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Hate Crimes on Wikipedia: “Obeying God’s Law”

That’s what the killer in this case said he was doing when he shot Gary Matson and Winfield Mowder — a gay couple in Redding California — to death. He was “obeying God’s law,” which according to him says:

Benjamin Matthew Williams, the 31-year-old white supremacist accused of murdering a gay couple outside this Northern California town in July, is now admitting that he slipped into the men’s home while they were sleeping and shot them to death in their bed.

He did it, he said, because they were gay and God told him to.

When asked if he had killed the pair, Williams answered, “Absolutely.”

…”The defense that he has is a religious defense, and he is saying the Bible says that homosexuality is wrong and they should be killed and the blood is on their heads,” O’Connor said. “But as a practical matter I don’t think the judge is going to allow that defense, as opposed to one using the laws of the state of California.”

Of course, it’s not that simple. It never is. That’s one thing I’ve discovered as I continue this project of documenting anti-LGBT hate crimes on Wikipedia. There are almost always other elements at play, which fall into place to unleash that “uncontrollable rage” that seems to be a theme in so many of these cases; sometimes just rage that LGBT people happen to exist. But sometimes an attackers rage at himself is simply projected outward. This looks like one of those cases.

But first, the victims, from people who knew them.

There’s more at this PBS page about the crime.

Gary Matson and Winfield Scott Mowder lived in veritable paradise on their lush farm in Happy Valley, on the outskirts of Redding. Matson helped start the Redding Farmers Market, a community garden to feed the hungry, an arboretum and Carter House, a natural science museum for schoolchildren. Mowder became a loving parent to Matson’s daughter Clea, and he spoke at local high schools about what it was like to be gay. Their murders were a dramatic loss for the community, who found inspiration in the two men.

On July 1, 1999, Gary Matson and Winfield Mowder had been together as a couple for 14 years. Late that night they were shot to death in their beds by brothers Matthew and Tyler Williams, two white supremacists who knew the couple through their work in local horticulture. It might seem like a simple case of two hateful men killing two gay men because they hate LGBT people. At least until you have an idea of what kind of family the killers came from.

What made the family stand out, neighbors say, was the noise that would come blaring from inside the house at all hours of the day and night. Sometimes it would simply be religious music. Other times recorded sermons would echo through the quiet neighborhood.

“They were heavy Bible thumpers, really into that stuff,” said neighbor Don O’Connell. Religion was a lifelong passion for the two boys, who grew up in a household that valued it above all else. Their father, an eccentric, religiously devout, retired U.S. Forest Service employee, raised the brothers to live off the land in anticipation of the coming apocalypse.

… Before they moved to the Redding area, the family had lived in the small Butte County farming community of Gridley, about 40 miles north of Sacramento.They lived on a narrow country lane in a small, modest home that faced a field and had a one-acre backyard filled with fruit trees. During the day, Matthew Williams would wander the neighborhood communing with his God.

“He used to walk up and down the street carrying a staff and preaching to no one,” said David Anderson, a Live Oak high school teacher who bought the Williams home three years ago. “That does something to kids, raising them up in that environment.”

It does something to a kid alright, especially one who may have same-sex attractions.

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.”

… Not long before the double murder, Matthew Williams telephoned a mutual friend looking for Martin’s home phone number in Moscow, Ida. When he learned that Martin now identifies as gay and is coordinator of the HIV-prevention group Stonewall Health Project, he began to sob uncontrollably.

The revelation “may well have triggered the murders,” Martin says. “Maybe he felt a loathing for our friendship that he couldn’t overcome. But the truth is, I really can’t fathom what could have driven him to do what he is accused of doing.”

It may do something to a man whose unanswered questions about his sexuality are voiced by others.

Williams’ one-time ”best friend,” Todd Bethell, also claims that he witnessed Williams’ metamorphosis from ”normal evangelical Christian to paranoid conspiratorial charismatic.

…But in a telephone interview Wednesday, Bethell talked about the man he said he met in 1989 when the two were assigned to the same ship.

”Because it was such a horrible living environment, we wanted to get our own apartment,” Bethell said.

Bethell said he and others thought that Williams ”acted kinda prissy and sat too close” to other men when he talked to them, leading them to wonder if he was gay.

”So I asked him and he was just shocked,” Bethell said. ”For about a month he kept asking why.

”He wasn’t gay, but he was dogged by giving the impression that he was.”

And because Williams was not savvy about the impressions he made on others, the issue arose several times, Bethell said.

”So every time it happened he would crank up the volume on his masculine characteristics and his religion,” Bethell explained.

Motorcycles, guns and other traditionally male pursuits became Williams’ hobbies and he met a Bremerton woman who later became the mother of his daughter.

Bethell said that despite Williams’ pleas, the woman, Kimberly Rodgers, refused to marry him.

And at least one report said Williams later told a friend he was gay and tormented by the realization.

It’s enough to make you wonder if the fury that eventually resulted in the murders of Matson and Mowder wasn’t “locked and loaded” decades before the bullets found their targets.

But, back to the real hate crime here; the murders of Gary Matson and Winfield Mowder.

Gary Matson (1949 – July 1, 1999)and Winfield Mowder (1959 – July 1, 1999 were a gay couple from Redding, California, who were murdered on by white supremacist brothers Benjamin Matthew Williams and James Tyler Williams. The Williams brothers confessed killing the couple because they were gay.


Gary Matson and Winfield Mowder

Gary Matson and Winfield Mowder were together as a couple for 14 years. They made their home, in Happy Valley, California, just outside of Redding.

Matson, 50, earned a Master of Science degree Environmental Horticulture from UC Davis in 1984. Afterwards, he and Mowder founded Matson Horticulture and Florabundance Nursery in, Redding, California. Matson helped found the Redding Farmers Market, the Carter House Natural Science Museum, and the Redding Arboretum.[1]

He was divorced from his Wife, Marcia Howe, with whom he had a daughter, Clea.

Mowder, 40, held a Bachelor of Science degree in Anthropology, and worked part-time an associate in Orchard Hardware Supply Garden Department, while also attending Chico State University.[2]

Together, in 1997, Matson and Mowder founded Plantstogo.Com, a online nursery specializing in plants for hot climates.[1]

The Williams Brothers

The Williams brothers, who both known by their middle names, operated a landscaping and lawn service out of their parents’ home in Palo Cedro, California. Neighbors said that the family was known for their fundamentalist Christianity, and that recordings of sermons and religious music were often heard from their house. [3]

Prior to moving to Redding, the Williams lived in Gridley, California, a farming community in Butte County, California. According to neighbors, the family kept to themselves. They grew their own food, keeping chickens and an organic garden. The Williams boys, Michael and Tyler, were homeschooled until they reached high school.[4] The boys, both honor students[5], were not allowed to participate in extra-curricular activities.[4]

When the family moved to Redding, on what the father — Benjamin Williams — told neighbors were “God’s orders” — mail from militia groups, addressed to the family, continued to arrive at their home.[4] After the move, Matthew Williams briefly served in the Navy. While stationed in Bremerton, Washington, during his stint in the Navy, Matthew Met and had a daughter with Kimberly Rodgers. Rogers, however refused to marry Williams.[6]

Matthew attended the University of Idaho in Moscow, Idaho. While there, joined the charismatic Christian church, Living Faith Fellowship, in Pullman, Washington.[3] He also became interested in purification diets, and during a visit from his brother, coached Tyler in achieving the “perfect bowel movement” to cleanse his body[3]

After becoming disillusioned with Living Faith Fellowship, Matthew Williams became fascinated with white supremacist and Anti-Semetic literature he read on the internet. In January 1998, Williams was selling literature at as speech by Montana Militia founder John Trochmann.[3] By the time Matthew moved back to California, he had developed in interest in Christian Identity.[6]

The Discovery

Matson’s and Mowder’s bodies were discovered on July 1, 1999. The couple’s nude bodies were found in their bed. Shell casings from a .22 caliber gun littered the floor, and the walls and ceiling were stained with blood.[7] There was no sign of forced entry, and no apparent signs of robbery or anything being taken from the house.Matson’s Toyota Tercel station wagon was gone, and police recovered it 50 miles south near Yuba City.[8]

The couple had visited Matson’s father — Oscar Matson — for dinner the previous evening. Troubled by a distressed sounding message on the couple’s answering machine, and a voice that did not sound like Matson’s or Mowder’s, Roger Matson went to the couple’s house around 1:00 p.m.[7]

The Arrests

Matthew and Tyler Williams were arrested after police found Matson’s vehichle abandoned at the side of the road near Oroville, California.[9] The brothers were arrested at about 4:30p.m. on July 1, as they left a Yuba City shopping mall. Both carried handguns.[9] Matthew wore a bullet proof vest.

Police were alerted by a phone call made two hours after Matson and Mowder were killed, to a company in Scottdale, Arizona.The caller ordered ammunition and other equipment worth $2,276.09, and asked that the order be sent to a Yuba City private mailbox firm, care of Gary Matson. The order was paid for with Matson’s credit card. Detectives traced the address and arrived just as the Williams brothers showed up.[3]

Searches of the brothers’ residences yielded finds of literature from white supremacist organizations[9], including the World Church of the Creator (now known as the Creativity Movement).[10] Investigators examined whether the case was part of a conspiracy of hate-crime violence by members of the World Church of the Creator. The Matson and Mowder murders took place just days before World Church of the Creator associate Benjamin Nathaniel Smith went on a shooting spree targeting racial and ethnic minorities in Illinois and Indiana[10]. Unnamed federal resources were cited as having found a handwritten letter from Matthew Williams to National Alliance leader William Pierce.[11]

In addition, investigators also found .22 caliber shells and 13 lbs. of black powder. Depending on its quality, 1 pound of black powder is enough to fire 100 to 200 rounds.[11]


During searches of the brothers’ homes and storage utilities, authorities also found a “hit list” of prominent Jewish civic leaders in the Sacramento, California area.[3] The list was apparently compiled after the June 18 arson attacks against three synagogues in Sacramento — Congregation B’nai Israel, Congregation Beth Shalom, and Knesset Israel Torah Center. The fires caused over $1 million in damage.

On March 17, the brothers were charged with setting the three synagogue fires and the July 2 fire at Country Club Medical center, which housed an abortion clinic.[12] The charges carried of up to 235 years in prison.[13] Matthew Williams later admitted to reporters that he was one of eight or nine men who set fire to the synagogues and the clinic.[14]

The Murders

On the morning of July 1, Oscar Matson called his son, Gary, and heard a newly recorded outgoing answering machine message saying that the couple were both ill and were leaving to visit with a “specialist friend” of theirs in San Francisco for a week. Police said the man on the recording sounded distressed and seemed to be feigning illness. Detectives said they believed that the man in the recording was trying to send a message that a close acquaintance had forced him to make the recording.

Another male voice was heard in the background telling the man in the recording to “just calm down.” Believing that the male voice did not sound like Matson or Mowder, Roger Matson drove to his brother’s home and discovered the bodies.[7]

Investigators said that, after being forced to make the recording, the couple was forced into their platform bed, which stood seven feet off the floor. The killers then stood on chairs at the foot of the bed and fired at the couple.[3] Matson received five shots to the head and one to the back. Matson was shot seven times in the head and once in the neck.[15]

Tyler Williams’ Account

After the brothers’ arrest, authorities said they believed the brothers were acquainted with Matson and Mowder through their involvement in the local landscaping industry.[2] In a pre-sentencing interview with Shasta County deputy probation officer Gerald Salles, Tyler Williams recounted how he and his brother planned and carried out the murders.

Tyler Williams said he and his brother first talked about killing Matson and Mowder two weeks before the July 1, 1999 shootings, after Matthew Williams told Tyler that he’d met Matson and Mowder at the Redding Farmers Market. The couple, like Matthew Williams had a booth.[15] Ed Smith, who owned a Palo Cedro nursery where Matthew Williams worked for six months, also said Matthew Williams knew Matson and described them as friends.[9]

Tyler Williams said he did not know how his brother decided to single out the couple, but that Matthew told him they were a homosexual couple. Olin Gordon, of Olinda — who had considered hiring the Williams brothers to do some landscaping — said that Matthew Williams had said Matson and mentioned knowing Maston was homosexual.[3]

According to Tyler, the brothers drove out to Happy Valley late on the night of June 30 or early on July 1, in a Toyota Corolla registered to their father. Matson and Mowder were asleep in their bed. He the said that Matthew Williams did the shooting, emptying a clip from his .22 calibre semiautomatic handgun before reloading and firing five more shots. Other than labored breathing, Tyler Williams said the victims made no sound before or after the shootings. After the shooting, Matthew Williams drove away in Matson’s Toyota Tercel while Benjamin Matthews returned to his parent’s house and went to sleep.[15]

Tyler Williams’ account did not include an explanation for the newly recorded outgoing message on the answering machine, which investigators believed the couple had been forced to make, suggesting that they were awake at time of the shooting, and not asleep as Tyler Williams claimed.[3]


In his account of the murders, Tyler Williams said that his brother did not consider the killing of Matson and Mowder to be murder, but a “judgement” instead.[15]

In November 1999 Matthew Williams began giving interviews to various media outlets. In an interview with The Sacramento Bee he admitted to the murders and said that when he killed Matson and Mowder he was “obeying the law of God.” Williams said that he committed the murders because he believed their homosexuality violated God’s laws, and he hoped his actions would incite more killings. [16]

Williams insisted that his actions did not constitute murder. Because the Bible holds that homosexuality is a sin that must be punished by death, the responsibility lies with the victims. Williams expressed regret that more “people who claim to be Christians” didn’t “have the guts” to act as he had. Facing the possibility of execution, he said he hoped to become a “Christian martyr” whose death would inspire others to lash out against Jews, homosexuals, and other minorities.[17]

Matthew Williams’ Sexuality Questioned

In interviews with media, two friends from Matthew William’s past recounted incidents concerning questions about Matthew Williams’ sexual orientation.

Todd Bethel served in the Navy with Williams, and claimed to have been his best friend during that period.[11] briefly rented an apartment with Williams when they both assigned to a ship in Bremerton, Washington. Bethel, who reportedly tried to sell a videotape and photographs of Williams, said that he and others thought Williams acted too “prissy” and “sat too close to other men.” Bethel asked Williams if he was gay, and said Williams denied it but seemed disturbed by the idea that he might be perceived as gay.[6]

In August 1999Dan Martin, Williams’ best friend from his time in the Living Faith Fellowship gave an interview to The Advocate, which described their relationship as a romantic friendship. According to Martin, the two shared poetry, skinny-dipped, and and traded stories over campfires in the Idaho mountains.[18] When William’s left the church to drift into the white supremacist movement, Martin went on to become a gay activist.[11]

According to Martin, shortly before the murders Williams called a mutual friend looking for Martin’s home number in Moscow, Idaho. When he was told that Martin identified as openly gay and was coordinator of an HIV prevention group, Williams began to sob uncontrollably. Williams said he thought the revelation may have triggered the murders of Matson and Mowder.[18]


Arson Pleas

In September 2001, the brothers pleaded guilty to there arson attacks against synagogues and clinic.[19] In [[December 2001], the brothers were sentenced for the arsons — Matthew Williams to 30 years, and Tyler Williams to 21 years, and were ordered to pay more than $1 million in restitution.[20]

Congratulations Reverend Williams

In June 2000, Matthew Williams’ court-appointed attorney paid for an advertisement that appeared in the June 18 edition of The Redding Record Searchlight, congratulating Williams on being ordained as a minister by the Christ’s Covenant Church. The two-column-by-four-inch advertisement depicted a dove bearing an olive branch, and was labeled as having been placed by “the family and friends of Benjamin Matthew Williams.”[21]

The ad, which appeared on Father’s Day, read “Rev. Williams: May your knowledge and faith continue to grow during your current persecutions and trials.” William’s attorney, Frank J. O’Connor, placed the ad and paid the $107.70 bill to The Redding Record Searchlight. O’Connor and the Williams family refused to comment on the ad. The newspaper said that the advertising representative did not focus on Williams’ name when the order was placed, and that the ad would not have been printed had the paper been aware of its content.[22]

Matthew Williams’ Suicide

On June 22, 2002, Matthew Williams and another inmate attacked prison guard Timothy Renault with a homemade hatchet. Renault suffered a skull fracture and a broken jaw. Matthew Williams was kept in a segregation unit following the attack.

Late Saturday night or early Sunday morning, Williams jammed his cell door with a piece of cardboard, and then spread a blanket between his cell toilet and the wall, so that he would not be seen by his jailers.

At 6:30 a.m., on Sunday, November 17, 2002 Matthew Williams was found dead in his cell, from an apparent suicide attempt. He bled to death from multiple self-inflicted slash wounds to his arms, legs, and neck from a disposable jail-issue razor he had modified to expose the blade,[23] attached to a handle fashioned from a ballpoint pen, and fastened to his wrist with dental floss.

Around his neck he wore an amulet fashioned from dental floss and aluminum foil, containing various items, including two bible verses. Officials did not say which Bible verses the amulet held, but in Williams’ cell a Bible was open to Psalms 22 and 23.[24]

He was schedule to be sentenced on December 2.[23]

After Matthew Williams’ suicide, it was reported that the Shasta County jail was ordered by the court to make sure that Williams had no narcotics in his system, so he could be drug-free for a brain scan his attorneys had arranged. Williams was to be weaned off his medications, but Shasta County jail staff stopped Williams’ medication abruptly.[25]

Two days prior to committing suicide, Matthew Williams mailed a signed confession to his brothers attorney, taking full responsibility for the murders of Matson and Mowder. In the one page letter, Williams wrote that it was an “accepted fact” and he killed Matson and Mowder, whom he referred to as “the 2 perverts.” He expressed concern about poisoning a jury against his brother, whose innocence he maintained.[26]


In March 2003 Tyler Williams pleaded guilty to the murders of Matson and Mowder. Under a plea agreement, Williams was sentenced to at 29 years to life, to be served after a 21 year sentence in the synagogue and clinic arsons. [27] If he had gone to trial, Williams could have received the death penalty.

Crossposted from The Republic of T.

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