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Profile: Ricky Byrdsong
Ricky Byrdsong was a participant or observer in the following events:
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]
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