"I'm guilty of obeying the laws of the creator"

A white supremacist admits he killed a gay couple, but claims the Bible made him do it.

Published November 8, 1999 8:35PM (EST)

Benjamin Matthew Williams, the 31-year-old white supremacist accused of murdering a gay couple outside this Northern California town in July, is now admitting that he slipped into the men's home while they were sleeping and shot them to death in their bed.

He did it, he said, because they were gay and God told him to.

When asked if he had killed the pair, Williams answered, "Absolutely."

During his jailhouse confession Thursday, Williams said the only regret he has about the murders is that they didn't inspire others to emulate him. And he insists his actions do not constitute a crime.

"I'm not guilty of murder," Williams said. "I'm guilty of obeying the laws of the creator."

Williams and his younger brother, James Tyler Williams, face two counts of first degree murder in the July 1 double slaying of Gary Matson, 50, and Winfield Mowder, 40, a prominent gay couple who lived near Redding in the rural community of Happy Valley, about 180 miles north of Sacramento. The elder Williams now says his brother had nothing to do with the crime.

Williams' confession puts his court-appointed defense attorney, Frank J. O'Connor, in an unenviable position. While Williams wants the attorney to argue that he is innocent of murder, even though he admits killing the pair, because he answers to a higher power, O'Connor doubts that argument can win over a judge or jury in California.

"The defense that he has is a religious defense, and he is saying the Bible says that homosexuality is wrong and they should be killed and the blood is on their heads," O'Connor said. "But as a practical matter I don't think the judge is going to allow that defense, as opposed to one using the laws of the state of California."

O'Connor is not taking the matter lightly. Two days before his client admitted to the killings, he received notification from Shasta County's district attorney indicating that he had tentatively decided to seek the death penalty in the case.

But Williams insists that because the Bible holds that homosexuality is a sin that must be punished by death, the responsibility for the slayings rests with the victims.

"You obey a government of man until there is a conflict," Williams said. "Then you obey a higher law."

"It's part of the faith," he added. "So many people claim to be Christians and complain about all these things their religion says are a sin, but they're not willing to do anything about it. They don't have the guts."

Such bizarre reasoning might be dismissed as the rantings of a lunatic. But Williams has become a celebrity of sorts, partly because of the murders and partly because he is also the prime suspect in the June 18 firebombing of three Sacramento-area synagogues.

He is revered in jail by his fellow white supremacists and misanthropes. And he is sought after by the biggest stars in the media world. Initially, he tried to engage a press agent to make money off his story, but when those efforts failed, he simply began negotiating to tell his story to whoever might listen.

Calls went out to "60 Minutes," "Dateline NBC," whoever might listen. And the media dutifully trouped to Redding to hear his tale.

HBO interviewed him in the jail, as did two reporters from NBC. He spent an hour on the phone with NBC anchorman Tom Brokaw until, Williams says, the two got into an argument over whether the nation was founded on the principle of love for fellow citizens.

He clearly enjoys his notoriety, spending time in the interviews gushing about his favorite Web sites. (The Nationalist Observer is the best because of its links to other racist sites, he told HBO, according to transcripts of the interview.)

But he refused to directly discuss his alleged crimes until Thursday, when he admitted to the Sacramento Bee that he had killed the pair. And although he stopped short of claiming credit for the synagogue arsons, he added that he "kind of regretted they didn't burn to the ground."

Williams said his decision to hold back on whether or not he set the fires stems in part from his desire to not give away his whole story too soon.

His media strategy apparently is part of a grander plan, one in which he hopes to gain a platform through newspapers, networks, Court TV, whoever, to spout his beliefs about the way the world is going to hell and why it is largely the fault of the Jews and the gays.

That's why Williams' goal is to have his court-appointed attorney -- a former Marine captain and death penalty prosecutor -- present his defense using the argument that he is innocent even if he killed the two men.

But his admissions, and his beliefs, are giving O'Connor fits. His only hope now would seem to be a bid to fashion an insanity defense for his client, but he will not discuss such a strategy.

O'Connor also has urged his client not to talk to the press about the case, but said Williams has insisted on speaking out.

Williams' plan may be comparable to the "gay panic" defense Aaron McKinney's lawyers tried recently in Wyoming to try to save their client -- unsuccessfully -- from conviction in the killing of Matthew Shepard. The judge in that case ruled the panic defense inadmissable.

But Williams clearly believes the best way to get his philosophy out is to talk to the press and use his trial as a platform for his beliefs. He concedes that the many national hate groups he has studied or talked to -- Matthew Hale's World Church of the Creator, the National Alliance and others -- have not flocked to support him, something he ascribes to an intense FBI probe of such groups.

He had hoped that other like-minded individuals would follow his lead and commit similar acts of violence, he said, but concedes that "I may have acted too early."

"I'm sure Mr. McVeigh may have felt the same way," Williams added, referring to convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. "That he was going to kick off the second American Revolution, but no one had the guts to react."

But there is another reason for his public comments.

"It'd be nice to benefit from it, to a degree," Williams admitted. "I'm not trying to make money off crime. I'm concerned about my parents losing their property or something. They're both on fixed incomes. I'm probably going to write a book or two."

Williams added that he was not disturbed by the prospect of execution because he hopes to become a "Christian martyr" whose death may spur others to lash out against Jews, homosexuals and other minority groups.

That is precisely the sort of thinking that has led to attacks by countless other followers of hate groups, particularly those who follow what they believe are commands directly from God.

"Many of these people are influenced by Bible passages that they perceive to give them complete license to murder gays because it's a sin, and that's how the twisted minds of these people work," said Brian Levin, director of the Center on Hate and Extremism, a California group.

And the ability of hate groups to influence people like Matthew Williams rests solely on getting their message out and hoping it sticks to someone.

"This is a theme that's been going on for several years, and we're in the middle of it," Levin said. "The Williams brothers were targeted by hate mongerers who probably didn't even know who they were.

"But they knew that out in the ether of society floating around were these violent young people with violent tendencies, and this is what you get. You want to get these twisted, violent, unaffiliated people to carry out the goals of your philosophy. You don't mind having blood on your hands, you just don't want your fingerprints on it."

By Sam Stanton

Sam Stanton and Gary Delsohn have covered the Williams case for the Sacramento Bee.

MORE FROM Sam Stanton

By Gary Delsohn

Gary Delsohn and Sam Stanton have covered the Williams case for the Sacramento Bee.

MORE FROM Gary Delsohn

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