World Church of the Creator In Turmoil After Leader Matt Hale Imprisoned
By Heidi Beirich and Mark Potok
Matt Hale's WCOTC was already in trouble when his January arrest sent shock waves through his organization and the American radical right at large (see The Year in Hate). The group had suffered through two splits in the previous year and a half. It had lost a civil suit for failing to register as a charity and was ordered to disclose its finances as a result. Hale was personally under investigation for advertising himself as a lawyer when, in fact, he was not.
And, in the case before Judge Lefkow, he had lost the right to use WCOTC's name in a copyright lawsuit filed by a church dedicated to multiculturalism rather than neo-Nazism.
Hale's predicament actually started to take shape years earlier. In 1999, after the Ben Smith rampage, the state of Illinois sued Hale's group, which had claimed tax-exempt status, for failing to register as a charity and disclose its finances as required by state law. Hale claimed that as a "church," WCOTC was not required to register, but in 2001 he was finally ordered to do so. As of press time, the organization had still failed to register as a charity or disclose its finances.
After appealing the Illinois Bar Association's refusal to grant him a law license all the way to the Supreme Court, Hale also lost his bid to become an Illinois lawyer. Although he had passed the bar exam, the association found that he was not morally fit. A similar attempt to get licensed in Montana also failed.
Starting in 2001, the WCOTC began to suffer from internal splits and defections. In December 2001, Hale — described as a misogynist by some insiders — lost his two most important female activists.
Lisa Turner and Melody LaRue, who led WCOTC's efforts to recruit women in their roles at the head of the Sisterhood of the WCOTC, quit the organization. Turner cited her mother's failing health, while LaRue wrote cryptically that many of her reasons were "of a personal nature." With other female former Creators, LaRue set up Hypatia Publishing on the model of the Sisterhood. Hypatia has a Web site and now publishes Sisterhood magazine.
Just a few months later, in March 2002, Hale expelled long-time Montana Creators Dan Hassett and Slim Deardorff, who had helped him win his Pontifex Maximus title back in 1996. Hale told followers that he'd sent the men $8,740 in WCOTC funds for safekeeping after the group was sued by the families of Ben Smith's victims. (The civil suit was ultimately unsuccessful.) Hassett and Deardorff bought gold with the money, burying it near Deardorff's Montana cabin. Hale said the men later claimed the cabin burned down and the money had been lost.
Enraged, Hale accused the men of embezzlement and "treason." He charged that Hassett had threatened to inform on WCOTC members to the FBI. Deardorff, Hale added, was having "fatherly relations" with his two mixed-race children — born before he joined the COTC — and was thereby defiling the white race.
But Hassett and Deardorff had apparently been unhappy with Hale for some time when these events occurred. In late 2001, Deardorff had sent a private letter to William Pierce, then the leader of the neo-Nazi National Alliance, asking him if he might be interested in taking over WCOTC. Pierce declined. In May 2002, after Hale made his accusations, Hassett, Deardorff and three other Creators – men who said they made up the Guardians of the Faith Committee that had once elevated Hale to leader — fired back. They sent Hale a letter informing him that he was no longer WCOTC's leader. Hale ignored the rebels, but Hassett and Deardorff started a rival Northwest COTC that has since rejoiced in Hale's legal troubles.
Here Comes the Judge
These losses were setbacks for Hale, but by far the most important threat to WCOTC came from a trademark complaint that was brought against Hale and the WCOTC by the TE-TA-MA Truth Foundation, a peace-loving, multicultural church in Oregon that supports "the Family unification of Mankind."
In 1987, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office granted the foundation's request to copyright the name "Church of the Creator." After five years during which no contest was filed against its trademark, the foundation's ownership of it became legally "incontestable," even though Creators had used the phrase since COTC's founding in 1973.
In May 2000, upset about confusion between Hale's violently racist outfit and its own peaceful aims, the foundation sued the WCOTC. Hale won the first round in January 2002, when Judge Lefkow ruled in WCOTC's favor. But an appeals court reversed the decision, sending the case back to Lefkow for reconsideration.
Last July 25, Lefkow ruled against Hale, issuing a toughly worded injunction on Nov. 19 that forbade WCOTC from using the term "Church of the Creator." The WCOTC was ordered to give up its Web Site domain names and remove or cover up the phrase "Church of the Creator" on all WCOTC publications and other products.
Rather than comply, Hale told his followers that Lefkow's orders meant that the group's "bibles" — The White Man's Bible and other books written by Klassen — would have to be burned. Vowing to defy her, he transferred WCOTC's publications and its "world headquarters" to Riverton, Wyo., in an apparent bid to keep the books safe from the court. "No tyrant's paws will ensnare our Holy Scriptures," Hale said, adding that Wyoming state leader Thomas Kroenke was being elevated, in effect, to second in command ("Hasta Primus," or Spearhead) of the WCOTC.
All the while, Hale raged against the judge. In early December, he sent out an E-mail about the case that quoted from The White Man's Bible. "We have every right to declare [Jews] open criminals for violating the Constitution," he wrote. "They then obviously are the criminals and we can then treat them like the criminal dogs that they are and take the law into our own hands. This is the obvious, logical thing to do. We must then meet force with force, and open warfare exists."
On Christmas Eve, Hale sued Judge Lefkow, lambasting her for caving in to "pressure from the Jews" and deriding her personally (and apparently falsely) for her "marriage to a Jew" and her "three half-bred Negro" grandchildren. He apparently had forgotten that Lefkow originally ruled in his favor, and he neglected to mention that her injunction only required covering up the words "Church of the Creator" with sticky labels. It was simply untrue that any WCOTC books had to be burned.