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Hale has always denied soliciting Lefkow's murder. The two first crossed paths several years ago, when she handled a trademark case filed against his group by a church with the same name. Initially she ruled in Hale's favor, but after the verdict was overturned by an appeals court, she had no choice but to order him to change the name. Hale grew enraged at the reversal. Days after her ruling, he wrote an e-mail to his followers declaring a "state of war" with the judge and blaming "Jew vermin" for the outcome. (Lefkow is Episcopalian, as was her husband, but extremists insist that one or both of them must be Jewish.)
Hale, who has a law degree, sued Lefkow, accusing her of violating his right to practice his religion. And he asked his security chief to find her home address. When the security chief, who turned out to be an FBI informant, suggested that they should "exterminate the rat," Hale said, on tape, "My position's always been that, you know, I'm gonna fight within the law ... If you wish to, ah, do anything yourself, you can, you know?" A jury interpreted that as tacit approval and convicted him. Hale faces up to 40 years in prison. He is scheduled to be sentenced on April 6 by a judge imported from Indiana.
Whatever Hale's intent, his followers are not famous for restraint. In 1999, days after Hale was denied a license to practice law in Illinois because of his racist views, Ben Smith, one of his most devoted aides, went on a three-day shooting spree, killing two and wounding nine--all minorities--before killing himself. Hale was never charged in connection with the murders.
Since his imprisonment, Hale's organization, which never counted more than a few hundred members, has foundered. In fact, the entire white-supremacy movement is at a crossroads. The Ku Klux Klan still has about 7,000 members, says Mark Potok, director of the intelligence project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks such organizations. But the leaders of several other major groups--like the National Alliance and Aryan Nations--have either died or been arrested in recent years. In the confusion, less formal splinter groups and rabid online communities have formed. Stormfront, the first major white-supremacy site, was created in 1995 and now claims to have 45,600 members. Rough estimates put the total number of members of white-supremacist groups in the U.S. at about 100,000. Many more are unaffiliated--which doesn't mean harmless. Of all hate crimes, only 5% to 10% are committed by members of hate groups, says Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.
After Hale was charged with soliciting her murder, Judge Lefkow received 24-hour protection from the U.S. Marshals Service for several weeks. Once he was convicted, Lefkow and the service decided to call off the guards, according to a spokeswoman for the Marshals Service. "I think most judges have had a sort of devil-may-care attitude," says Judge Wayne Anderson, a colleague of Lefkow's, who includes himself in that category. "What we discovered Monday is that the devil actually cared."