White supremacist with ties to NU coach’s death convicted in murder plot

Scott Gordon

When Matt Hale was convicted Monday of plotting to have a federal judge killed, Evanston leaders, who dealt with the white supremacist’s controversial appearances on campus and in the city, saw the decision as a victory for racial tolerance.

Hale — whose attempt to start a supremacist religious group at Northwestern was met with violent protest in 2000 — was found guilty Monday morning on four of the five charges he faced.

A federal jury in Chicago convicted Hale of three counts of obstruction of justice and one count of solicitation of murder. He could face a maximum of 20 years in prison for the solicitation of murder and 10 years for each count of obstruction of justice.

Prosecutors said Hale, 32, tried to get a close associate to kill U.S. District Court Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow, an NU Law School graduate. In November 2002 Lefkow ordered Hale to stop calling his organization World Church of the Creator because the name already had been trademarked.

A former member of Hale’s church, 21-year-old Indiana University junior Benjamin Smith, killed former NU basketball coach Ricky Byrdsong in a 1999 spree of violence directed at blacks, Asian Americans and Jews in Illinois and Indiana. Smith shot himself after the shootings, for which Hale was never implicated.

During the trial over the threats to Lefkow, the jurors heard numerous tapes of Hale using racial slurs, including one on which he laughed about Smith’s killings.

Ald. Lionel Jean-Baptiste (2nd) said the conviction sends a message that society will not tolerate Hale’s preaching of white supremacy.

“I think that folks like this don’t value their own lives and so therefore they can indiscriminately attack others,” Jean-Baptiste added.

In 2002 Hale created controversy in Evanston when pamphlets containing anti-Semitic and racist language were left in residents’ yards. The pamphlets, titled “Facts that the Media and the Government Don’t Want You to Know!”, were packaged with a cover sheet bearing the name of then-state Rep. Jeff Schoenberg, D-Evanston, who is Jewish.

Evanston resident John Austin, who complained to police after receiving one of the pamphlets at his home on the 2800 block of Girard Avenue, called Hale “a really nasty guy.”

“I don’t think there’s any place for such hate literature,” Austin said Monday after the verdict. “It was just outrageous and filled with venom.”

Hale’s organization, now known as the Creativity Movement, has existed in various forms since Ben Klassen, a Floridian white supremacist, founded it in 1973. In 1996 Hale was appointed “pontifex maximus” of the movement, which advocates dominance of the white race and rejects Christianity as a Jewish plot.

George Mitchell, president of the Evanston chapter of the NAACP, said he was “glad that justice prevailed” in Monday’s verdict.

“The most important thing is the type of hatred and bitterness (encouraged by Hale) needs to be corrected by society,” Mitchell said.

Thomas A. Durkin, Hale’s chief defense counsel, told The Daily he thought the trial was too ideologically charged and too strongly linked to the Smith killings.

“It was asking a lot for the jurors to overcome the prejudice and passion that was fanned by the government,” Durkin said.

An FBI informant, Anthony Evola, who had climbed to a high rank in Hale’s church, provided prosecutors with tapes of conversations in which he asked Hale, in late 2002, if they were going to “exterminate the rat” — meaning Lefkow.

On the tape, Hale tells Evola, “Well, whatever you want to do, basically,” then later adds, “I’m going to fight within the law and, but, ah, that information’s been provided if you wish to, ah, do anything, yourself, you can. So that makes it clear.”

Lefkow had ruled in favor of the TE-TA-MA Truth Foundation, an Oregon religious group that holds the trademark for the term “Church of the Creator.” Hale was ordered to stop using the name, hand over all printed materials with the name on it and give up control of www.churchofthecreator.com.

University Chaplain Tim Stevens, remembering the protest that occurred when Hale visited campus in January 2000, attempting to gather student signatures on a petition for a religious student group, said he thinks Hale alone is not the biggest problem.

“I think it would be a mistake to focus so much on that that we don’t pay attention to other instances of bigotry in the world,” Stevens said.

Vice President of University Relations Al Cubbage declined to comment on Monday’s verdict, but said that in 2000 “there was not great interest by Northwestern students” to have Hale come to campus.

The Associated Press and The Daily’s Amy Hamblin, Dalia Naamani-Goldman, Chris Kirkham and Greg Lowe contributed to this report.