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Supremacist arrested in Illinois

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CHICAGO — The leader of a white supremacist group linked to a deadly 1999 shooting rampage was arrested on charges he tried to arrange for the murder of a federal judge.

Matt Hale, 31, head of the World Church of the Creator, pleaded not guilty during a short hearing and was ordered held Wednesday pending a hearing Monday.

He was taken into custody by agents of an FBI-led terrorism task force when he came to Chicago's federal courthouse for a contempt of court hearing in a trademark infringement lawsuit.

U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said at a news conference that Hale represents a danger to the community and should not be released on bond.

"Freedom of speech does not include the freedom to solicit murder," he said. He declined to provide details of the case.

As Hale was led into the courtroom, youthful supporters, some with short-cropped hair and wearing black military garb, stood and gave a Hitler-style salute.

A former member of the World Church of the Creator, Benjamin Smith, went on a deadly shooting rampage against minorities in Illinois and Indiana in 1999. Smith killed two people, including former Northwestern University basketball coach Ricky Byrdsong, and wounded several others before killing himself.

Hale, of East Peoria, was indicted on charges he tried between Nov. 29 and Dec. 17 to get someone to kill U.S. District Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow.

Lefkow has been presiding over the trademark case involving Hale's use of the name World Church of the Creator. She had recently ordered the organization to stop using the name and turn over all printed materials reading "World Church of the Creator" because the name infringed on the rights of an Oregon group, the TE-TA-MA Truth Foundation. But Hale refused to comply.

"No tyrant's paws will ensnare our Holy Scriptures! ... I am planning many surprises for our enemies both inside the courtroom and out," he said in early December.

On Dec. 13, the judge ordered Hale to show why he should not be held in contempt.

Fitzgerald said the "conduct alleged in this indictment is disturbing on many levels, but particularly so because it targeted a judge, whose sworn duty is to apply the law equally and fairly to all who appear before her."

If convicted, Hale faces up to 30 years in federal prison.

Public defender Matthew Madden, who entered the plea on behalf of Hale, declined any further comment.

Hale earned a law degree and passed the bar exam but was denied a license in 1999 by an Illinois committee that rules on the "character and fitness" of prospective lawyers. He unsuccessfully appealed the decision all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Panel members argued that Hale's racist views would prevent him from fulfilling a lawyer's duty not to discriminate against participants in court cases.