Hate holds a gun to the nation

Benjamin Smith: Dangerous assailants' history of violence must be more closely watched.

July 07, 1999

BENJAMIN N. Smith took his own life before police caught up to him, so some things about his motivations we'll never know.

Authorities have an obligation, though, to make known whatever can be learned about what inspired Smith to randomly shoot and murder African-Americans, Asians and Orthodox Jews in three states last weekend.

This assassin represented the intersection of two trends growing in the United States -- each anti-social and dangerous.

The first is the general hate, revenge, suicide and destruction that seems to be corroding the souls of so many individuals in this country. Something similar drove the young men who killed schoolmates in Littleton, Colo., earlier this year. With guns so easily acquired, the savage kick of an earlier era can quickly become mass murder.

The other trend is the fomenting of racial hatred and violence that is sheltered under the umbrella of free speech and sometimes masquerades as a church or political party.

Neither will be easy to combat because most people attracted to one or both don't take lives or even damage property.

There were signs, though, that might have clued authorities in to Smith's dangerous leanings.

In high school, he got into trouble for the inexplicable rage within him.

In college, he gained notoriety for distributing hate literature.

He became a devotee of Matthew F. Hale, who refashioned a hate group into the World Church of the Creator.

His private violence at the University of Illinois got him on file there, and his hate-mongering in Bloomington, Ind., showed up in dossiers further afield.

He was someone to watch.

The FBI and other agencies must monitor the gestation of such crimes, for more are undoubtedly coming.

Law enforcement authorities are entitled to find out whether the World Church of the Creator is merely the soil of hatred in which the executioner grew, or a more sinister force.

That doesn't mean harassing individuals or violating their civil rights, but it does mean being vigilant and using every legal means to prevent such violent outbursts.

The goal should be to stop the next Benjamin N. Smith before he exacts so heavy a toll on individuals, and this nation.

Pub Date: 7/07/99

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