Dying hate group left its mark here
An Illinois man’s conviction for plotting to have a judge killed will likely spell the end of a hate group once active in South Florida.
Hale’s group has been on the wane for years, but at its height, it left a menacing legacy in South Florida.
Members who advocated a race war dropped pamphlets in Jewish neighborhoods and committed hate crimes, including the beating of a Hispanic man and his son outside of a Sunrise heavy metal concert. The group became a national terror on July 4, 1999, when former member Benjamin Smith went on a shooting spree in the Midwest that left two people dead and nine wounded. Most of the victims were minorities, including Ricky Byrdsong, the former coach of the Northwestern Wildcats basketball team.
Hate group monitors say Hale inflated the group’s membership numbers, claiming tens of thousands when there were never more than a few hundred.
”In 2002, they had 88 chapters including several in Florida. Going into the beginning of 2003, they had six,” said Mark Potok, who edits a quarterly intelligence report for the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala. “They are essentially dead.”
Potok said the group fell apart when Hale was indicted by a federal grand jury in Chicago early last year. Art Teitelbaum of the Anti-Defamation League cautions that a lack of activity may not mean the end. Members may flow to other groups or resurrect the World Church once an internal power struggle is resolved.
”With Hale out of the picture, the members in Florida are like circling sharks,” said Teitelbaum, southern area director of the ADL in Miami. Nonetheless, Teitelbaum said there are only a handful of members in South Florida.
The most well-known local member, former state leader Jules Fettu, 31, completed a five-year prison sentence for hate crime battery on Oct. 24, 2003, according to state records. He and two other members stomped and beat a Hispanic man and his son outside a 1997 Megadeth concert in Sunrise after they refused to accept racist leaflets.
Fettu, like other members of the atheist group that called itself a church, reveled in the attention his extremist views garnered, appearing on television with Jerry Springer and Geraldo Rivera. Hale was equally opportunistic, appearing on Today and other news shows and creating websites for children meant to provoke outrage, Potok said.
Another former leader, Guy Lombardi, 41, served one year of house arrest for threatening a former member who told police the names of members who participated in both the Sunrise beating and a 1998 beating and robbery of a Jewish man who owned a Hollywood adult video store.
Lombardi told The Herald in 1999 that the group was dissolving quickly and that he was renouncing his own membership. Potok said the group’s members were always a bunch that lived at the margins, thugs who wouldn’t have been acceptable even to other hate groups.
Monday’s conviction of Hale — who solicited a fellow member to kill a judge who ruled against the group in a copyright case — may doom any chance others will revive it.
U.S. District Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow was never attacked. Hale, 32, faces 20 years in federal prison for the solicitation count plus 10 years on each of three obstruction of justice counts related to the Smith killings.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.