Benjamin Nathaniel Smith

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Benjamin Nathaniel Smith
Born (1978-04-22)April 22, 1978
Wilmette, Illinois, U.S.
Died July 4, 1999(1999-07-04) (aged 21)
Salem, Illinois, U.S.
Cause of death Suicide
Nationality American
Motive Racial hatred
Date July 2–4, 1999
Location(s) Illinois and Indiana, U.S.
Target(s) Jews, blacks, Asians
Killed 2
Injured 9

Benjamin Nathaniel Smith (March 22, 1978 – July 4, 1999) was a spree killer who targeted members of racial and ethnic minorities in random drive-by shootings in Illinois and Indiana during the weekend of July 4, 1999.

Early life

Smith was born and raised in Wilmette, Illinois. He moved to Kenosha, Wisconsin and transferred from New Trier Township High School[1] to Mary D. Bradford High School in Kenosha for his senior year. He did not 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 shouted by John Wilkes Booth after he assassinated President Abraham Lincoln for advocating black voting rights. After graduating, Smith attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Smith dropped out of the university in 1998 after several conflicts with campus authorities. After dropping out, he transferred to Indiana University (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 public broadcasting station.[2]

Shooting spree

Smith was a follower of the white supremacist organization now known as the Creativity Movement, and was a devoted disciple of the group's leader 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.[3]

Starting on the evening of Friday, July 2, Smith shot and wounded nine 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 Urbana, Springfield and later Decatur, where he shot and wounded an African-American minister. On Sunday, July 4, Smith traveled to Bloomington, Indiana, where he killed Won-Joon Yoon, a 26-year-old Korean graduate student in Economics at Indiana University, who was on his way to the Korean United Methodist Church.

Smith also shot at but missed another nine people. On Sunday, July 4, 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. His actions were indelibly fueled by racial hatred.

A chapter of Lone Wolf (a study of spree killers), by Pan Pantziarka, is devoted to Smith and his crimes. Invisible Revolution, a documentary by filmmaker Beverly Peterson, features an interview with Smith less than two weeks before his killing spree. The film includes scenes of Smith distributing World Church of the Creator leaflets in his home town and saying, "`If they violate our constitutional rights and say we can't put out our literature, we have no choice but to resort to acts of violence and really to plunge this country into a terrorist war they've never seen before."[4]

See also


  2. (July 6, 1999). Suspected shooter said his hate-filled leaflets spoke 'the truth'. CNN.
  3. Scharnberg, Kirsten (April 27, 2004). Double talk disguises call to arms. Chicago Tribune.
  4. Baudner, David (July 8, 1999). "Interviews with racist aired on Tv". Associated Press.