Matt Hale, the publicity hungry leader of the small but virulently racist World Church of the Creator, was arrested as he arrived at federal court Wednesday for a hearing on a copyright lawsuit and charged with soliciting the murder of the judge in the case.
The 31-year-old white supremacist pleaded not guilty during a short hearing Wednesday afternoon. Hale faces 30 years in prison if convicted of trying to hire someone to kill U.S. District Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow.
"Freedom of speech does not include the freedom to solicit murder," said U.S. Atty. Patrick J. Fitzgerald, alluding to Hale's frequent invocation of the 1st Amendment over the years as he derided virtually every race and ethnicity except whites. "The conduct alleged in this indictment is disturbing on many levels, but particularly so because it targeted a judge, whose sworn duty is to apply the law equally and fairly to all who appear before her."
Hale was ordered held in jail pending a detention hearing next week.
Hale's presence at the Dirksen Federal Building here, as well as the charges against him, sprang from a lawsuit over the church's name brought in 2000 by an Oregon-based religious organization that is the philosophical antithesis of Hale's, preaching love, tolerance and understanding.
The TE-TA-MA Truth Foundation, which had trademarked the name "Church of the Creator" in 1988, filed suit in May, asking that Hale's group be barred from using the name "World Church of the Creator." The name was first used in the 1970s by white supremacist Ben Klassen, whose book "The White Man's Bible" is considered the bible by Hale's group. Neither Klassen nor followers -- Hale being one of several in a string that have fought for power in the movement -- ever trademarked the name.
After a series of contentious hearings, Lefkow in October found in favor of TE-TA-MA and issued an exceptionally tough order against Hale's group. Among other things: The group could not use the WCOTC name or even the words "Church" and "Creator" in any new name; the group had to turn over two Internet domain names to TE-TA-MA; and, most notably, Lefkow ordered Hale's group to "deliver up for destruction" materials printed with the name, or otherwise have the infringing words removed.
The order prompted Hale, who lives with his father in Peoria and runs the group from their modest home, and other members to file suit against Lefkow, and to rail against the judge and her decision. Hale refused to comply with Lefkow's order and was headed to court Wednesday for a contempt hearing.
"This court order thus places our Church in a state of war with this federal judge and any acting on authority from her kangaroo court," Hale wrote in one statement. "By your actions, Judge Lefkow, you have made yourself part of the criminal conspiracy to destroy rights that you swore to uphold when you became a judge."
In his writings, Hale repeatedly notes that Lefkow is married to a Jew, sometimes referring to her as "Lefkow(witz)," calls members of TE-TA-MA "kikes," and laments oppression by a "Jewish Occupational Government."
After the ruling against him, the government alleges, "Hale solicited an individual to forcibly assault and murder" Lefkow.
In December, Hale announced that the World Church of the Creator had moved its world headquarters to Riverton, a central Wyoming city on an American Indian reservation. He would not say why the church was moving.
Hale rose to national attention in 1999 on the coattails of a young protege, Benjamin N. Smith, 21, who killed two people and wounded nine others during a racist rampage through Illinois and Indiana before killing himself. The year before, Hale had named the troubled outcast Smith "Creator of the year," and after Smith's shooting spree took to the airwaves to promote his group's call for white supremacy and separatism.
Hale claimed the church had 7,000 members, but most law enforcement and equal-rights groups placed the number at a few hundred. Since then, the group -- like many white supremacist organizations -- has suffered from infighting, lack of funds and legal problems.
In addition to fighting Lefkow's ruling, Hale has been challenged for advertising himself as an attorney. Although he passed the bar exam, the Illinois State Bar declined to let him practice, citing a "gross deficiency in moral character."
While lamenting the alleged threat to Lefkow, watchdog groups around the country delighted at the news of Hale's arrest Wednesday.
"This may well spell the end of the World Church of the Creator," said Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center. "This group has been on the ropes for a year. They have had two major splits. They lost the right to use their name....
"I spend every day looking at people like Matt Hale," Potok continued. "I have rarely, if ever, found anybody quite so vile as Matt Hale. He's gotten away with many things up until now. Perhaps never again."