Matt Hale’s visit to the Champaign Public Library on the evening of Sunday, September 9 caused a fair amount of controversy in the Champaign-Urbana community. The concern was not so much a fear that his ideologies would take root and spread, since a community as culturally diverse as this one has little interest in racial bigotry. Rather, residents expressed resentment toward the use of the library, and the great expenditure of taxpayers’ money for police protection, all in order to provide one individual with the opportunity to spread hate.
On any other Sunday evening the premises of the Champaign Public Library would have been deserted as locals prepared for work the following day. However, on this particular evening an estimated 100-150 police officers, garbed in riot helmets and flak jackets, transformed the normally tranquil premises into an impervious citadel protecting the infamous Matt Hale, founder and leader of the racist World Church of the Creator, from any potentially violent dissidents.
Security was tight and thorough, utilizing virtually every available resource. Police officers from the cities of Champaign and Urbana, the Champaign County Sheriff’s Department, the University of Illinois and Parkland College, and the State of Illinois blocked streets and secured the ground between the perimeter fence and the library building. Several officers were even positioned on the roof of the library. Just as during regular police duty, according to Sergeant Jim Ryan of the Champaign Police Department, all officers were armed with live ammunition.
The only public entrance was through an opening in the yellow police tape, and a maze of snow fences leading to the front door of the library building. Anyone interested in attending Hale’s lecture was thoroughly searched. Metal detectors were utilized to ensure that no one was able to sneak concealed items into the building. People in possession of items capable of serving as weapons or as repositories for weapons, such as pocketknives and nail clippers and even purses and backpacks, rollerblades,and hats, were prohibited from entering the auditorium and forced to leave the building. All of this effort and expense was undertaken to provide a meager 150 residents, including about 25 media representatives, with the opportunity to satisfy their curiosity about Hale, and listen to him extol the superiority of the white race.
Inside the auditorium, Hale was met with a barrage of emotions ranging from demeaning laughter to expressions of anger. Although he spoke for a full two hours amid constant interruption, residents respected most of the rules promulgated and enforced by the police. Hale had his say, but so did the listeners. One interracial couple summed up their feelings by embracing and kissing in front of Hale, thus openly defying his message of racial hatred.
By the end of the lecture about a third of the original crowd remained. Most had left in disgust, but a few were escorted from the building by one of the many officers present, for the ‘crime’ of leaving their seats. No arrests were made, however, and no physical violence occurred.
Although the vast majority of the diverse audience in the lecture hall opposed the views of Hale, he was not altogether without support. Most of this support came from an entourage of five people who seemed to be traveling with him. However, there were at least four community members who vocally expressed agreement with certain of the ideas presented by Hale.
Matt Hale’s visit to Champaign raised the issue of the extent to which an individual should be able to inconvenience others so that he or she can exercise freedom of speech.
The law rather clearly favors Hale’s position, in both the First Amendment to the US Constitution and local regulation. Article 6 of the Library Bill of Rights states, “Libraries which make exhibit spaces and meeting rooms available to the public they serve should make such facilities available on an equitable basis, regardless of the beliefs or affiliations of individuals or groups requesting their use.”
At the same time, it is understandable that citizens might resent the use of public resources so that one person’s freedom of speech may be used in attempting to restrict or destroy the rights and freedoms of others.
Historically, suppression of the free expression of ideas has not led to their extinction. To the contrary, such repressed ideas tend to fester in the hearts and minds of the disenfranchised, and eventually erupt somewhere with far more explosive consequences. The repression of political and religious thought has often resulted in violent culture revolution.
On the other hand, when ideas are brought into the light of public scrutiny, they can be objectively evaluated and discussed. Under such circumstances, ideas that lack merit can be rejected.
For this reason it is important, and perhaps even necessary, that individuals of all persuasions, even unpopular ideologues such as Matt Hale, be permitted to come and speak in our public places. The freedom to express ideas, even ideas such as his, is vital in assisting us to mature and to confront the evils of the world.
Hale’s talk raised the awareness of the entire community, and produced wide discussion and ultimately condemnation of his agenda. It pulled the community together to reject hate and ensure the rights of all citizens.
In the short term the price may seem high, but in the long term this freedom allows the Matt Hales of the world, ironically enough, to dig their own ideological graves.
Rules of Conduct
- All participants must abide by state and city statutes.
- Participants admitted to the auditorium are expected to remain in their chairs.
- Participants must refrain from any physical contact with other participants.
- The use of any artificial source of noise is prohibited.
- All participants must follow directions of on-site police personnel.
- If you leave the auditorium, you will not be re-admitted.
- All participants must enter and exit by doors when and where designated by police personnel.
- The throwing of any objects, including paper, is prohibited.
- No purses, fanny packs, backpacks, shopping bags or other containers will be permitted.
- No hats, gas masks, scarves, or masks will be permitted.
- No weapons, knives, or objects that can be used as weapons will be allowed.
- All participants will be searched by at least one metal detector.
- No cameras or video/audio recording devices will be allowed.
- Threats of any type of violence directed at other participants are prohibited.
- The proceedings in the library are being videotaped and audiotaped.