Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Connect the Dots

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Connect the Dots

Article excerpt

A surprising link between a same-sex romance and a white supremacist group proves that a double murder in Northern California was mom than random violence

In the early 1990s Dan Martin and Benjamin Matthew Williams shared a romantic friendship while members of a conservative evangelical fellowship. They traded poetry, skinny-dipped, and shared boyhood stories over the campfire during long hikes in the mountains of Idaho.

But then their paths diverged. Martin began telling friends and family he was gay. Matthew Williams and his younger brother, James Tyler Williams--both of whom go by their middle names--began a journey through the far right's violent netherworld that culminated July 19, when the brothers were charged with first-degree murder in the slaying of a gay couple near Redding, Calif.

"To be honest, Matthew was my first love," Martin, 25, tells The Advocate. "I felt the feelings were reciprocal, although neither of us would dare admit it to the other. But then Matthew fell in love with hatred, and I fell in love with the gay community. My gay friends allowed me to express things I'd had to keep bottled up in the church. I feel bad Matthew never had that opportunity."

Matthew Williams, 31, and Tyler Williams, 29, are accused by police of the July 1 killings of Gary Matson, 50, and Winfield Mowder, 40, a gay couple who were shot to death with what is believed to be a .22-caliber weapon in the bedroom of their home in rural Shasta County, north of Sacramento. Both brothers pleaded innocent to murder charges July 29. Prosecutors have not determined whether to seek the death penalty in the case. The Williamses are also suspects in a federal probe of a series of synagogue firebombings in the Sacramento area.

In many ways Matthew and Tyler Williams fit the profile of gay bashers: young, white, male, and economically marginal. But the brothers also break the malevolent mold. With their direct links to hate groups, the men allegedly have taken virulent antigay rhetoric to its logical and gruesome conclusion.

"The vast majority of attacks on gay men are exceptionally violent and random,"says Jack Levin, director of the Brudnick Center on Violence at Boston's Northeastern University. "They are committed by young men out on a Saturday night looking for a thrill. These bashers usually don't know much about hate groups, even if they would probably agree with their irrational hatred of homosexuals. Hate groups are much more likely to target blacks and Jews, but that may be beginning to change."

During searches of the brothers' home, investigators found a trove of propaganda from a variety of white supremacist groups, including the World Church of the Creator, based in East Peoria, Ill. (Also in July, Benjamin Nathaniel Smith, a member of the church, took his own life after allegedly going on a killing spree targeting African-Americans, Asians, and Jews.)

By all accounts, Matson and Mowder, who had been together for 16 years, were a quiet couple who got along well with their neighbors. Matson, a horticulturist, was cofounder of the Redding Arboretum and helped establish the Redding Certified Farmers Market, and Mowder had recently graduated from California State University, Chico, with a degree in anthropology. The couple met Matthew and Tyler Williams, who had their own landscaping business, through their gardening work.

But something apparently transformed Matson and Mowder, who had been friendly with the Williams brothers, from colleagues and neighbors to. targets.

The brothers have been linked to several Christian Identity churches in Northern California, Idaho, and Washington State. While these loosely affiliated churches primarily target African-Americans and Jews, they also preach that homosexuality is a sin worthy of death. The people involved in the movement include white supremacists, neo-Nazis, militia members, and Christian fundamentalists. …

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