White supremacist Matt Hale was the self-proclaimed “Pontifex Maximus” of the World Church of the Creator, and while it’s always been unclear how many followers he really had, Hale has never lacked for opportunities to spread his message of hate.
Even as he sits in prison — only allowed rare visits and conversations with his parents — Hale was in the news again Tuesday as police investigated the shooting deaths of the husband and mother of U.S. District Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow.
Hale, 33, is to be sentenced next month for trying to arrange the murder of Judge Lefkow, who presided over a trademark case involving the name of his group. She found the bodies of her husband and mother in the basement of her home Monday night.
Authorities acknowledged the possibility that hate groups could be involved in the killings — Hale’s gospel of “racial holy war” was linked to a follower’s three-day shooting rampage targeting minorities in 1999.
But police also cautioned against hasty conclusions, with Chicago Police Chief of Detectives James Molloy saying “it would be far too early to draw any definitive links.”
Groups like Hale’s have made great use of the Internet as a communication tool, and white supremacist discussion forums buzzed with the news Tuesday. Members debated whether the deaths were a good or bad thing for their movement.
One posting condemned the crime as something that could have “dire consequences” for white nationalists, while another said that those who oppress a body of people “can only expect the barrel of a gun in response.”
Anther posting predicted a crackdown on the groups and advised members to destroy evidence on their computers and to hide guns, ammunition and hate literature. Several postings theorized the killing of the judge’s relatives was the work of federal agents who want a severe sentence for Hale.
The Lefkows had been discussed on white nationalist Web sites before. Links from 2002 featured photos of Lefkow’s husband and daughters, as well as excerpts from Michael Lefkow’s biography found on the Web site for his law office. In one 2003 discussion, members talked about the case against Hale and posted the Lefkows’ home address, noting with disbelief that the address was listed on the resume on Michael Lefkow’s own Web site.
Hale grew up in East Peoria, a blue-collar town on the Illinois River. By his own account he was immersing himself by age 12 in books about Nazis and formed a “Little Reich” group at school.
He ran the World Church of the Creator from his father’s house, where an Israeli flag served as a doormat in Hale’s office. He first drew national attention in the late 1990s when his application for an Illinois law license was denied because of his belief in racial discrimination.
He gained notoriety in July 1999 when a follower, Benjamin Smith, went on a shooting rampage in Illinois and Indiana. Targeting minorities, Smith killed two people, including former Northwestern University basketball coach Ricky Byrdsong, and wounded nine others before killing himself as police closed in.
Hale’s reaction to Smith’s three-day shooting spree — Hale laughed about it and imitated gunfire in secretly recorded tapes played for the jury — was part of the prosecution’s case in his trial on charges of soliciting Lefkow’s murder.
Hale’s father, retired East Peoria policeman Russell Hale, offered condolences to Lefkow’s family Tuesday, but said his son could not have been involved in the deaths because he is under constant surveillance while awaiting sentencing.
He maintains that his son was wrongfully convicted and that authorities and the media are “all trying to bury him.”
“It’s all a big sham and I feel that when his appeals come, and they will some day, this will be overturned,” his father said.
Russell Hale pointed out that Lefkow originally ruled in his son’s favor in the trademark case. An appeals court in 2002 ruled that Hale’s group had violated the Oregon church’s trademark on the name “World Church of the Creator” and Lefkow had to enforce the higher court’s decision forcing Hale to change the group’s name.
“She ruled in his favor,” Russell Hale said, “so in order to get even with her he’d have to get even with three other people besides her.”
AP Writers Nicole Ziegler Dizon and Carla J. Johnson contributed to this report.