Christian Identity theology, once again, appears to have motivated political murders, this time of two gay men in California.
They grew up in a devoutly religious home. Their father had a penchant for preaching and praying in public. Their mother gave painting lessons to neighborhood children while her own kids, Matthew and Tyler, taught them about edible plants and gave away bushels of hand-picked fruit. By many accounts, they were a normal family.
That was before the Williams brothers' journey into hate.
In the end, officials charge, the northern California brothers murdered two gay men as they slept at home. They were caught when, a few days after the July killings, they allegedly tried to buy ammunition with one of the slain men's credit cards.
Officials suspect that two weeks before the murders, the Williams brothers also were behind the arson attacks that wreaked $1 million damage on three Sacramento synagogues.
The journey seems to have begun in 1993 when Matthew Williams, a young man who was clearly searching for something to give his life meaning, headed to the University of Idaho.
At first, he joined a charismatic Christian church in Moscow, Idaho. But he left the church two years later, beginning a shift from a fundamentalist faith to one motivated by violent hatred of all kinds of minorities — but especially gays and Jews.
"After he left the church he went from food combining to eye exercises, to only drinking tea, to tax revolting," former friend Jeff Monroe told The Sacramento Bee.
He drank fungus teas and "colloidal silver," a brew that's popular in the antigovernment movement for curing a host of ills. And he began a reading odyssey through the vast array of white supremacist and other radical right material now available on the Web.
"In six months," Monroe said in remarks since echoed by other former friends, "he went from not having much of an opinion to being a confirmed racist."
Tyler, Matthew's "shadow," seems to have followed.
At first, based on materials seized from Matt Williams' home, officials thought the brothers might be followers of the World Church of the Creator (see The Great Creator) — the same atheistic neo-Nazi group implicated in a July murder rampage in the Midwest. But then one of several letters Matthew, 31, sent to friends surfaced.
"Dearly beloved," it began. "I have just finished the most exciting and relevant Bible Study of my life! A special person shared IT with me and I want to share IT with the special people of my life. ... I reckon that thee shall be blessed by this greatly."
He was talking about Christian Identity.
The letter lauded the infamous anti-Semitic hoax, Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion. Williams implored his friends to arm themselves for the coming troubles.
He included a sketch of a skeleton, dressed like Uncle Sam, watching a television set emanating deadly rays and emblazoned with a Star of David. And he referred, in glowing terms, to key ideologues of Identity: Pete Peters, Ted Weiland and the late Nord Davis Jr. (see Hills of Rebellion).
Identity, a heretical version of Christianity, sees Jews as the spawn of Satan, blacks and other people of color as "mud people," and whites as the real chosen people. Because its hard-line version holds that Christ will not return until the earth is swept clean of Satanic forces, many followers feel impelled to kill.
And in fact, Identity adherents have been behind a two-decade record of murder, torture, bombing and arson.
Now, in the California murders and arsons, it appears that once again the culprit is Identity.