World Church of the Creator In Turmoil After Leader Matt Hale Imprisoned
By Heidi Beirich and Mark Potok
On Jan. 8, Matt Hale arrived at the federal courthouse in downtown Chicago to face a contempt hearing for refusing to comply with Judge Lefkow's order. He gave a typically angry press conference, criticizing the judge in no uncertain terms, and then headed through the courthouse metal detectors for his hearing.
Emerging, he was seized by agents of the Joint Terrorism Task Force and arrested. His much-vaunted "White Berets" security force was pushed out the building's glass doors as a shocked Hale was hustled into an elevator.
The details of what Hale is accused of came out that day and in a later bond hearing held before another judge. After Lefkow had entered her order — barring the neo-Nazis from using "Church of the Creator" or any "facsimile thereof, including specifically the World Church of the Creator, WCOTC, COTC or the words 'church' or 'creator' together in the same name or mark" — Hale was enraged. Early last December, he vowed never to change his group's name and even wrote to followers that a "state of war" existed between Lefkow and their organization.
Already, he was defying the judge, and Hale understood that he was risking being sent to jail for contempt of court. But there was much, much more. In the bond hearing, prosecutors read some transcripts of recordings made by their informant and presented other evidence. On Dec. 4, they said, Hale E-mailed their source under the heading 'assignment' and asked him to find out Lefkow's home address.
The next day, the man told Hale he was working on it.
"When we get it, we going to exterminate the rat?" the source asked, according to a transcript that was read in the Jan. 23 hearing.
"Well, whatever you want to do basically," Hale reportedly replied.
"The Jew rat," the informant said.
"You know, my position has always been that I, you know, I'm going to fight within the law ... but that information has been provided," Hale allegedly added on the informant's tape recording. "If you wish to do anything yourself, you can."
On Dec. 17, 12 days later, prosecutors said that their source told Hale that plans were in place to assassinate Lefkow. Hale did not directly endorse the murder, but he did tell the source to remember they were discussing Little League baseball. Apparently, Hale feared the conversation could come back to haunt him.
In other tapes, Hale also allegedly discussed with the source — identified by prosecutors as "Tony," the head of the WCOTC "White Beret" security team — how angry he was with a certain church member. "If I was to tell you to go out and shoot this bastard," Hale allegedly confided to the source, "I know you would."
'World Church of the XXXXXXX'
When prosecutors announced who their informant was during the bond hearing — all without using his name — Hale looked shocked, visibly slumping in his chair. Within days, other bitter Creators had named Tony Evola of Chicago in various E-mail groups as the man who had betrayed their organization.
"TONY, YOU PIECE OF SHIT, RUN FOR SOME OTHER NIGGER COUNTRY," wrote Jon Fox, a key WCOTC "reverend" who took Hale's place at the head of a January anti-immigration rally in Lewiston, Maine. "It has been said that treason against one's country is worthy of death. And certainly we as Creators believe that treason against one's race is a crime of much greater magnitude. This withstanding [sic], Rev. Kroenke, Hasta Primus, orders all Creators worldwide not to harass or touch Tony Evola. ... We have enough on our plate."
After Hale was denied bond, many Creators spoke bravely of the fight they intended to put on to save their organization. But WCOTC has always been a group that largely revolved around the personality of Matt Hale.
And it relied heavily on the "holy books" penned by Klassen — books that cannot be sold now without having WCOTC's name blotted out first. What's more, after federal agents seized a large amount of the group's material in raids in East Peoria, WCOTC virtually ran out of the racist paraphernalia that it sells in order to finance the organization.
Today, there already are signs of severe strains on the group that has lost its leader. Hale was denied bond, even though his retired police officer father offered to put up $200,000 in property to free his son, and it seems unlikely that the group is capable of producing another charismatic leader.
In general, there is a pall across the larger white supremacist movement, thanks to Hale's arrest in combination with a series of other arrests, deaths and departures in the last year. Many veterans of the movement are disheartened, and some fear mass arrests are coming soon.
For the WCOTC, it all adds up to a feeling of quiet desperation. In a Jan. 25 E-mail headed "BEG-A-THON," Kroenke, the group's current nominal leader, pleaded for money from his comrades. If he couldn't raise $600 in two weeks, he wrote, WCOTC's Web sites would be shut down. Newly apprised of the dangers of defying federal judges, Kroenke gave the WCOTC a nickname that betrayed much about its future prospects: "World Church of the XXXXXXX."
It's not known how strong Hale's defense against the federal charges facing him will be. Prosecutors revealed very little of what were apparently hundreds of hours of taped conversations between Hale and their source. But one recording they did quote threw light on Hale's attitude toward those who kill for the cause.
"I wish he hadn't done it," Hale told the source in a recording made July 23, 2000, about a year after Ben Smith's bloody rampage. "But he made us a household name. That's why I will always remember him, respect him and appreciate him."