Church of the Creator Timeline
1973 Benhardt "Ben" Klassen, a former Florida state legislator and state chairman of George Wallace's 1968 presidential campaign, announces the formation of the Church of the Creator (COTC) in Lighthouse Point, Fla.
The tenets of Klassen's race-based "religion," called "Creativity," are detailed in his book Nature's Eternal Religion. Among its "16 commandments": "It is our sacred goal to populate the lands of this earth with White people exclusively."
The group's war cry will be "Rahowa," short for RAcial HOly WAr.
1981 Klassen publishes his second book, The White Man's Bible, which he markets as a "program for the survival, expansion, and advancement of the white race."
1982 In March, Klassen moves COTC headquarters from Florida to 22 acres of land he has purchased in Otto, N.C., building a personal residence, a three-story church, a small warehouse and a "school for gifted boys."
Later in the year, COTC is granted an exemption from state taxes based on its status as a church.
1983 Klassen begins publishing a monthly newsletter, Racial Loyalty, in June.
1986 The COTC has its first known brush with criminality in June, when security chief Carl Messick fires 19 shots at the car of a Georgia couple who strayed onto the COTC grounds. The COTC "reverend" is later sentenced to seven years in prison.
1988 Klassen, now 70, travels to California to ask John Metzger, son of neo-Nazi White Aryan Resistance founder Tom Metzger, about taking over COTC. Metzger, saying he "wouldn't want to be affiliated with a church," declines.
1989 A review by Macon County tax officials concludes that COTC's North Carolina property does not qualify for religious tax exemptions.
In May, two Milwaukee COTC members are arrested during a brawl with anti-racist activists.
1990 Declaring that church leadership would change "at the top of every decade, on the decade," Klassen announces that Rudy "Butch" Stanko — then serving a six-year sentence for selling tainted meat — will take over once he is released from prison.
In August, COTC Ohio leader Matthew Hayhow, 23, is arrested after robbing two banks and ultimately is sentenced to a 25-year prison term. (Nine years later, Hayhow will be writing articles for The Struggle, the tabloid of the COTC's successor organization.)
1991 COTC "reverend" George Loeb is arrested and charged with the murder of Harold Mansfield Jr., a black Gulf War veteran, in a Florida parking lot. Loeb, whom Klassen had earlier honored as "Creator of the Month," is ultimately convicted.
Fellow COTC member Steve Thomas, who will later edit Racial Loyalty, is charged with aiding Loeb's initial flight from Florida. (Thomas had earlier served eight years for raping a Vietnamese woman, an incident upon which the movie "Casualties of War" was based.)
In November, Macon County, N.C., officials revoke COTC's tax-exempt status.
1992 Klassen's wife Henrietta dies of cancer in January. Two months later, Klassen cancels Stanko's scheduled inauguration as COTC's Pontifex Maximus ("supreme leader"), possibly because of Stanko's plans to move COTC headquarters, and names Baltimore pizza delivery man Charles Altvater instead.
But in June, Klassen again changes his mind (a fortuitous move: in November, Altvater is arrested after attempting to firebomb the home of a police officer who'd had his car towed), naming Milwaukee COTC chief Mark Wilson, 25, as the next COTC leader.
In December, shortly after publishing his final, autobiographical book, Klassen names still another successor: Richard "Rick" McCarty.
1993 In one of his first acts as the group's leader, McCarty moves COTC headquarters back to Florida in January. In July, COTC Washington state leader Jeremiah Knesal, 19, and two other COTC members bomb the meeting hall of the NAACP in Tacoma, Wash.; two days later, Knesal pipe bombs a Seattle gay bar. In his guilty plea, Knesal says the group also planned attacks on blacks and Jews.
In California that month, COTC-linked Geremy von Rineman and girlfriend Jill Scarborough are arrested in a plot to bomb Los Angeles' largest black church.
On Aug. 7, Klassen commits suicide, leaving a smoldering pile of shredded documents and a note describing suicide as an "honorable" way to die.
Later that year, Toronto COTC leader and Rahowa band leader George Burdi helps form Resistance Records, based in Detroit, to record and market racist rock music.
1994 Representing the family of Harold Mansfield, the Southern Poverty Law Center files suit against COTC in March, alleging the group is responsible for his murder. The family is awarded a $1 million default judgment when McCarty fails to contest the case.
(Later, the Law Center will sue William Pierce for participating in Klassen's scheme to keep the COTC headquarters from Mansfield's heirs. Ultimately, the Center wins a judgment for $85,000 — the profit Pierce realized after selling the COTC property.)
1995 Opting to head a "religious" rather than a political group, 20-year-old Matthew Hale dissolves his National Socialist White Americans Party in July and resuscitates the COTC as the "New" Church of the Creator in East Peoria, Ill., where he lives with his father. Hale tells old COTC members that he is the "great promoter" whom Klassen had searched for.
Hale enters law school that fall. In December, he renames the group the World Church of the Creator.
John McLaughlin, a man who will become close to Hale, is sentenced to 2 1/2 years' probation after officials discover an arms stockpile meant for the "ultimate race war."
1996 After meeting with two old COTC stalwarts, Matt Hayhow and Guy Lombardi, Hale convenes a May gathering at the Montana ranch of COTC leader Slim Deardorff.
Hale is elected Pontifex Maximus and Jonathan Viktor, a Klassen devotee educated at his school for boys, is chosen Hastus Primus, or vice president, of the reconstituted group.
1997 Viktor presides over the May wedding of Hale and WCOTC member Terra Herron, 16. When the couple divorce three months later, many Hale followers, including Viktor, leave the group.
Later in the year, WCOTC starts a Web site run by Jules Fettu in Florida. In August, Fettu and WCOTC members Donald Hansard and Raymond Leone are charged with assaulting a black man and his son who were leaving a concert in Sunrise, Fla. (Hansard and Leone later plead guilty to aggravated assault charges, and Fettu, the Florida WCOTC state leader, is convicted of battery in a trial.)
In November, William Johnson, an 18-year-old California WCOTC member, is arrested for attempted murder after allegedly stabbing a person who had insulted the group.
1998 Four armed Florida WCOTC members, all under 25, rob a Broward Country video store in March, allegedly planning to use the proceeds for the group. (Three will later plead to federal conspiracy charges.)
Three months later, Guy Lombardi, now WCOTC's southeast regional director and commander of the group's militant "White Berets," is charged with intimidating a witness in the Sunrise beating case. (He later pleads guilty.) Hale ejects Lombardi soon after for "insubordination," assuring his followers the dismissal has nothing to do with Lombardi's arrest, which Hale calls "a badge of honor."
In May, Hale graduates from law school, passing the bar exam that summer. Later in the year, a state official rejects Hale's application to practice law because of his "character and fitness."
1999 At an April hearing, Illinois State Bar Association officials hear Hale's appeal on the rejected law license. Among others, WCOTC member Benjamin Nathaniel Smith testifies on behalf of Hale, who Smith claims has kept him from violence.
Two months later, three Sacramento synagogues sustain arson attacks, and within days officials say they are looking at Hale's group for possible involvement.
On July 2, headlines announce that bar officials have again turned Hale down. Within hours, Smith — a Hale intimate whom the leader honored as "Creator of the Month" in late 1998 and then "Creator of the Year" in January — begins a three-day shooting rampage, killing two people and wounding nine.