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Benjamin Nathaniel SMITH

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 
 
 
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Hate-crimes - Member  of the white supremacist organization called the World Church of the Creator - Randomly targeted members of racial and ethnic minorities in drive-by shootings
Number of victims: 2
Date of murders: July 2-4, 1999
Date of birth: March 22, 1978
Victims profile: Ricky Byrdsong, African-American / Won-Joon Yoon, 26, Korean
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: Illinois/Indiana, USA
Status: Committed suicide by shooting himself on July 4, 1999
 
 

 
 

Benjamin Nathaniel Smith was a spree killer who murdered Won-Joon Yoon and former Northwestern University basketball coach Ricky Byrdsong.

Smith targeted Hispanics, Blacks, Orientals, and Jews in a thirty-six hour spate of drive-by shootings during the weekend of July 4, 1999 in Illinois and Indiana, USA. He wounded eight others and shot at and missed another nine people. Finally, Smith tried to kill himself as officers pursued him down a southern Illinois highway. After shooting himself twice he crashed his automobile into a tree. He then shot himself again, in the heart.

It is generally held that Smith's crimes were related to his affiliation with the white supremacist organization called the World Church of the Creator, which views him as a martyr. The group argued that Smith believed himself to be a soldier of the Racial Holy War Movement and, as a student at Indiana University at Bloomington, he was known for promoting racism.


Benjamin Nathaniel Smith (1978-July 4, 1999) was a spree killer who randomly targeted members of racial and ethnic minorities in drive-by shootings in Illinois and Indiana, USA during the weekend of July 4, 1999.

Early life

Smith was born and raised in Illinois. He grew up in the Chicago suburb of Wilmette and attended the New Trier High School in Winnetka. He didn't pose for a photograph in his senior yearbook, but in his class statement he wrote, "Sic semper tyrannis" (Thus always to tyrants). This phrase was allegedly shouted by John Wilkes Booth after he assassinated President Abraham Lincoln. After graduating, Smith attended Indiana University at Bloomington, where he studied criminal justice. Police reported that Smith was known for passing out hate-filled fliers against Jews, blacks and Asians on university campuses. In October 1998, Smith was the subject of a story on his university's PBS station.

Shooting spree

Smith was a follower of the white supremacist organization called the World Church of the Creator, and was a devoted disciple of Matthew Hale. Two days after Hale was denied a license to practice law in Illinois, Smith loaded his light blue Ford Taurus with guns and ammunition and ventured on a three-day, two-state shooting spree that killed two people and wounded nine others.

Beginning on the evening of Friday, July 2, Smith wounded six Orthodox Jews in drive-by shootings in the West Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago. Smith then shot and killed former Northwestern University basketball coach Ricky Byrdsong, an African-American, in front of two of his three children while they were walking outside Byrdsong's Skokie, Illinois home. On Saturday, Smith traveled to Springfield, Illinois and later Decatur, where he shot and wounded an African-American minister. On Sunday, July 4, Smith traveled to Urbana and Bloomington, Indiana, where he killed Won-Joon Yoon, a 26-year-old Korean doctoral student in computer science at Indiana University, who was on his way to the Korean United Methodist Church.

Smith also shot at but missed another nine people. On Monday, July 5, while fleeing the police in a high-speed chase on a southern Illinois highway, Smith shot himself twice in the head and crashed his automobile into a metal post. He then shot himself again, in the heart, this time fatally. He was later pronounced dead at the hospital.

It is widely believed that Smith's crimes were related to his affiliation with the World Church of the Creator, which views him as a martyr. The group argued that Smith believed himself to be a soldier of the Racial Holy War movement.

Wikipedia.org


Hate-killing spree ends in suicide

Shooter targeted blacks, jews, asians - then himself

July 5, 1999

SALEM, Illinois (AP) -- A white supremacist who targeted minorities in a deadly weekend shooting spree fatally shot himself as officers grappled with him after a chase, investigators satoday.

Benjamin Nathaniel Smith, 21, was pursued Sunday after he commandeered a van at gunpoint in rural Marion County, Illinois, said Doug Garrison, an FBI spokesman in Indianapolis. No one was hurt in the carjacking.

Gerald L. Benjamin, sheriff in Marion County, Illinois, said today that Smith apparently shot and wounded himself twice as officers pursued the van in a slow-speed chase. The van then crashed and Smith shot himself a third time when he was struggling with sheriff's deputies. He said that the final shot appears to have hit Smith in the chest.

"All the shots were fired by him," Benjamin said.

A bloody July 4 weekend

Authorities believe Smith began his drive-by killing spree in Chicago on Friday, when a black former college basketball coach was fatally shot and six Orthodox Jews were wounded.

The shooter also fired at Asians and blacks in two Illinois cities on Saturday, seriously wounding one man, and fatally shot a Korean man Sunday outside a church in Bloomington, Ind., police said.

The killings took place during a patriotic holiday weekend in the United States, during which Americans celebrate the July 4, 1776, Declaration of Independence from Britain.

A 'Sabbath Breaker' tattoo

Two guns found with Smith were consistent with the shootings and the body had a tattoo on the chest that said "Sabbath Breaker" -- which Smith was said to have sported.

"It looks like our guy," Garrison said, adding that the FBI must double-check the fingerprints of the body with those of Smith's to make sure. Authorities also were attempting today to trace the source of the guns.

Smith was a member of the World Church of the Creator, a white supremacist organization, and distributed anti-minority and anti-Semitic literature while a student at Indiana University.

First sign of violence

The church, based in East Peoria, Illinois, is led by Matt Hale, who said Smith was a member from June 1998 until May 1999 and never showed any predilection for violence.

"When I spoke to him he never gave any inkling of being able to do this," Hale said before Smith apparently took his life.

The FBI had not been investigating Smith until the last couple of days.

"He was known to police in Chicago and police in Bloomington, but not to the FBI," said FBI special agent Ken Kaiser. Witnesses did not see anyone with Smith, but the investigation into whether he acted alone was continuing, Kaiser said today.

No cause for arrest

Harlan Loeb, Midwest counsel for the Anti-Defamation League, said his organization has had Smith "on our radar screen for quite some time, which is particularly tragic for someone so young."

Bloomington Police Chief Jim Kennedy said officers had questioned him twice at his apartment in the past, related to the pamphlets he was passing out, because some people had complained about them.

"The biggest thing we could've arrested him for was littering," Kennedy said.

It began on Jewish Sabbath

The gunman struck outside a synagogue in Chicago on Friday evening, the start of the Jewish Sabbath. The same shooter is believed to have killed the former basketball coach a half-hour later as he walked with his children in nearby Skokie, Illinois, and later fired at an Asian-American couple in the suburb of Northbrook.

Then on Saturday the same blue Taurus was seen at shootings in two towns south of Chicago. In the first attack, the gunman fired on two black men Saturday morning, but no one was hit, Chicago Police Cmdr. William Hayes said.

Later, shots three of four shots were fired at six men of Asian descent standing on a corner near the University of Illinois, Hayes said. A 22-year-old graduate student, whose name wasn't released, was hit in the leg and was listed in serious condition.

Waiting for services to let out

In Sunday's attack, Won-Joon Yoon was hit twice in the back and killed outside Korean United Methodist Church in Bloomington, Illinois. Witnesses told police that after firing into the crowd, the shooter sped off, running several lights.

"He was apparently parked at the corner and waited for these people to come out of church and then fired," Kennedy said.

Authorities said .380-caliber shell casings -- the same kind found in some of the Chicago shootings -- were also found at the scene of the Indiana attack.

Last year on the Fourth of July, Smith tucked white supremacist fliers under windshields around Bloomington. Asked whether the shootings this weekend were related to Independence Day, Bloomington Police Capt. William Parker said, "It raises questions in our minds."


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

CNN.com

July 6, 1999

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."



Benjamin Nathaniel Smith

 

 

 
 
 
 
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