Arson suspect hails synagogue blazes, but doesnt confess

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Benjamin Matthew Williams, who is being tried for the murder of a Redding-area gay couple, has contacted a number of Northern California newspapers to applaud the synagogue blazes he is suspected of setting.

While stopping short of claiming responsibility for the June 18 arsons, he said the Sacramento-area congregations "had it coming to them."

Shasta County Sheriff Jim Pope and District Attorney McGregor Scott have identified Williams, 31, and his brother, James Tyler Williams, 29, as lead suspects in that case.

Lt. Bradd McDannold of the Shasta County Sheriff's Department called Williams' long-winded chat with a Sacramento Bee reporter "the almost admission of Mr. Williams."

In that interview, which appeared in last Friday's Bee, Benjamin Matthew Williams voiced contempt for Judaism and lamented that the synagogues "didn't burn to the ground."

Although he declined to take responsibility for the arson attacks, he said the congregations deserved their pain.

"Just like Matt Hale of the World Church of the Creator said, they got what was coming to them," he said in an interview that appeared in Saturday's Redding Record-Searchlight. "It's the natural consequence of pushing the host (country) too far," he added.

Williams has described himself as a Christian martyr and a modern-day American revolutionary in the mode of the early religious pilgrims.

"They rebelled against the tyranny of King George and I rebel against the tyranny of the Zionist occupational government," he said.

But he added that he was not willing to discuss his own involvement in the synagogue attacks "right now."

However, he noted coyly that the FBI has not interrogated him. "They probably think it's larger, and they're out to get the others," he said of the arson investigation.

"That's certainly true," said Jonathan Bernstein, Central Pacific regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, who attended an FBI briefing in Sacramento on Oct. 7. "They've been investigating that very thoroughly ever since the firebombings took place, which is why it's taking so long."

But, he added, "the FBI isn't in any rush to file charges because frankly, these two men aren't going anywhere."

Some time before the June conflagrations, Williams attended a "Preparedness Expo" in Sacramento for militia adherents and white supremacists, whom investigators say expect a strongarm Jewish takeover of the U.S. government at the millennium.

While Benjamin Matthew Williams has much in common ideologically with "Aryan warrior" Buford O. Furrow Jr., he said the man who has been charged in the armed assault on a Los Angeles-area Jewish community center in August should have opened fire on the Simon Wiesenthal Museum of Tolerance instead. (Furrow allegedly had cased the museum with that in mind but found security too tight.)

Williams and his younger brother were arrested July 7 and charged in the murder of Gary Matson and Winfield Scott Mowder. But the elder brother said he alone is responsible for the July 1 killing.

He apparently requested the interview with the Sacramento Bee two days after learning that Shasta County District Attorney McGregor Scott is seeking the death penalty against both brothers. The elder Williams was angered at the Record-Searchlight for refusing to print his lengthy letters, but he later agreed to talk to a Redding reporter anyway.

"He's grandstanding," said Shasta County Assistant District Attorney Jerry Benito. "A few months ago, he was nobody. I was in Oregon this summer, and there was his picture all over the place. He is doing everything he can to maintain that media attention."

Others close to the case said while the spotlight may feel warm to Williams now, he could be sealing his own fate by making admissions to reporters — admissions that law enforcement officials or lawyers might be hard-pressed to extract — that would later be indisputable in court if he is tried for the arsons.

Williams told reporters he "absolutely" shot the men as they slept in their bed, hoping to spur a melee of violent acts around the county, he said. Now he believes his timing was off.

"I may have acted too early," he said. "I'm sure Mr. [Timothy] McVeigh may have felt the same way — that he was going to kick off the second American Revolution [by bombing the Murrah building in Oklahoma City], but no one had the guts to react."

Rabbi Brad Bloom, whose Congregation B'nai Israel suffered extensive damage in the arsons, said Williams' world view is "not an aberration."

"I think it is revealing, to put it kindly, to see the true colors — what hate looks like," Bloom said. "But I hope people look at this for what it is, and unfortunately, it is part of the American landscape. It is not an aberration."

FBI Special Agent Nick Rossi said it would be "inappropriate" to comment on Williams' interviews. However, at the Oct. 7 briefing, FBI agents told some of those close to the investigation that the U.S. attorney would be formally pressing charges in the arson case "in about a month."

While they did not mention the Williams brothers by name, "they left little doubt that that is who they are talking about," said Bernstein. "It was, 'Two individuals who are currently in custody in an unrelated matter' kind of thing."

Bernstein laughed when he learned of the elder Williams' plan for the future: "to write a book or two."

"I guess he thinks that's the American way," Bernstein said.

Rebecca Rosen Lum

Rebecca Rosen Lum is a freelance writer.