Beliefnet
PEORIA, Illinois, July 2 (AP)--Prior to Benjamin Smith's deadly rampage last Fourth of July, there was little known about--and little interest in--the racist church to which he belonged.

But over the past year, the World Church of the Creator has found a national platform and has seen its membership increase. Its leader, Matthew Hale, claims to have adherents in most states and says membership to the East Peoria-based group has doubled.

Hale, 28, refuses to say how many members--whom he calls "creators"--pay dues. But according to one hate-monitoring group, Hale's organization has added 35 chapters in the past year, and its recruitment programs have gained strength, particularly on college campuses, in prisons, among women, and over the internet.

The World Church of the Creator has become a "magnet for young, volatile white supremacists," the suburban Chicago hate-monitoring group Center for New Community said in a new report.

The report was released to mark the anniversary of the two-state rampage by Smith, who shot 11 people, killing two: former Northwestern basketball coach Ricky Byrdsong, 43, and Won-Joon Yoon, a 26-year-old college student from Korea.

Smith, 21, committed suicide as police closed in on him. Eight months before his rampage, he was profiled on the World Church of the Creator's website as "Creator of the Month" for his efforts to distribute racist literature.

Hale said the growth of his group over the past year has had more to do with its philosophy than Smith's rampage, which targeted blacks, Jews, and Asians across Illinois and Indiana.

"I would say it's not because of the specific actions Ben Smith engaged in, but it's because more people heard of us and more people respect us because we have refused to compromise our beliefs in the past year," said Hale, who describes his members as "white racial loyalists."

"We've definitely spread the word, and that's always been my main mission."

Hale has done a masterful job of keeping himself and his group in the public eye, primarily through well-publicized appeals over Illinois' refusal to grant him a law license and lawsuits filed because of the attacks, said Richard Hirschhaut, director of the Midwest branch of the Anti-Defamation League.

He estimated that Hale's group had a dedicated membership of about 300, up from about 200 a year ago, though tracking it is difficult because members use the internet for much of their communication.

"All indications point to a stronger or a better-supported organization," Hirschhaut said.

Many of the organization members show an almost cult-like dedication to Hale, Hirschhaut said. However, the Center for New Community found that scrutiny of the group after the shooting and Hale's outspokenness have caused some discord.

According the report, several longtime members have left the organization and others question Hale's leadership. It quotes one disaffected member as privately referring to Hale, who calls himself the "pontifex maximus," meaning "supreme leader," as the "Pontifig Bananamus."

The report also noted that Hale's rhetoric also appears to be taking a more violent tone.

After the U.S. Supreme Court on June 26 refused to hear an appeal of Hale's law license case, Hale said that in light of the court's failure to hear his arguments, he could no longer encourage his followers to obey the laws of this country.

"Whatever blood is spilled will be on the hands of those who so severely wronged us today," he said.

In a more recent interview, however, Hale said he does not advocate violence but cannot stop individuals from taking whatever action they deem necessary.

"The pope can't control every Catholic, and I can't control every 'creator,'" he said.

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