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Context of 'October 28, 2009: Obama Signs Landmark Hate Crimes Leglislation into Law'

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Cover of ‘The Turner Diaries.’Cover of ‘The Turner Diaries.’ [Source: Associated Content]White supremacist and separatist William Pierce, a leader of the neo-Nazi National Alliance (see 1970-1974), publishes a novel called The Turner Diaries under the pseudonym “Andrew Macdonald.”
Former College Professor - Pierce has a doctorate in physics from the University of Colorado, and taught at Oregon State University for three years before joining the American Nazi Party, taking over leadership of the group after its head, George Lincoln Rockwell, was assassinated. In 1970, Pierce and others left that organization and joined the National Youth Alliance, later renamed the National Alliance. He will later say that the violence and disruption of the civil rights movement prompted his decision to join Nazi and white supremacist organizations. “I became concerned with the general abandonment of standards and long-accepted values,” he will write. “The standards of excellence that had prevailed at most universities were becoming abandoned ideas that were in the way of social progress for people of color. The old-fogey standards had to go, and now we had to judge students and professors by the new standards of social relevance and performance. That concerned me a lot.”
Genocidal 'Future History' - The novel is a “future history” of the US after the nation, and eventually the world, is “purged” of “inferior” races via an Aryan revolution that overthrows the US government and puts white “Aryans” in charge. Pierce actually began the book as a series of installments for the racist tabloid “Attack!” a publication of the National Youth Alliance. The Anti-Defamation League will term the book “[l]urid, violent, apocalyptic, misogynistic, racist, and anti-Semitic.” The book is privately printed through the National Alliance’s National Vanguard Press, but in 1998, independent publisher Barricade Books will begin publishing it as well. From 1975 through 1978, Pierce serialized the novel in the Alliance’s newsletter, “Attack!” (later renamed “National Vanguard”). In March 1997, he will explain his rationale for writing the novel, saying: “In 1975, when I began writing The Turner Diaries… I wanted to take all of the feminist agitators and propagandists and all of the race-mixing fanatics and all of the media bosses and all of the bureaucrats and politicians who were collaborating with them, and I wanted to put them up against a wall, in batches of a thousand or so at a time, and machine-gun them. And I still want to do that. I am convinced that one day we will have to do that before we can get our civilization back on track, and I look forward to the day.”
Fictional Story Inspires Oklahoma City Bombing - The story hinges on the experiences and “recollections” of Earl Turner, an Aryan separatist who chronicles the extermination of minorities, Jews, and other “undesirables” via an armed insurrection. The book will become highly influential in far-right circles. One of the most notable scenes in it is that of Turner’s guerrilla unit detonating a homemade “fertilizer bomb” at FBI headquarters, killing hundreds; the ADL will note it as “a passage that came to be seen as foreshadowing, and as an inspiration to, Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh” (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). The white supremacist guerrilla army of the book is called “The Organization”; its vocabulary and methodologies will be adopted to one extend or another by a number of white supremacist and separatist organizations. The novel begins by stating: “If the White nations of the world had not allowed themselves to become subject to the Jew, to Jewish ideas, to the Jewish spirit, this war would not be necessary. We can hardly consider ourselves blameless. We can hardly say we had no choice, no chance to avoid the Jew’s snare. We can hardly say we were not warned.… The people had finally had their fill of the Jews and their tricks.… If the Organization survives this contest, no Jew will—anywhere. We’ll go to the Uttermost ends of the earth to hunt down the last of Satan’s spawn.” The revolution of the “Organization” is triggered by the passage of the “Cohen Act,” legislation which effectively bans Americans from owning weapons. Pierce writes that the forcible disarming of the citizenry results in anarchy: “Robberies of this sort had become all too common since the Cohen Act, with groups of Blacks forcing their way into White homes to rob and rape, knowing that even if their victims had guns they would probably not dare use them.” The book depicts scenes of violence in gory, graphic detail (including torture and racially-motivated lynchings), and gives detailed explanations of how the characters construct a variety of explosive devices. The book gives the rationale for its fictional murder of hundreds at the FBI building: “It is a heavy burden of responsibility for us to bear, since most of the victims of our bomb were only pawns who were no more committed to the sick philosophy or the racially destructive goals of the System than we are. But there is no way we can destroy the System without hurting many thousands of innocent people.… And if we don’t destroy the System before it destroys us… our whole race will die.” In the novel, Turner dies during a successful suicide mission, when he detonates a nuclear weapon over the Pentagon. White domination of the planet is ultimately achieved by the massive deployment of nuclear weapons. Organizations such as The Order (which will carry out the murder of progressive talk show host Alan Berg—see June 18, 1984 and After), The New Order, and the Aryan Republican Army (see 1992 - 1995) will cite the novel as inspiration for their efforts. (Janofsky 7/5/1995; Stickney 1996, pp. 99; Center for New Community 8/2002 pdf file; Jackson 9/2004; Anti-Defamation League 2005)
Inspiration for Texas Murder - In Texas in 1998, when African-American James Byrd Jr. is beaten and dragged to his death behind a pickup truck (see June 7, 1998 and After), one of his assailants, John King, will say, “We’re starting The Turner Diaries early.”
Sparks Many Imitators - The novel will spark a number of imitations, including 2003’s Angle Iron, about a right-wing attack on the US power grid; 2001’s Dark Millennium, depicting a white supremacist president presiding over the extermination of African-Americans; 2004’s Deep Blue, which transports the racial themes into a science-fictional presentation; 2001’s Hold Back This Day, in which whites establish an Aryan colony on Mars; 1999’s One in a Million, in which a white separatist declares war on the IRS; 2001’s The Outsider, whose white hero goes on a murderous spree among African-Americans; and 1991’s Serpent’s Walk, in which a resurgent Nazi underground claims the planet for its own. (Jackson 9/2004)
Wide Influence - Both Pierce and his novel will become highly influential in white supremacist and anti-government circles. Jerry Dale, a West Virginia sheriff who monitors Pierce for years, says: “He’s become a spiritual leader. He’s not a nut. Looking at him and talking to him, you don’t get a feeling he’s crazy. He’s not violent. But the way he incites people, to me, that is frightening.” Pierce will go on to write a number of books (including comic books) and periodicals, and host a radio show that will be broadcast in a dozen states. However, he always publicly states that he does not advocate actual violence. (Janofsky 7/5/1995)
Second Novel - Ten years later, Pierce will publish a second novel, Hunter, which depicts a lone assassin targeting Jews and African-Americans. Both this book and a reprint of The Turner Diaries will be released by a publishing house affiliated with the National Alliance, the National Vanguard Press (see 1988).

James Byrd Jr.James Byrd Jr. [Source: EbonyInspired (.com)]James Byrd Jr., an African-American resident of Jasper, Texas, is murdered by three white men in what appears to be a racially motivated incident. Jasper County District Attorney Guy James Gray calls the killing “probably the most brutal I’ve ever seen” in 20 years as a prosecutor. Within hours of the attack, John William “Bill” King, Lawrence Russell Brewer, and Shawn Allen Berry are arrested and charged with murder and kidnapping. All three men have prison records and room together in a local apartment; King and Brewer are members of the white supremacist groups Aryan Nations and Confederate Knights of America, the latter an offshoot of the Ku Klux Klan. The police find racist literature in their apartment (Cropper 6/10/1998; CNN 7/6/1998) , including documents written by King and Brewer indicating that they intended to start a new white supremacist group of their own. (Lyman 2/17/1999) Local Klan organizations quickly disavow any connection to the crimes. (Bragg 6/17/1998)
Last Ride - Byrd, walking home from a bridal shower, accepts a ride from the three; by all accounts, he does not know the men. Instead of taking Byrd home, the three drive him to a wooded area, beat him, chain him by the ankles to Berry’s truck, and drag him down a rough logging road east of Jasper. The dragging tears Byrd’s body into pieces; his severed head, neck, and right arm are discovered about a mile from where the three finally dump his mangled torso. During the trial, a doctor testifies that he believes Byrd is alive and perhaps conscious until his body strikes a culvert, where his head and arm are torn from his body. Dr. Thomas Brown tells the court, “He was alive when the head, shoulder, and right arm were separated.” The local sherriff, tipped off by an anonymous phone call, finds Byrd’s remains. A trail of blood, body parts, and personal effects stretches for two miles down the road. Berry, who cooperates with police and leads them to King and Brewer, later tells investigators that Brewer sprays Byrd’s face with black paint before he and King chain him to the back of the truck. (State of Texas 7/1/1998; CNN 7/6/1998; CNN 7/8/1998; CNN 2/22/1999) Investigators find a cigarette lighter dropped at the scene, inscribed with a Klan insignia, that belongs to King. (Cropper 6/10/1998) Experts also tie blood on the truck, and on the three men’s clothes and shoes, to Byrd. (New York Times 2/19/1999; New York Times 9/24/1999) Berry’s involvement surprises many area residents, who characterize him as a petty criminal who they believed was incapable of being involved in such a brutal crime. A friend says: “I never heard Shawn say anything racist. I have a lot of black friends. He has a lot of black friends. All this news has just shocked me and everyone he knows.” Friends are less surprised at the involvement of King and Brewer, both of whom they say had their racial hatred intensified during their prison terms. “The level of racism in prison is very high,” says Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center. “The truth is, you may go in completely unracist and emerge ready to kill people who don’t look like you.” (Bragg 6/17/1998)
Funeral Draws National Attention - Dozens of civil rights leaders and national politicians join area residents at Byrd’s funeral, and call for an end to racial hatred and intolerance (see June 13, 1998).
Father Apologizes - King’s father, Ronald L. King, also a Jasper resident, releases a letter apologizing for his son’s actions. The letter reads in part: “My sympathy goes out to the Byrd family. There is no reason for a person to take the life of another, and to take it in such a manner is beyond any kind of reasoning. It hurts me deeply to know that a boy I raised and considered to be the most loved boy I knew could find it in himself to take a life. This deed cannot be undone, but I hope we can all find it in our hearts to go forward in peace and with love for all. Let us find in our hears love for our fellow man. Hate can only destroy. Again, I want to say I’m sorry.”
Clinton: Town Must 'Join Together across Racial Lines' - President Clinton calls the murder shocking and outrageous, and says the residents of Jasper “must join together across racial lines to demonstrate that an act of evil like this is not what this country is all about.… I think we’ve all been touched by it, and I can only imagine that virtually everyone who lives there is in agony at this moment.” (Cropper 6/11/1998)
Indications of Klan Activity in Area - The mayor of Jasper, R. C. Horn, an African-American, says that the city is relatively peaceful from a racial aspect, and says the city “has a strong bind together, both black and white.” But Gary Bledsoe of the Texas chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) says the area of east Texas that contains Jasper has been a center of Klan activity for years. Bledsoe points to serious problems in the nearby town of Vidor, for years a de facto “white town,” that centered around integrating a housing project. Lou Ann Reed, a local cashier, says she deplores the killing: “I don’t think anybody should be treated that way, I don’t care what color they are. Not even an animal.” Reed, who is white, refuses to answer when asked if she has heard that some white residents might have sympathies with white supremacist groups; when asked if the killing surprised her, she says, “Nothing surprises me anymore.” Black residents tell reporters that harassment and physical abuse from whites is not uncommon, and there are areas in and around town they have learned not to frequent for fear of being attacked. (Cropper 6/10/1998; Cropper 6/11/1998) A New York Times editorial calls the murder a “lynching by pickup truck.” (New York Times 6/14/1998) Both local Klan organizations and black militant organizations march in Jasper shortly after Byrd’s murder (see June 27, 1998).
Hate Crime - Texas authorities charge King, Brewer, and Berry with a variety of felonies, including murder and kidnapping; the addition of hate crime charges makes them eligible for the death penalty. During their trials, both Brewer and King are depicted as unrepentant white racists. King’s former supervisor, roofing contractor Dennis Symmack, says that though a quiet man, King harbors strongly racist views. “Bill was a quiet man, not a talker,” Symmack testifies, and recalls King expressing “an intense dislike of blacks.” Symmack says that according to King, “[B]lacks are different from whites and are taking over everything—taking over welfare.” Tattoo artist Johnny Mosley, a former inmate who served time with King, says that King asked for an array of racist tattoos—including one depicting the lynching of a black man and another reading “Aryan Pride”—in large part to intimidate other inmates and to avoid being sexually assaulted. (CNN 7/6/1998; New York Times 7/7/1998; New York Times 2/19/1999; CNN 2/22/1999; Lyman 2/24/1999) During the trial, King claims that the crime was not racially motivated, but was impelled by Berry’s desire to buy drugs from Byrd; additionally, he claims that Berry’s abuse of steroids prompted the brutalization of their victim, and that he himself had nothing to do with assaulting Byrd. Authorities find King’s claims entirely baseless (New York Times 11/12/1998) ; instead, prosecutors tell the court that King wanted to start his own white supremacist group, and targeted Byrd as a way to shine attention on himself and gain members. (Lyman 2/17/1999; CNN 2/22/1999) During his trial, Brewer attempts to blame Berry for the actual murder, an argument that the jury disregards in favor of a letter written by Brewer bragging about his role in the murder and saying: “Well, I did it. And no longer am I a virgin. It was a rush, and I’m still licking my lips for more.” (New York Times 9/24/1999) All three are found guilty; King and Brewer are sentenced to death, and Berry receives life in prison with no chance of parole until 2039. Both King and Brewer later write racist graffiti on the walls of their jail cells. In a jailhouse letter to Brewer, King will write of his pride in the crime, and accepts the fact that he may die for it. “Regardless of the outcome of this, we have made history,” King says in the letter intercepted by jail officials. “Death before dishonor. Sieg Heil!” (New York Times 11/18/1998; Lyman 2/17/1999; New York Times 2/19/1999; Lyman 2/24/1999; New York Times 9/24/1999) During the closing arguments of King’s trial, Gray discusses the concept of violent racism: “It’s something that’s a virus. It’s something that’s dangerous. It’s something that spreads from one person to another.” (Lyman 2/24/1999)
Murders Sparks Hate-Crime Legislation - The murder of Byrd and a subsequent murder of a gay Colorado student, Matthew Shepard (see October 9, 1998 and After), will be a catalyst for the passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act (see October 28, 2009).

Civil rights leaders, politicians, and local residents gather in Jasper, Texas, to mourn the violent death of James Byrd Jr., an African-American brutally murdered by white supremacists (see June 7, 1998 and After). Byrd’s funeral service is held in the Greater New Bethel Baptist Church, where Byrd’s father is a deacon and his mother a Sunday School teacher. Two hundred guests fill the sanctuary while another 600 participate outside the building. One speaker after another says that Byrd’s death should bring whites and blacks together in outrage and determination to end racial violence. The Reverend Jesse Jackson, a national civil rights leader, refers to his mentor, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in saying: “Dr. King would say that unearned suffering is redemptive, that there’s power in the blood of the innocent. Brother Byrd’s innocent blood alone could very well be the blood that changes the course of our country, because no one has captured the nation’s attention like this tragedy.” Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater is one of several speakers that acknowledge the family’s wish for a small, private funeral ceremony. Speaking to Byrd’s sister Clara Taylor from the podium, Slater says: “We know, Clara, that you wanted to be left alone. But we can’t. We have to be with you. We have to be with this family and we have to be here in Jasper. Because we can ill afford to have what has happened here happen any place else across this land.” Other speakers include civil rights leader Reverend Al Sharpton, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), and Representative Maxine Waters (D-CA). The Byrd family banned reporters and photographers from the service. A small number of the area’s white residents take part in the service; many area residents, both black and white, wear yellow ribbons honoring Byrd’s memory, and some area stores and buildings fly their flags at half mast. A small number of African-American men from the Nation of Islam and the New Black Panthers conduct a march from the sheriff’s office into Byrd’s neighborhood, wearing paramilitary garb, carrying shotguns and rifles, and advising black residents to arm themselves; according to news reports, the marchers are generally ignored. (Firestone 6/13/1998)

Local Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and New Black Panthers—militant groups that many feel are polar opposites of one another—march in the small town of Jasper, Texas, in response to the recent brutal murder of African-American resident James Byrd by self-avowed white supremacists (see June 7, 1998 and After). Authorities fear the two groups will engage in a physical altercation, but they exchange nothing more than intemperate and sometimes profane rhetoric. Residents did not want either group to march, but their wishes were not heeded; both President Clinton and Governor George W. Bush had asked that the groups refrain from marching, but their wishes, too, were ignored by both groups. Jasper resident Joyce Edmond, an African-American, says, “It’s wrong for either of them to be here.” She echoes the sentiments of many residents by saying that both groups are using Byrd’s murder to gain attention for themselves. Local government official Walter Diggles, an African-American, says of the groups’ rival marches: “It’s the outside coming in and disrupting a community that has been dealing very conscientiously with this situation. It’s a distraction.” The KKK members, mostly from neighboring Vidor and Waco, and the New Black Panthers and Black Muslims, from Dallas and Houston respectively, are surrounded by state troopers wearing face shields and bulletproof vests. Both sides give fiery speeches laced with racial slurs and conspiracy theories. Both sides brought large amounts of weapons, but were prohibited by police from carrying them. One white and one black militant are arrested for disorderly conduct. Several times, the crowd of onlookers laughs derisively at the militants. In a statement, Byrd’s family says: “Let this horrendous violation of the sanctity of life not be a spark that ignites more hatred and retribution. Rather, let this be a wake-up call for America, for all Americans. Let it spark a cleansing fire of self-examination and reflection.” Klan members insist that the march is to distance the organization from Byrd’s murder, and both sides claim they have come to Jasper to protect the community from the other side. (Bragg 6/27/1998; Bragg 6/28/1998)

Matthew Shepard.Matthew Shepard. [Source: BilEric Project]Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old college student, is murdered on the outskirts of Laramie, Wyoming. Shepard, who is openly gay, is found brutally beaten, burned, and tied to a fence, where he hung, comatose, for some 18 hours before being found. He is rushed to a local hospital, but dies five days later. Local residents Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson are quickly charged with Shepard’s death. Because of the extreme brutalization they inflicted on Shepard, prosecutors chararcterize the murder as a hate crime: according to the charges, the two killed Shepard because of their hatred of homosexuals. (Brooke 10/10/1998; ABC News 11/26/2004) The girlfriends of the two accused murderers are also arrested and charged as accomplices after the fact, but the charges are mitigated after they cooperate with the investigation. (Brooke 10/10/1998) Investigators quickly learn that Shepard had been beaten twice in recent months by other Laramie residents who, he said, attacked him because of his homosexuality. (CNN 10/12/1998) “He was very open about his sexuality,” says a friend, anthropology student Tina LaBrie. “I admired him for that because it is very courageous to be yourself even when others disagree.” (Brooke 10/10/1998)
Fatal Truck Ride - Henderson and McKinney approach Shepard at a bar with the intention of robbing him. According to the two, Shepard, unaware of their plans, tells them he is too drunk to drive and asks for a ride. In some versions of the events, McKinney and Henderson represent themselves as gay in order to entice Shepard into the truck. The three climb into McKinney’s pickup; Henderson drives. McKinney will claim that at some point during the ride Shepard places his hand on McKinney’s leg. It is then that McKinney strikes Shepard with a .357 Magnum pistol. However, McKinney later says, “I was getting ready to pull it on him anyway.” (In 1999, Henderson will admit that McKinney lied about the sexual advance from Shepard, and say that Shepard never touched either man. And tapes of McKinney’s post-arrest confession bear out Henderson’s denial.) McKinney tells Shepard: “Guess what? I’m not gay—and you just got jacked.” McKinney forces Shepard to give him his wallet, which only has $30 in it. McKinney continues pistol-whipping Shepard; prosecutors will say that McKinney continues beating Shepard because of his hatred for gays, but McKinney will later claim he loses control of himself because he is high on methamphetamine, saying: “Sometimes when you have that kind of rage going through you, there’s no stopping it. I’ve attacked my best friends coming off of meth binges.” McKinney and Henderson drive to a secluded spot outside Laramie where they can dump Shepard and flee. They stop at a wooden fence, where Henderson ties Shepard to the fence with a length of rope while McKinney continues to beat Shepard. Henderson later claims McKinney strikes him in the face when he tries to stop McKinney from continuing to assault Shepard. After tying Shepard to the fence, Henderson returns to the truck, leaving McKinney alone with Shepard. McKinney later says he believes it is his final blows to Shepard that ultimately kill him. (Leavitt 10/18/1998; Cullen 11/6/1999; ABC News 11/26/2004) Sergeant Rob DeBree, the chief investigator in the case, will later say, “That is one thousand percent torture, what occurred to that boy.” (Cullen 11/6/1999)
Altercation in Parking Lot Alerts Police to Murder - McKinney takes Shepard’s wallet and shoes, gets back in the truck, and tells Henderson to return to Laramie. McKinney later says his intention was to burglarize Shepard’s apartment. However, McKinney and Henderson meet up with two other young men whom police say are vandalizing cars; McKinney attacks the two men, attracting police attention. Police Sergeant Flint Waters runs down Henderson; after apprehending him, he sees several incriminating items in the bed of Henderson’s truck, including a bloodied large-frame revolver, a coat, a shoe, and a length of rope. Waters later says, “Seeing that the gun covered in blood, I assumed that there was a lot more going on than what we’d stumbled onto so far.” (ABC News 11/26/2004) The two assailants’ girlfriends attempt to cover for them, inventing an alibi for them and throwing Henderson’s bloodied clothing into a trash bin. McKinney’s girlfriend, Kristen Price, says of Henderson after the murder: “He was crying, and he kept throwing up. He just came in and hugged me, and said, ‘I’ve done something horrible. I deserve to die.’” (Brooke 10/16/1998)
Discovery - Aaron Kreifels, a fellow University of Wyoming student, finds Shepard by chance after struggling to get his mountain bike through the sandy, rugged terrain. He later tells a Denver Post reporter: “I got up and noticed something out of the corner of my eye. At first I thought it was a scarecrow, so I didn’t think much of it. Then I went around and noticed it was a real person. I checked to see if he was conscious or not, and when I found out he wasn’t, I ran and got help as fast as I could.” Kreifels reaches a house in the nearby Sherman Hills subdivision and calls police. As to Shepard’s condition, he will say, “I don’t really want to go into details about that.” Of the two assailants, Kreifels will say: “I can’t even grasp what these people were thinking, how they could do such a thing. There’s no excuse for it. Whatever their excuse is, it’s meaningless, because there’s just no excuse for taking another’s life.” (Hughes 10/15/1988) McKinney’s girlfriend briefly attempts to blame Shepard for the attack, claiming Shepard had made a pass at her boyfriend in recent days, and embarrassed him in front of his friends. (Brooke 10/12/1998)
Father of Assailant: Gay Victim Caused Increased Media Coverage - The father of one of the assailants, Bill McKinney, condemns the attack, but also complains about the attention Shepard’s murder receives in the media. The national press “blew it totally out of proportion because it involved a homosexual,” McKinney tells a Denver reporter. “Had this been a heterosexual these two boys decided to take out and rob, this never would have made the national news.” (Brooke 10/12/1998)
Funeral - Anti-gay protesters will picket Shepard’s funeral, displaying signs such as “God Hates Fags” and “Matt Shepard Rots in Hell” (see October 14, 1998).
Hate Crime - The question of whether Shepard’s murder qualifies as a “hate crime” is hotly debated in the weeks following the murder (see October 9, 1998 and After).
Multiple Life Sentences - McKinney and Henderson are found guilty of murder, kidnapping, and, in McKinney’s case, aggravated robbery. They accept double life sentences, in a plea deal agreed to by Shepard’s family, in order to escape the possibility of a death sentence. They waive their right to appeal as part of their plea deal. “Bottom line, Aaron was afraid he was going to die,” DeBree later says. (Cullen 11/5/1999; Cullen 11/6/1999; ABC News 11/26/2004) Dennis Shepard, the father of the victim, speaks for the family in court. “I would like nothing better than to see you die, Mr. McKinney,” he says. “However, this is the time to begin the healing process. To show mercy to someone who refused to show any mercy. To use this as the first step in my own closure about losing Matt.… Mr. McKinney, I give you life in the memory of one who no longer lives. May you have a long life and may you thank Matthew every day for it.” (Cullen 11/5/1999)
Triggers Legislation - Shepard’s death will be a catalyst for the passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act (see October 28, 2009). Shepard’s mother will create a foundation in her son’s name dedicated to promoting tolerance and diversity. And Shepard’s story will be retold in documentaries, television movies, and a play called “The Laramie Project,” which will often be performed in schools to address the issues of hate and prejudice. (ABC News 11/26/2004)

The Reverend Fred Phelps, holding a sign outside Matthew Shepard’s funeral service.The Reverend Fred Phelps, holding a sign outside Matthew Shepard’s funeral service. [Source: Slate]The funeral for Matthew Shepard, a gay college student brutally murdered by three white supremacists (see October 9, 1998 and After), is held in St. Mark’s Church in Casper, Wyoming. The service is led by the Reverend Anne Kitch. (CNN 10/13/1998; Louie Crew 10/14/1998) The Reverend Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, leads a small delegation of church members in a raucous denunciation of homosexuality at Shepard’s funeral. Phelps and his congregation members have picketed the funerals of gay men for years across the country, holding “God Hates Fags” signs and harassing family members. Governor Jim Geringer (R-WY) says he cannot prevent Phelps from attending the funeral, but vows that the protesters will not be allowed to disrupt it. Phelps’s group, Geringer says, is “just flat not welcome. What we don’t need is a bunch of wing nuts coming in.” For his part, Phelps, who claims he has received multiple death threats after announcing his journey to Laramie, says: “We’re not going to tolerate any violence from these homosexuals. They are the most violent people in the world. Here they are talking about what happened to this poor boy, and they turn around and make death threats against us.” Geringer, the Casper City Council, and several groups of gay activists succeeded in passing a regulation that keeps Phelps and his protesters 50 feet away from church property during the funeral. “[I]t was the best we could accomplish without risking an immediate court injunction for violating constitutional free speech,” reads a statement by the local chapter of the Log Cabin Republicans. “Such an injunction might have allowed Phelps to walk right up to the church property line.” (CNN 10/13/1998; Log Cabin Republicans 10/16/1998) Phelps and his fellow church members picket the funeral with signs reading, “Matt Shepard Rots in Hell,” “AIDS Kills Fags Dead,” and “God Hates Fags.” (Fact-Index 2004) Five years later, Phelps will attempt to erect a marker emblazoned with inflammatory statements about Shepard in a local park, to “commemorate” his death (see October 3, 2003).

An impromptu rally on New York City’s Fifth Avenue to mourn and protest the recent murder of a gay college student in Wyoming, Matthew Shepard (see October 9, 1998 and After), ends with at least 96 arrests and several injuries after demonstrators face off with police in riot gear and on horseback. No one is seriously injured during the confrontation, which features several short charges by police officers wielding billy clubs and plunging their horses into the crowd. Rally organizers did not secure a permit to march from the city. Over 4,000 people attend the march, billed as a “political funeral” to protest Shepard’s murder. The rally turns confrontational after police refuse to allow the marchers to take to the street. Organizers and marchers will accuse the police of overreacting, and say that the rally would have remained peaceful had they been allowed to complete their march. “The police refused to negotiate with us,” says organizer Sara Pursley. “The police refused even to talk to us. And by doing so, they created far more havoc in the city than we had ever planned to create.” She calls the police response “cruel and brutal.” Police say that the marchers endangered public safety by walking in the street. Police Commissioner Patrick Kelleher says of the police response: “They had a right to gather. But once they left the sidewalk, they were endangering the motorists, they were endangering the pedestrians. And we were forced to make arrests.” Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who usually takes a hardline stance against civil disturbances, says he understands the marchers’ feelings. “It’s a very worthy cause,” he says. “I can understand why they are so outraged and upset.” However, Giuliani supports the police response. Organizers later say they were surprised to see how many people joined in the rally. Pursley later says she and the other organizers expected 500 people at best. (Collins 10/20/1998; Kifner 10/21/1998) The New York Times editorial board is highly critical of the police response. Marchers should have secured a permit, the editors say in an op-ed, but the police response was excessive. (New York Times 10/21/1998)

Roy W. Menninger, the chairman of a citizens’ rights group in Topeka, Kansas, writes a column for the local press condemning the anti-gay protests held by Topeka’s Westboro Baptist Church (WBC—see November 27, 1955 and After) at the funeral of a murdered gay man (see October 14, 1998). Menninger calls Matthew Shepard’s murder (see October 9, 1998 and After) a “shocking” example of “unspeakable brutality… intentionally and… blatantly aimed at a member of a minority.” The WBC’s derogatory protest at Shepard’s funeral (see October 14, 1998) “surely express[ed] the same fear and the same bitter hatred right here that motivated the killers of the Wyoming youth: These very attitudes are the substructure of such acts of violence.” Menninger writes that almost everyone harbors some capacity for hatred, fear, and brutality just as Shepard’s killers and the WBC protesters do, but they generally do not act on that capacity. Too often, he continues, those feelings cause people to “look away from the unbelievably obscene signs carried by local picketers pillorying homosexuals in the name of Christianity. We cluck our dismay, we are distressed by their behavior, and we regret the sad image of Topeka that these picketers project—but we do not protest; we do not object. Where is our outrage? Why do we not mobilize the healthy sentiment in this community that would force these behaviors to stop?… The plain fact of the matter is that our silence conveys tacit approval of the mean and ugly things that are done by others in the name of righteousness. Our silence encourages the shameful unChristian behavior that this picketing really is. Our failure to speak out against those who commit hateful acts of prejudice and injustice makes us silent accomplices and secret supporters. In fact, our silence gives permission to the openly hateful few to act out their fear and anger against others; our silent acquiescence encourages their violence, which then becomes our violence and our hate crime. We cannot escape the guilt that this kind of collusion brings: When we are silent, we are as guilty as the perpetrators.” (Menninger 11/18/1998)

Conservative Baptist preacher Jerry Falwell, who speaks out against the anti-gay rhetoric of the Westboro Baptist Church.Conservative Baptist preacher Jerry Falwell, who speaks out against the anti-gay rhetoric of the Westboro Baptist Church. [Source: New York Times]People from the left and right of the social and political spectrum join in condemning the actions of the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church (WBC—see November 27, 1955 and After) during its protest at the funeral of Matthew Shepard, a gay man who was beaten to death a month earlier (see October 9, 1998 and After and October 14, 1998). The Reverend Jerry Falwell, a far-right Christian evangelist, says of the WBC’s protest, “I found it almost impossible to believe that human beings could be so brutal and vicious to a hurting family.” Of the WBC’s leader, Fred Phelps, he says, “He’s a first-class nut.” Phelps says he is proud to be labeled as such by Falwell because “[i]t means I’m preaching the truth.” Phelps then labels Falwell a “Judas” and says WBC members will picket Falwell’s church in Lynchburg, Virginia. Robert H. Knight of the conservative Family Research Council says he asked Phelps to call off the church’s protests against gays (see June 1991 and After) a year ago, and says he told Phelps that his actions “misconstrue… the message of Christ, which was one of love.” Arne Owens of the Christian Coalition says that anti-gay Christian organizations oppose the homosexual lifestyle while loving gays and lesbians: “You must be loving toward all human beings while recognizing the role of sin in the world.” But Cathy Renna of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) says that Phelps only expresses the hatred other anti-gay groups feel but do not so bluntly demonstrate. The Traditional Values Coalition, a conservative lobbying group, joins the Christian Coalition and other anti-gay organization in accusing GLAAD and other gay rights groups of capitalizing on Shepard’s murder for their own purposes, a charge Renna calls ludicrous. She says that Shepard’s friends “told me that Matthew would have wanted something good to come out of this. If [a murder] energizes and makes us fight to educate people about the kind of violence lesbians and gays face every day, that’s not using Matthew.” Instead, she says, groups like the Christian Coalition are using Phelps to promote their agenda: “They can point to him and say: ‘He’s a bad guy. We’re compassionate.’” For his part, Phelps says his organization brought “a little sanity” to Shepard’s funeral, and claims it was “the homosexuals” who “turned it into a Cecil B. DeMille propaganda mill.” (Lieblich 11/24/1998)

The Reverend Fred Phelps, minister of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, announces plans to erect a monument in the Casper, Wyoming, City Park to “commemorate” the murder of gay college student Matthew Shepard five years ago (see October 9, 1998 and After). According to Phelps, the marker would bear a likeness to Shepard and read: “MATTHEW SHEPARD, Entered Hell October 12, 1998, in Defiance of God’s Warning: ‘Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind; it is abomination.’ Leviticus 18:22.” Few Casper City Council members support Phelps’s plans. Councilwoman Barb Watters says: “When Phelps puts on one side his picture with the thing about killing all the gays, and they put on the other side of the thing a picture of Hitler that says ‘Kill all the Jews.’ That is what you are opening yourself up for.” Councilman Paul Bertoglio notes: “I think the hate language will find a very cold reception in this community. I think this community’s backbone is going to come up and say, ‘We are not going to accept it.’” Of Shepard, Phelps says: “It all comes back to Casper, Wyoming. That is his home, that is where he was born, where that church is, where those institutions… conspired in a confluence of evil resulting in a Zeitgeist that is extraordinarily evil. He [Shepard] was not a hero. This is a great monster sin against God. It is not an innocent alternate lifestyle. And all that has come down in that one little evil town called Casper, Wyoming. And we can’t ignore that.” The city will not allow the monument to be erected. (Burke 10/3/2003) The WBC soon builds a virtual “monument” to Shepard on its Web site (see 1997), which depicts him burning in hell. A photo of Shepard is wreathed in animated flames, and mousing over the photograph triggers an audio response of recorded screams and a voice shouting, “For God’s sake, listen to Phelps!” A counter on the site displays how many days Shepard has “Been in Hell.” The site claims: “WBC does not support the murder of Matthew Shepard: ‘thou shalt not kill.’ Unless his killers repent, they will receive the same sentence that Matthew Shepard received—eternal fire. However, the truth about Matthew Shepard needs to be known. He lived a Satanic lifestyle. He got himself killed trolling for anonymous homosexual sex in a bar at midnight.” (Global Oneness 2011; Southern Poverty Law Center 2012)

ABC News reporter Bryan Robinson prints a retrospective of the impact the 1998 murder of Wyoming college student Matthew Shepard (see October 9, 1998 and After) has had on some of those involved in its aftermath. The murder is generally perceived to have been a hate crime, perpetuated by two assailants who hated Shepard because he was openly gay. One of the people whose lives were profoundly changed is Police Chief Dave O’Malley of Laramie, Wyoming. O’Malley, who was deeply involved in the investigation of Shepard’s murder, says at the time he was intolerant of gays. “I was conservative. I bought into many of the stereotypes and I told many of the jokes associated with someone who is gay,” O’Malley says. “I was close-minded. It’s something I’m really ashamed of today.… I was raised in a conservative, Irish-Catholic family in Kansas. My father would joke around, saying: ‘There are no gays in Kansas. And if there are, they sure as hell ain’t Irish.‘… I lost my ignorance [after Shepard’s slaying].” O’Malley has become a gay rights activist, and in 2002 won the Equality Award from the Human Rights Campaign for his work on behalf of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered) citizens. Romaine Patterson, a friend of Shepard’s from college, says she had always been an outspoken gay activist, but after Shepard’s murder, she became much more active. She currently produces and co-hosts the Derek and Romaine Show on Sirius Radio. “I was no longer just a girl from Wyoming,” she recalls. “I did a lot of interviews [during media coverage of Shepard’s slaying] and worked for GLAAD [the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation]. One of the things I learned after doing interviews and working on the other side as part of the media is that you do have the power to reach people and influence public opinion.… I don’t think there’s been a day since where I don’t talk about Matthew. As far how his death affected me, I guess it really made me think about what kind of person I wanted to be, how I wanted to be the kind of person who makes the world a better place.” Robinson writes that, because of Shepard’s murder, many Americans have come to the same realization that O’Malley has reached: that gays and lesbians are targets for hate crimes. Cathy Renna of GLAAD says: “Matt’s murder made people realize that it was time to change laws, that attacks on gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgenders are happening, that this an issue. In a sense, it was a watershed moment. It took the topic of gay and lesbian people and turned it into dinner table conversation.” However, the number of reported hate crimes against LGBT citizens has increased since Shepard’s murder, according to the FBI. (Robinson 10/10/2003)

The grave of James Byrd Jr., an African-American brutally murdered by white supremacists in 1998 (see June 7, 1998 and After), is desecrated. Vandals carve racial slurs into Byrd’s headstone and kick it over. This is the second time Byrd’s grave has been desecrated; shortly after his burial in his hometown of Jasper, Texas, vandals stole a metal nameplate from the grave. Two white teenagers from the nearby town of Call will be arrested for the desecration. Joshua Lee Talley, 19, and John Matthew Fowler, 18, will be charged with criminal mischief. (Barnes 5/8/2004; Barnes 5/12/2004)

President Barack Obama signs the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law. The new law authorizes the Justice Department to investigate and prosecute violent attacks in which the perpetrator has targeted a victim because of his or her actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. The law is part of a larger defense authorization bill. “This law honors our lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender brothers and sisters whose lives were cut short because of hate,” says Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese. “Today’s signing of the first major piece of civil rights legislation to protect LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered] Americans represents a historic milestone in the inevitable march towards equality.” A statement released by 29 LGBT groups says, in part: “It took much too long, more than a decade. And it came at too great a price: the brutal killings of Matthew Shepard (see October 9, 1998 and After) and James Byrd Jr. (see June 7, 1998 and After) are just two among the thousands of crimes motivated by hate and bigotry.… [L]awmakers and the president have made an imperative statement to the country and the world: Our nation will no longer tolerate hate-motivated violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people.” The legislation has languished in Congress for nearly a decade, largely because of conservative opposition. Representative Mike Pence (R-IL), one of the harshest critics of the new law, accuses Obama of signing the bill as part of his “radical agenda” that puts his “liberal social priorities ahead of an unambiguous affirmation of our men and women in uniform.” Pence adds: “Every day, our armed forces stand in defense of freedom and our cherished way of life. It is deeply offensive to their service and to millions of Americans to pile so-called ‘hate crimes’ legislation onto a bill that authorizes critical resources for our troops. Hate crimes legislation is antithetical to the First Amendment, unnecessary, and will have a chilling effect on religious freedom.” (Fox News 10/28/2009; New England Bay Windows 10/28/2009) The law was included in the National Defense and Authorization Act of 2009 in part to weaken Republican opposition. Many Republicans such as Pence railed against the bill in both the House and Senate, but many voted for the legislation despite their opposition to the act. Many Republicans have criticized the placement of the law into the defense authorization legislation. Many conservative organizations, such as the Christian group Focus on the Family (FOTF), says the new law creates “thought crimes” by outlawing not just actions, but beliefs and attitudes. FOTF and Congressional Republicans such as Representative Steve King (R-IA) have also claimed that the new law legitimizes pedophilia and other illegal sexual practices, ignoring findings by legal and political analysts who called such claims “preposterous.” (St. Petersburg Times 5/14/2009; Boven 10/9/2009)

Tim Ravndal, the head of the Big Sky Tea Party Association, makes comments on his Facebook page that many interpret as condoning the murder of homosexuals. Ravndal will apologize for the comments (see September 4-7, 2010), which he makes in response to a lawsuit filed on behalf of same-sex couples by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). He will also remove the comments, but they will be preserved in a screenshot and documented by the Great Falls Tribune. Ravndal is described by the Tribune as “a prominent figure in [Montana]‘s tea party movement since its early days.” In an exchange with two others, Ravndal says the following:
bullet Ravndal: “Marriage is between a man and a woman period! By giving rights to those otherwise would be a violation of the constitution and my own rights.”
bullet Keith Baker: “How dare you exercise your First Amendment rights?”
bullet Dennis Scranton: “I think fruits are decorative. Hang up where they can be seen and appreciated. Call Wyoming for display instructions.”
bullet Ravndal: ”@Kieth, OOPS I forgot this aint (sic) America no more! @ Dennis, Where can I get that Wyoming printed instruction manual?”
bullet Dennis Scranton: “Should be able to get info Gazette archives. Maybe even an illustration. Go back a bit over 10 years.”
According to the Tribune, Ravndal and Scranton are apparently referring to the 1998 murder of University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard, who was beaten, tied to a fencepost, and left to die (see October 9, 1998 and After). During the trial of Shepard’s murderers, testimony proved that Shepard was killed because he was gay. (Adams 9/4/2010)


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