White supremacist Matthew Hale released a statement through his mother Thursday condemning the killings of a federal judge's husband and mother, calling the murders a "heinous crime."
Despite Hale's attempt to distance himself from the killings, his name remained at the center of the investigation as FBI agents and Chicago police detectives fanned out across the region interviewing people with any connection to Hale.
The judge returned to the courthouse for the first time Thursday to meet with fellow judges as authorities continued their hunt for whoever killed her husband, Michael F. Lefkow, 64, and her mother, Donna G. Humphrey, 89.
Though investigators were not calling Hale and his followers suspects, they were aware that white supremacists have come to regard Hale's legal battles as a rallying point for their cause.
Hundreds of tips poured in to a hot line set up by police, and many dealt with hate groups and offshoots of Hale's organization, sources said.
Hale's mother, Evelyn Hutcheson, said she spoke to her son by phone Thursday and he dictated the following statement to be disseminated to the press:
"There is simply no way that any supporter of mine would commit such a heinous crime. I totally condemn it and I want the perpetrator caught and prosecuted. I only hope they sincerely wish to apprehend the animal instead of railroading the innocent. Only an idiot would think that I would do this. My sentencing date is April 6."
Hale has been moved out of his cell to an isolated location, federal authorities said. His mother said Hale told her everyone on his floor was interviewed by investigators.
Yet even isolated inside the Metropolitan Correctional Center, Hale has become a larger figure within the white supremacist movement than he ever was as leader of the now-defunct World Church of the Creator.
Hale is now considered a living martyr by thousands of neo-Nazis and other hate groups who see his conviction last year of plotting to kill Judge Lefkow as proof the federal government is conspiring against them.
Hale's legal battles are, in some circles of the racist fringe, akin to the standoffs at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, or at Ruby Ridge in Idaho. Those events galvanized the militia movement in the 1990s and, in the case of Waco, led to the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City by Timothy McVeigh.
"Ideologically, yes, [Hale] is a rallying point," said Tom Metzger, founder of the California-based White Aryan Resistance, a group whose Web site last year publicized Lefkow's home address. Government officials "just want to get him out of action. That's what they want to do to all of us because we're a threat to the government."
Monday, the day the judge's husband and mother were killed, was the 12th anniversary of the start of the Waco standoff. Experts said the date has not been an important one in white supremacist circles but said that other anniversaries, like April 19, when the Branch Davidian compound burned down in 1993, are considered meaningful.
Chip Berlet, who monitors hate groups for the Massachusetts-based non-profit Political Research Associates, said Hale has emerged as an important icon among white racists.
"Hale's involvement with the legal system and his continuing losses in the legal system have become a cause celebre among neo-Nazis and white supremacists in the United States," Berlet said.
As a woman and a federal judge erroneously described as Jewish on white supremacist Web sites, Judge Lefkow "crystallizes all of the hatred of these groups," Berlet said.
He said Lefkow is seen as representing what these groups view as a "global Jewish conspiracy that operates throughout the federal government."
In enforcing an appellate court ruling against Hale during a trademark-infringement lawsuit, Lefkow also was seen as an aggressor, said Devin Burghart, director of the Building Democracy Initiative at the Center for New Community, an Oak Park organization that monitors hate groups.