A Hate-Crime Conspiracy?

Two brothers arrested as suspects in the killing of a gay couple have also been linked to arson attacks on three Sacramento-area synagogues, according to federal investigators.

In addition, authorities are checking out possible connections between the alleged crimes and the white supremacist group World Church of the Creator.

A search of the suspects’ home turned up a roster, described as a possible “hit list” by one investigator, with the names of 32 Sacramento residents, predominantly Jewish.

Included were officials of the Sacramento-area synagogues targeted last month, and congregation members who had been quoted by the media after the attacks.

Those listed were briefed Friday by James Maddock, the FBI special agent in charge of the arson investigation. They were told not to divulge their names to the press and were promised added personal security.

According to extensive reports in the Sacramento Bee and the Los Angeles Times, Maddock also said during the briefing that investigators were “virtually certain” that the two arrested brothers are connected with the arson attacks.

The brothers, Benjamin Matthew Williams, 31, and James Tyler Williams, 29, were apprehended last week in connection with the shooting deaths of Gary Matson, 50, and Winfield Mowder, 40. The two victims, as well as the Williams brothers, lived near Redding, the county seat of predominantly rural Shasta County in northern California.

The names of several prominent Redding Jews were included on the “hit list.” Also included: Marc Klein, the editor of the Northern California Jewish Bulletin, whose newspaper covered the attacks. The town’s only synagogue, Temple Beth Israel, has been advised by law enforcement officials to beef up security.

Murder charges against the Williams brothers are expected to be filed shortly, investigators said. At this point, the brothers have been charged only with possession of stolen property, based on a purchase they made with the credit card belonging to one of the slain men. They are being held in jail in lieu of $150,000 bail each.

Neighbors described former high school honor students Matthew and Tyler Williams, who go by their middle names, as fervently religious “Bible thumpers.”

During the search of the brothers’ home, investigators found a torn piece of paper that matched the tear on a piece discovered after the Sacramento arson at Congregation B’nai Israel, one of the three targeted synagogues.

Also discovered at the home were a large cache of semiautomatic weapons and hate literature, including pamphlets from the World Church of the Creator.

The Illinois-based racist group, which has several chapters in northern California, has been under close scrutiny since the arson attacks, during which the perpetrators left fliers blaming the “International Jew World Order” and the “International Jewsmedia” for the war in Kosovo.

The scrutiny has intensified since the shooting rampage on the Fourth of July weekend by Benjamin Nathaniel Smith, a former member of the WCOTC.

During the shooting spree, an African-American former basketball coach and Asian-American students were killed, and six Orthodox Jews, walking to their Chicago synagogue, were wounded. Smith killed himself while fleeing police.

The FBI’s Maddock said in Sacramento that the California investigations are being coordinated with other federal agents across the country. The probe may extend to a possible “widespread hate-crime conspiracy,” the Sacramento Bee reported.

In an extensive report, the Anti-Defamation League described the WCOTC as one of the country’s fastest-growing and most dangerous hate groups. ADL officials have petitioned U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno for a full field investigation of the church.

Meanwhile, in Sacramento, moral and financial help continues to arrive from across the country to the three arson-struck synagogues: Congregation B’nai Israel and Congregation Beth Shalom, both Reform, and the Orthodox Knesset Israel Torah Center.

Last week, the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles donated $5,000 to help in the rebuilding effort.