- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 26, 2002

RIVERTON, Wyo.
The people of Riverton abruptly dropped their typically Wyoming you-do-your-thing-I'll-do-mine philosophy two weeks ago when a white supremacist organization announced plans to move its world headquarters here from Illinois.
The community was outraged. Letters poured in to local newspapers, and talk radio shows were flooded with calls about the World Church of the Creator.
Many wondered, what have we done to deserve this?
"People here don't think the way they do," said John Vincent, mayor-elect of this town of 10,000 people 275 miles northwest of Cheyenne. "People are not filled with hate. People are not racist."
Community leaders formed a task force. Residents signed a pledge of tolerance printed in newspapers. Some started petition drives or talked of holding protests and displaying "No Hate" signs in home and store windows in hopes the organization would get the hint and leave.
"If ever there was something where you need to take a stand, this is an issue that begs for that," said Tim Wilson, a rancher who lives in nearby Lander. "This isn't Joe-Bob Danny and his fascist friends. These guys are pretty serious."
Founded in 1973, the World Church of the Creator received national attention in 1999 when former member Benjamin Smith went on a shooting rampage against minorities in Illinois and Indiana, killing two persons and wounding several others before killing himself. The East Peoria, Ill., group, whose membership could reach into the thousands, also has been linked to a plot to blow up black and Jewish landmarks in Boston and Washington this year.
On Dec. 6, the organization's leader, the Rev. Matt Hale, announced he would hand over day-to-day operations to the Rev. Thomas Kroenke, a Wyoming Corrections Department employee who lives in Riverton. Mr. Kroenke did not respond to e-mail requesting an interview. His telephone number is unlisted, and no one answered the door at his home last week.
The new headquarters consist of Mr. Kroenke's house. It is not clear whether the organization plans to build or rent larger quarters.
Fremont County's population of 36,000 is 77 percent white and 20 percent Indian. Census figures show 44 black persons.
Mr. Hale attributed the group's move partly to a trademark lawsuit unfolding in Illinois, where a federal judge ordered the group to stop using its name and turn over all printed materials reading "World Church of the Creator" because the name was too similar to that of a group in Oregon.
Some Riverton parents are afraid the organization will try to recruit their children.
"This is a small town. We don't have enough for our kids to do anyway," said Linda Burns, who has a stepdaughter. "I'm worried they will recruit by activities, like playing pool."
Officials also are worried about the effect on the local economy, which is dominated by mining and agriculture but also relies on tourists from Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, about four hours away.
Said Tim Thorson, executive director of the Riverton Chamber of Commerce: "Hate is not good for business."

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide