Matt Hale takes to courthouse steps in Superior
SUPERIOR - On a Saturday filled with sunshine in western Montana, a group of racists assembled to denounce everyone whose skin is a different color.
Matt Hale, the 28-year-old leader of the World Church of the Creator, gave his whites-are-superior speech from the steps of the Mineral County Courthouse, then attempted to downplay a July shooting spree by a church member that killed two people and wounded nine others in Illinois and Indiana.
The actions of Benjamin Smith, who killed himself before police captured him, shouldn't have surprised people, Hale told a small group of reporters, photographers, peace officers, supporters, critics and curious passers-by.
White people were being pushed around, which can lead to violence, he said, adding that's what led to the shooting.
Hale said the church doesn't condone criminal acts, yet he advocates forced racial separation.
Standing behind his church's unfurled flag, Hale reviewed the organization's atheist doctrine and then weathered a few questions from reporters, snickers from the crowd and taunts from teens across the street.
At one point, his church members shouted a battle cry for their racial holy war.
Of the 45 people gathered, seven were church members.
Two members, Dan Hassett and Slim Deardorff, wore pistols at their side. Hassett said he was exercising his Second Amendment rights and claimed the gun would be a deterrent to aggressive protesters.
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Meanwhile, 13 Montana Highway Patrol cars and troopers were buzzing about normally sleepy Superior, and Sheriff Anita Parkin had several deputies nearby.
The patrol's mission was twofold, said Sgt. Paul Grimstad - enforce traffic laws during the busy holiday and back up the local sheriff's department if needed.
The number of reporters and photographers totaled 14. The rest of the crowd included a few curious onlookers, a few supporters, and faculty and students of the sociology department at the University of Montana.
Organized protesters avoided Hale's noon speech at the courthouse. Instead, they held a block party Thursday night that brought about 100 people outside Hassett's home in Missoula. And last weekend, about 60 people attended a Day of Harmony in Superior.
The courthouse event didn't seem to interrupt life in Superior. People came and went from a neighboring grocery store. Other filled their gas tanks at a nearby service station without paying much attention.
After the speech, about 15 church members gathered at Deardorff's cabin along Cedar Creek Road outside Superior. At least four other cars were en route.
Church members have been gathering at Superior for several years. In 1996, four attended. Last year the number was about 40.
But this year the focus on the group has sharpened. The July shootings have brought scrutiny.
Hale claims membership is swelling, but wouldn't say how many people pay the annual $35 dues.