Posted: January 9, 2003
Matt Hale, leader and self-proclaimed "Pontifex Maximus" of the racist and anti-Semitic World Church of the Creator, was arrested January 8 at a Chicago courthouse on charges of soliciting the murder of a federal judge and obstruction of justice.
Hale, 31, of East Peoria, Ill., was taking into custody by FBI agents and members of the FBI's Joint Terrorist Task Force at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse, just before he was scheduled to appear at a contempt hearing in a civil trademark infringement case involving his organization.
According to the indictment, between Nov. 29 and Dec. 17, 2002, Hale solicited an individual to forcibly assault and murder U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow, who was presiding over the trademark case involving Hale's group.
The indictment charged Hale with engaging "in conduct constituting a felony that has as an element the use, attempted use, and threatened use of physical force against Ö U.S. District Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow."
The indictment was announced by Patrick J. Fitzgerald, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, Thomas J. Kneir, Special Agent in Charge of the Chicago Office of the FBI, and Terry Hillard, Superintendent of the Chicago Police Department.
The Anti-Defamation League, which has long monitored the activities of World Church of the Creator, applauded law enforcement officials for Hale's arrest, saying that through their vigilance, "law enforcement prevented a potentially deadly crime against a member of the federal bench."
The World Church of the Creator is a vehemently racist and anti-Semitic group with a propensity for violence that includes murders and assaults.
"Like law enforcement, we have been very concerned about Matt Hale's increasingly violent rhetoric," said Richard S. Hirschhaut, ADL Chicago Regional Director.
If convicted of soliciting murder, Hale faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000, and the obstruction of justice count carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
A foundation that trademarked the name Church of the Creator had successfully sued Hale's racist group over the rights to the name. Lefkow had angered Hale by issuing an injunction ordering his organization to turn over for destruction printed materials bearing the group's name and by later ordering Hale to appear in court to explain why he should not be held in contempt for defying the injunction.
In June 1999, the Committee on Character and Fitness of the Illinois State Bar rejected Hale's application for a law license. Not long after, a friend and follower of Hale, Benjamin Smith, went on a two-day shooting spree in Illinois and Indiana that targeted ethnic and religious minorities. Smith killed two people and injured nine others before killing himself as police closed in on him.
The last time Hale had met with Smith, days before the killing spree, they discussed Hale's law license problems. Hale subsequently acknowledged that his legal setback was a factor in the shooting spree. "If people can't speak, violence automatically results in society," he said then.
The World Church of the Creator has suffered in popularity recently and Hale has been unable to prevent some defections. Nevertheless, he still has a dedicated core group of followers, as well as a larger group of sympathizers. It is possible that Hale's arrest could cause supporters to lash out, either against the government or their more traditional targets of Jews and racial minorities.