Profile: Benjamin Smith
Benjamin Smith was a participant or observer in the following events:
Indiana University (IU) sophomore Benjamin “August” Smith gives a fiery interview to a student reporter that details his hatred of African-Americans, Hispanics, Jews, homosexuals, and even many Christians. Smith describes himself as a member of the World Church of the Creator (WCOTC—see May 1996 and After), a self-described “race religion” that espouses racism and totalitarianism. [Bloomington Independent, 8/27/1998] (Smith is the group’s “Creator of the Year” for 1998.) [Anti-Defamation League, 2005] The church has approximately three members in the Bloomington, Indiana, area. Smith explains his hatred: “White people are best and they deserve the best. We don’t believe all races are equal. We see all inferior races breeding and the number of whites is shrinking. The mud people (see 1960s and After) will turn this world into a cesspool.” Until IU officials stopped him, Smith would paper the campus with fliers three or four times a week, earning him the sobriquet “the flier guy.” A typical flier reads: “If we do nothing, we will condemn our children to live in an Alien Nation where there is no place to escape these non-White invaders. There is nothing wrong with wanting America to remain a racially and culturally European nation.” In the interview, Smith says, “We want to show people that liberals like [President] Clinton are destroying the racial basis of this country.” Smith is as blunt about his church’s position on democracy, saying: “We’re not a big fan of democracy. We believe in totalitarianism.” If the church succeeds in achieving its goals, it will, Smith says, divide the US into portions, retaining much of it for its members. “We want the Midwest. It has the most fertile land and is the best basis for a new nation,” Smith says. Minorities will not be welcome. “Send the blacks back to Africa, the Asians back to Asia,” Smith says. “They probably won’t be very happy about it but they’ll probably end up wanting to leave.” Smith says mainstream Christianity is a huge impediment to his church’s aims. “It’s not blacks and Jews, but Christianity is our biggest obstacle. It caters to the weakness of man and humble him.” The church has its own Bible, Nature’s Eternal Religion. Smith became a white supremacist after entering college. “I looked through Aryan stuff and realized historically nations function best when there’s one race. Otherwise it’s a power struggle,” he recalls. “I saw the influx of taxpayers paying for minorities. This country was founded for and by whites and that’s when I decided I had to become an activist.” Smith has lost most of his old friends, and now calls them “race traitors and non-believers,” and though he still speaks to his parents, the relationship is strained. Through its Web site, the church claims it can come to power legally and non-violently, but, the site says, if the government tries “to restrict our legal means then we have no recourse but to resort to terrorism and violence.” Smith claims he has received death threats over his activism, but says he intends to increase his recruitment efforts in and around Bloomington and nearby Indianapolis. “Indy’s a big target for us,” he explains. “There are a lot more open minds. This community is la-la land.” [Bloomington Independent, 8/27/1998] Less than a year after the interview, Smith will go on a killing rampage throughout central Indiana before killing himself (see July 2-4, 1999).
The Illinois State Bar Association hears an appeal by Matthew Hale, the leader of the World Church of the Creator (WCOTC—see May 1996 and After), who was denied a law license the year before (see May 1998 - January 1999). Hale brings WCOTC member Benjamin Smith (see July 2-4, 1999) to testify on his behalf; Smith says Hale has kept him from committing acts of violence. Smith tells the Character and Fitness Committee: “He’s given me spiritual guidance.… When I first met him, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do with my life, what direction I was going to go.” [Southern Poverty Law Center, 9/1999; Anti-Defamation League, 2005]
Indiana newspapers announce that the Illinois State Bar Association has denied an appeal by Matthew Hale, the leader of the World Church of the Creator (WCOTC—see May 1996 and After), to practice law (see April 1999). Apparently the news triggers a murderous shooting spree by one of Hale’s disciples, Benjamin Smith (see July 2-4, 1999). [Southern Poverty Law Center, 9/1999] Hales releases a statement that reads in part: “I have been denied my most precious rights of speech and religion. If the courthouse is closed to ‘NON APPROVED RELIGIONS,’ America can only be headed for violence.” Asked if he thinks Smith’s shooting spree was connected to the Illinois State Bar’s decision, Hale replies: “I do. I very much do.” [Anti-Defamation League, 7/6/1999] Hale subsequently files an appeal with the United States Supreme Court, an appeal which will be denied; in response to that denial, Hale will state that he could “no longer in good faith and in good conscience urge, recommend, or instruct my adherents and supporters in general to obey the laws of this land… whatever blood is spilled with be [sic] on the hands of those who so severely wronged us today.” [Anti-Defamation League, 2005]
Benjamin ‘August’ Smith. [Source: Eye on Hate (.com)]Benjamin “August” Smith, a troubled 21-year-old man who devoutly believes in the racist teachings of the World Church of the Creator (WCOTC—see May 1996 and After), goes on a three-day killing spree targeted at Jews and non-whites. Smith gave himself the nickname of “August” because he believes his given name sounds Jewish, and as a reference to the Roman emperor Caesar Augustus. Smith was expelled from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana for several run-ins with police, and is in trouble at his current school, the University of Indiana, for distributing WCOTC literature and penning racist screeds for the student newspaper (see August 27, 1998). His girlfriend has broken up with him due to his physical and emotional abuse towards her. The event that apparently triggers Smith’s killing spree is Illinois’s denial of a law license to Matthew Hale, the leader of the WCOTC and a man Smith considers to be his mentor (see July 2, 1999).
July 2: One Killed, Six Injured - Smith, driving a light blue Ford Taurus and carrying a .380 semiautomatic and a .22 pistol, begins the killing spree on July 2 in a Chicago suburb when he sees a group of Orthodox Jews walking home from Sabbath services; he opens fire on them, injuring six. A short time later, Smith sees Ricky Byrdsong, an African-American and the former basketball coach of Northwestern University, walking with two of his children in his front yard in the Chicago suburb of Skokie. Smith shoots and kills Byrdsong from his car. He then fires on an Asian couple in the Northwood suburb, but misses them both.
July 3: Three Injured - On July 3, while police are piecing together the events of the Chicago shootings, Smith drives to Springfield, Illinois, where he shoots at two African-Americans, wounding one and missing the other. He then drives to Decatur where he shoots and wounds Stephen Anderson, an African-American minister. He then drives to Champaign-Urbana, where he critically wounds an Asian student.
July 4: One Killed, Shooter Commits Suicide - On July 4, Smith shoots and kills Won-Joon Yoon, a University of Indiana doctoral student standing outside his Birmingham, Indiana church. Smith abandons his Taurus in Ina, Illinois, hijacks a van from a gas station, and flees. Police, alerted to the hijacking, locate him traveling towards Salem, Illinois. The police chase Smith down the highway until he shoots himself below the chin in a suicide attempt; the badly wounded Smith crashes the van and shoots himself twice more before being taken to the hospital, where he is pronounced dead on arrival. A search of the Taurus reveals that Smith carefully planned his shooting spree, though he chose his victims apparently at random. A journal left in the car contains anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi writings; the journal opens, “Anyone who knows the history of this plague upon humanity who calls themselves Jews will know why I have acted.” The car also contains a bulletproof vest and receipts showing Smith has cashed in two retirement accounts. The police subsequently find and search a storage locker Smith had rented; it houses Nazi armbands and flags, a computer, printers, and floppy disks. [Los Angeles Times, 7/6/1999; Eye on Hate, 2003]
Reactions - A former Indiana roommate, Tyrese Alexander, says of Smith after the shootings: “There was never really a, ‘I don’t like you, I hate you because you’re black.’ He seemed to harbor intense anger, but it was never of a physical nature. He never lashed out at anybody. He just had an angry look on his face.… He seemed mad at the world. But I had no idea it would end like this.” [Los Angeles Times, 7/6/1999; CNN, 7/6/1999] Hale mourns his death, saying that Smith was “a pleasant person who believes in his people, who believes in his people, the white people, I can’t say anything bad about him,” and declares he feels nothing for the victims. Some believe that Hale may have known more of Smith’s plans than he admits. Of Smith’s victims, Hale says, “As far as we’re concerned, the loss is one white man.” [CNN, 7/6/1999; Eye on Hate, 2003; Anti-Defamation League, 2005]
'Martyr' for Radical Rightists - Many radical rightists will quickly declare Smith a “martyr” for the cause and an “exemplary student” of the movement. The spree will help bolster the WCOTC membership, which will expand into 17 states and a large Internet presence. [CNN, 7/6/1999; Albion Monitor, 7/26/1999; Eye on Hate, 2003] The WCOTC will eventually change its name to the “Creativity Movement” (see November 2002). Hale will be sentenced to prison in 2005 for soliciting the murder of a federal judge (see April 6, 2005). [Anti-Defamation League, 2005]
Anti-abortion activist Eric Robert Rudolph, wanted in a deadly spree of bombings that targeted abortion clinics, a gay and lesbian nightclub, and the 1996 Olympic Park in Atlanta (see October 14, 1998), is captured after five years of living as a fugitive from law enforcement attempts to find and arrest him. Rudolph is found in the mountainous Nantahala National Forest of western North Carolina, where FBI and other authorities believe he has been hiding since his 1998 bombing of an Alabama abortion clinic (see January 29, 1998). “He had been in the area the whole time,” says Cherokee County Sheriff Keith Lovin. Rudolph may face the death penalty. He was spotted by a Murphy, North Carolina, police officer, who saw him behind a local grocery store. The officer initially thought Rudolph might be a burglar. Rudolph does not resist arrest and is quickly brought into custody, where he is identified. Rudolph’s last known sighting was in July 1998. Rudolph later says that during some of his time as a fugitive, he was forced to subsist on acorns and salamanders until he began successfully stealing food from local businesses and residences.
Attorney General: Rudolph 'the Most Notorious American Fugitive' on FBI's List - Attorney General John Ashcroft calls Rudolph “the most notorious American fugitive on the FBI’s ‘Most Wanted’ list,” and adds, “This sends a clear message that we will never cease in our efforts to hunt down all terrorists, foreign or domestic, and stop them from harming the innocent.” Former nurse Emily Lyons, who was disfigured and disabled in the 1998 Alabama bombing, tells reporters that she has always believed Rudolph was alive and in hiding; she says she looks forward to confronting him in court and asking him why he bombed the clinic and other locales. “What was it that you picked that day, that place, for what purpose?” she says. “Why did you do the Olympics? Why did you do [that] to the others in Atlanta? What were you trying to tell everybody that day?… That’s the ultimate goal, to see him in court, possibly to talk to him and to see the final justice done.” Family members will tell reporters that Rudolph is against all forms of government, and holds white supremacist, anti-Semitic, and separatist views. He has been confirmed as a member of the violent anti-abortion and anti-gay organization Army of God (AOG—see 1982, August 1982, and July 1988). [CNN, 5/31/2003; CNN, 5/31/2003; CNN, 12/11/2003; Orlando Weekly, 8/24/2006]
Studied Unabomber - During his isolation in Murphy, Rudolph determined to become one of the most dangerous terrorists of all time. He focused primarily on the “lone wolf” methods employed by Ted Kaczynski, the “Unabomber” (see April 3, 1996). FBI agent Jack Killorin later says of Rudolph: “Eric was something of a student of the game. I think he learned from the Unabomber that if you go underground, the trail goes cold. If you isolate yourself, you can evade identification and capture.” [Orlando Weekly, 8/24/2006]
Praised by White Supremacist, Extremist Organizations - White supremacist and extremist anti-abortion groups praise Rudolph as a “hero” and “freedom fighter,” and call him a “martyr” for his actions. Some of the organizations call for further violence in emulation of Rudolph’s actions. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) warns that the extremist “chatter” comprises a “a dangerous mix” of twisted conspiracy theories about Jews and calls to violence. “What some hatemongers and extremists are saying is, this person is a hero whose crusade against abortion and the government is noble and praiseworthy,” says Abraham Foxman of the ADL. “What is even more troubling is that some of the chatter is calling for violence or lone-wolf acts to be carried out in Rudolph’s name. Others are using the arrest as an excuse to spread twisted conspiracy theories about Jews. As we have seen in the past, this can be a dangerous mix.” A Pennsylvania faction of the Christian Identity and neo-Nazi group Aryan Nations (see Early 1970s) posts on its Web site: “Let his enemies gloat, for their days are numbered. There will always be another to fill the shoes of a fallen hero. The enemy has not won and will NEVER win.” An Atlantic City neo-Nazi group posts a comment saying: “[A]nother good solid white warrier becomes another prisoner of war! We need more lone wolves… WAY MORE!!!” A message posted on a White Revolution message board praises Rudolph for killing “degenerate scum.” A Christian Identity (see 1960s and After) poster warns that the government will escalate attempts to “persecute” white supremacist and neo-Nazi organizations. Several white supremacist organizations such as Stormfront charge the “Jewish-controlled media” with “unfairly” targeting their organizations in the wake of the Rudolph bombings. “[T]he message is clear,” one site posts. “Shut up, or else!” A Stormfront poster writes that if there were “more Erich [sic] Rudolphs, Timothy McVeighs, Benjamin Smiths, and Buford Furrows in America, we’d have a much nicer place to live.” Smith and Furrow are two white supremacists who went on deadly shooting sprees in the Midwest and California in the summer of 1999 (see July 2-4, 1999 and August 10, 1999). The AOG Web site posts a photo of a nurse injured in the Alabama bombing with the caption, “Babykilling Abortion Nurse Emily Lyons got a taste of her own medicine.” [Anti-Defamation League, 6/3/2003]
Entity Tags: Benjamin Smith, Timothy James McVeigh, Aryan Nations, Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman, Theodore J. (“Ted”) Kaczynski, Stormfront, Federal Bureau of Investigation, John Ashcroft, Keith Lovin, Eric Robert Rudolph, Buford Furrow, Emily Lyons, Jack Killorin, Army of God
Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism
A courtroom illustration of Matthew Hale listening to instructions from Judge John Moody. [Source: Verna Sadock / Getty Images]Matthew Hale, the leader of the World Church of the Creator (WCOTC—see May 1996 and After), is convicted of one count of solicitation of murder and three counts of obstruction of justice in regards to his attempt to solicit the murder of a judge (see January 9, 2003). Hale never testified on his own behalf. Defense counsel Thomas Anthony Durkin called no witnesses, saying the prosecution’s evidence was the weakest he had seen in a major case, arguing that Hale was set up by an FBI informant. Durkin says he will appeal, and will prove that prosecutors have been “out to get Hale” because of his suspected involvement in a shooting spree by WCOTC member Benjamin Smith five years ago (see July 2-4, 1999; the jury heard audiotapes of Hale laughing about Smith’s murders and mocking the victims). US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, the lead prosecutor in the case, says the trial’s outcome proves “that we will not wait for the trigger to be pulled” before taking action. [Anti-Defamation League, 2005; Associated Press, 4/26/2005]
Michael Lefkow and Donna Humphrey are found dead of gunshots to the head in the Lefkows’ Chicago basement. The two are the husband and mother, respectively, of Federal District Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow, who has endured four years’ worth of death threats ever since she ordered the World Church of the Creator (WCOTC—see May 1996 and After) to abandon its name as a result of a trademark infringement lawsuit (see November 2002). Authorities are investigating whether members of the Creativity Movement, as the WCOTC is now known, are responsible for the murders. In 2004, WCOTC leader Matthew Hale was convicted of soliciting Lefkow’s murder (see April 26, 2004). Her daughter Laura Lefkow says, “I think she’s very upset with herself, maybe, for being a judge and putting her family in this danger, but there’s no way she should have known.” White supremacists celebrate the murders on their Web sites, while others theorize that Hale’s enemies murdered the two to affect his upcoming sentencing for his crimes (see April 6, 2005). Bill White, the editor of the Libertarian Socialist News, writes: “Everyone associated with the Matt Hale trial has deserved assassination for a long time. I don’t feel bad that Judge Lefkow’s family was murdered today. In fact, when I heard the story, I laughed.” Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, says, “We saw what happened the last time Matt Hale got slapped in the face by the system; the price of that was two dead and nine severely wounded.” Potok is referring to the 1999 killing spree by WCOTC member Benjamin Smith in response to Hale’s denial of a law license (see July 2-4, 1999). “Now Matt Hale is about to be sentenced, very probably, to most of his natural life to federal prison. It’s very possible that a Hale follower or sympathizer has decided to fight back.” Hale’s friend Billy Roper, who leads a group called White Revolution, disavows the murders, but draws a parallel between the Lefkow murders and the 1992 standoff at Ruby Ridge (see August 31, 1992), saying: “We can stand alongside the federal law enforcement community in saying just as they felt a deep regret and sadness over the death of Randy Weaver’s family, so we also feel a deep sense of regret and sadness over the death of Judge Lefkow’s family. If it was the case that someone was misguided and thought that they were helping Matt Hale, then it would be similar in that other people had suffered for one person’s mistake.” Hale’s mother, Evelyn Hutcheson, says her son had nothing to do with the murders: “He had nothing to do with what went on last night. My son is sitting in a hole where he’s not allowed to even speak loud enough to be audible. Common sense would tell you, if he were into having somebody kill somebody—which he is not—would he have somebody go kill the judge’s family just before he’s sentenced? Somebody has done this to make him get an enhanced sentence.” Chicago Police Department official James Molloy says: “There is much speculation about possible links between this crime and the possible involvement of hate groups. This is but one facet of our investigation. We are looking in many, many directions.” [New York Times, 3/2/2005; Chicago Tribune, 3/10/2005] Days later, the Chicago police will say that a man with no connection to Hale’s group may be responsible for the shootings (see March 10, 2005).
Entity Tags: Donna Humphrey, Bill White, Benjamin Smith, Billy Roper, Evelyn Hutcheson, James Molloy, Matthew Hale, Mark Potok, World Church of the Creator, Joan Humphrey Lefkow, Michael Lefkow, Laura Lefkow
Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism
Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database
Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.