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CNN - Suspected shooter said his hate-filled leaflets spoke 'the truth' - July 6, 1999

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Suspected shooter said his hate-filled leaflets spoke 'the truth'

- FLASH version

Race relations

Crime and punishment

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July 6, 1999
Web posted at: 1:55 a.m. EDT (0555 GMT)

BLOOMINGTON, Indiana (CNN) -- Appearing in a 1998 documentary for Indiana University's PBS TV station, Benjamin Nathaniel Smith gives a glimpse into his hatred and white supremacist beliefs, saying he had a right to pass out racist leaflets on campus -- as he put it, "all it really is is the truth."

Smith, 21, shot himself during a police chase Sunday night and died later in a hospital. He was sought in a deadly Independence Day weekend drive-by shooting rampage that killed two and injured nine others -- a spree targeting blacks, Jews and Asians.

Authorities were attempting to reconstruct Smith's past Monday to shed light on how he apparently became a murderer. People who knew Smith described him as a racist and a troublemaker in public, but quiet and reserved in private.

Police said he often roamed university campuses, passing out hate-filled fliers against Jews, blacks and Asians. He was known to pass out such fliers at Indiana University where he had been majoring in criminal justice.

In October 1998, Smith was the subject of a story on the university's PBS station.

"I'm not blind. I can see that people of color do create a lot of problems for our country. It's not a personal thing. It's really just a concern with my own people," he said.

Smith -- who was a member of World Church of the Creator, a white supremacist group styled as a religion -- told the station that Bloomington police had grabbed him out of class and "basically tried to intimidate me and get me to stop" passing out fliers.

"People call our literature hate literature, but all it really is is the truth that reflects on the minority as negatively," he said.

Three weeks ago, Smith was arrested by Wilmette, Illinois, police for driving under the influence and illegal distribution of racist handbills. He showed up at a court hearing a week and a half ago, but the case was continued for a later date.

Grew up in Wilmette

Smith was born and raised in Illinois. Until two years ago, Smith, his parents and two younger brothers lived in the fashionable Chicago suburb of Wilmette.

He attended New Trier High School in Winnetka, considered one of the finest public high schools in Illinois.

In his senior yearbook, his name is listed as one of the people who didn't pose for a portrait. But in his class statement, he declared, "Sic semper tyrannis," which roughly translated means, "Thus ever to tyrants."

That same phrase was said to have been shouted by John Wilkes Booth before he assassinated President Abraham Lincoln.

One neighbor from Smith's youth was shocked to learn of the news of the shooting spree. "I didn't realize it was one of my neighbors until I was told it was the Smith son. Wow, it's scary that the kid next door could do this," he said.

Smith's African-American neighbor in Bloomington also expressed shock.

"There was never really a, 'I don't like you, I hate you because you're black," said Tyrese Alexander. "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."

Matt Hale, leader of the World Church of the Creator, described Smith as "a pleasant person who believes in his people, who believes in his people, the white people, I can't say anything bad about him."

The church leader said he suspects the shooting spree may have been prompted by the rejection Friday of Hale's license to practice law in Illinois because of his views on race.

"I strongly suspect that the denial of my law license set him off," Hale told CNN in an interview. "Why? Because of the timing involved and because I know he was very passionate about me getting my law license. He had testified for me at the hearing I had on the matter."

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