported.

Like Benjamin Matthew Williams andJames Tyler Williams — suspects in the June 18 arson attack on three Sacramento-area synagogues — Furrow, 37, has embraced the Christian Identity ideology.

The unorthodox faith holds that Jews are the descendants of a union between Eve and the serpent and that homosexuality is a crime punishable by murder.

Jonathan Bernstein, Central Pacific regional director of the Anti-Defamation League in San Francisco, said Furrow left a revealing calling card: "War Cycles/Peace Cycles" by Christian Identity movement ideologue Richard Kelly Hoskins. Los Angeles Police Department investigators found the book in Furrow's abandoned van.

Another Hoskins tome, "Vigilantes of Christendom: The Story of the Phineas Priesthood," extols the slayings of Jews, interracial couples and gays.

A Christian Identity offshoot called the Phineas Priesthood based in Spokane, where Furrow operated, robbed banks on one side of town to finance a spate of bombings on the other in 1996.

According to Identity beliefs, "Jews are considered a cursed people, attempting to do the devil's work by trying to take over the true 'promised land' — America — with the help of blacks," Bernstein said. "Some have even gone so far as to describe Adolf Hitler as a prophet."

Furrow has a history with Christian Identity offshoots Aryan Nations and The Order, both of which have unleashed a vast number of bloody attacks on unwitting victims — including children.

Investigators are analyzing computer and telephone records among members of disparate groups based in West Virginia, Idaho, Illinois, California and the Pacific Northwest.

However, they have been frustrated by the groups' sophisticated use of the Internet, which facilitates fast, confidential communication between sympathizers.

"That's the whole basis of the so-called 'leaderless resistance,'" Bernstein said. "It makes it more difficult to put together a case. It used to be that there was a hierarchical order to the movement: The Klan leader would issue a command and people would follow it. But now people are getting their messages over the Net and acting as lone wolves."

Furrow has a history of involvement in so-called "racialist" groups. A member of Aryan Nations in 1995, he was photographed in a Nazi uniform at the group's compound in Hayden Lake, Idaho, according to Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Aryan Nations is an offshoot of Christian Identity.

At a June 18 meeting at North Idaho College — the same day as the Sacramento synagogue arsons — Aryan Nations head Richard Butler said he looked forward to a country without Jews, according to the ADL. At the same meeting, Christian Identity funder R. Vincent Bertollini held court for two hours on the need to act aggressively as the turn of the century approaches.

Bernstein said it is also worth noting that Benjamin Matthew Williams once lived in Washington state, a stronghold of numerous white supremacist groups, including Christian Identity. He later moved to Idaho, where Aryan Nations is headquartered.

"Many people who want to get real deeply involved travel up there and then move on to other places," he said.

Meanwhile, the Williams brothers, who have been charged with the murder of a Redding-area gay couple, remain in custody at Shasta County Jail.

Responding to Tuesday's JCC shootings and the possibility of a conspiracy, Lt. Bradd McDannold of the Shasta County Sheriff's Department said: "We entertain some suspicions about that. It was certainly the first thing that crossed my mind when I heard about the shooting." The two brothers have shown no visible reaction to news of the shooting, McDannold said.

A number of other recent incidents point to the possibility of a conspiracy.

On July 1, the bodies of Gary Matson and Winfield Scott Mowder, two Redding-area gay men, were found, victims of an apparent slaying. During the Fourth of July weekend, white supremacist Benjamin Smith opened fire on groups of Orthodox Jews, blacks, and Asians in Illinois and Indiana, killing two before taking his own life.

In May, three white supremacists were convicted of murdering a family in Little Rock, Ark., as part of a plot to set up a separatist white state in the Pacific Northwest.

"The more extreme members of the militia movement continue to pose a significant threat of violence and disorder," a 1999 report by the ADL asserted. "Militia members across the country continued to be arrested and convicted for serious crimes in 1998," including plans by a Michigan group to blow up a federal building and by a West Virginia group to bomb FBI offices in Clarksburg.

While some, including the Southern Poverty Law Center's Joe Roy, doubt the factions could agree on ideology and communicate effectively enough to carry out a concerted attack, the ADL report suggests otherwise.

"Ever-increasing cross-fertilization between various strands of the anti-government extremist movement has begun to blur the differences that previously existed between them," the report states.

Some of the most effective measures taken to curb the violent groups have been economic. The World Church of the Creator was sued by the family of a serviceman killed in 1991 by World Church members, resulting in a $1 million judgment.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has also dealt organized hate groups a body blow through civil suits and consequent staggering fines.

The day after the North Valley carnage, Rep. Tom Lantos (D-San Mateo) urged the Internal Revenue Service to yank the tax-exempt status of the World Church of the Creator, citing the July Fourth weekend shootings.

Rebecca Rosen Lum

Rebecca Rosen Lum is a freelance writer.