Judge also Acquits Blogger Accused of Soliciting Violence against Juror
New Jersey blogger and Internet radio host Hal Turner is facing state and federal charges for separate inflammatory posts on his blog: one regarding Connecticut state legislators and another involving three judges on the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.
The New York Times reported June 24 that Turner was arrested in North Bergen, N.J., after federal officials charged that posts on his now-defunct blog, turnerradionetwork.com, amounted to death threats against judges. The posts denounced a 7th Circuit ruling that upheld two local handgun bans in Chicago. Turner pleaded not guilty to the charge on July 28, the Chicago Tribune reported.
“Let me be the first to say this plainly: These judges deserve to be killed,” Turner wrote June 2, according to the June 24 indictment. “Their blood will replenish the tree of liberty. A small price to pay to assure freedom for millions.”
Turner also wrote that if the three judges, William Bauer, Frank Easterbrook, and Richard Posner, “are allowed to get away with this by surviving, other Judges will act the same way.” Turner posted the judges’ photographs, phone numbers, work addresses, and courtroom numbers on his blog. Each of the three judges has served as chief judge of the 7th Circuit, and according to a June 25 Chicago Tribune story, Posner is one of the best-known appellate judges in the country and a prolific author. Bauer is a former U.S. attorney.
According to the indictment, the blog entry also referenced the 2005 murders of the mother and husband of U.S. District Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow in Chicago. “Apparently, the 7th U.S. Circuit court didn’t get the hint after those killings. It appears another lesson is needed,” Turner wrote.
Although The Times reported in the June 24 story that there was no indication that Turner or anyone else acted on his warnings, the FBI said in the affidavit that it believed his comments constituted “a threat to assault or murder a United States judge,” in violation of 18 U.S.C. 115(a)(1)(B).
According to a June 25 Associated Press (AP) story, Turner was initially denied bail by U.S. Magistrate Michael Shipp, who ordered that Turner be transferred to Illinois to face the charge, which carries a maximum prison sentence of 10 years and a $250,000 fine.
The AP reported that attorneys on both sides had reached a tentative agreement that would have allowed Turner to be released on $200,000 bail, as long as he remained confined to his New Jersey home and barred from the Internet. Shipp, however, expressed reservations about the bail package, noting that federal agents had discovered three pistols, a shotgun, and several hundred rounds of ammunition at Turner’s apartment.
“Quite frankly, after reading all the information I’m concerned about the defendant’s threat to the community,” Shipp said, according to a June 30 New York Times story.
Turner’s defense attorney Michael Orozco argued before U.S. Magistrate Judge Martin Ashman at a July 28 bond hearing in Chicago that Turner was not dangerous, and claimed that Turner should be allowed to post bond because he had served as an FBI informant in the past, the Chicago Tribune reported in the July 28 story.
According to an August 11 story in The National Law Journal, Ashman issued a one-sentence order denying Turner bail and stating that he should be “detained as a danger to the community pending further court proceedings.”
In an August 19 AP story, Orozco said Turner should be shown leniency because he worked for the FBI from 2002 to 2007 as an “agent provocateur” and was taught by the agency “what he could say that wouldn’t be crossing the line.” Prosecutors have acknowledged that Turner was an informant in the past, but at the time of the alleged threats, he was no longer with the FBI. But Orozco said that Turner’s posts are consistent with his FBI work. “If you compare anything that he did say when he was operating, there was no difference. No difference whatsoever.”
Prior to the federal charges, Turner had surrendered to Connecticut authorities on state charges of inciting violence against two of the state’s lawmakers by waiving extradition on June 8. He was then released after posting $25,000 bail, according to a June 10 AP story. Turner had been taken into custody June 3 by North Bergen police at the request of Connecticut law enforcement officials, who said Turner’s blog posts were in violation of Conn. Gen. Stat. 53a-179a(a), which criminalizes “inciting injury to persons or property.”
According to the AP, Connecticut police said that Turner’s blog posts amounted to incitement against Connecticut state lawmakers Sen. Andrew McDonald (D-Stamford) and Rep. Michael Lawlor (D-East Haven), who introduced a controversial bill that would have given lay members of Roman Catholic churches more control over their parishes’ finances.
The AP reported that Turner’s June 2 post urged “Catholics in Connecticut take up arms and put down this tyranny by force. … It is our intent to foment direct action against these individuals personally. These beastly government officials should be made an example of as a warning to others in government: Obey the Constitution or die.”
According to the AP, a Connecticut police officer said in the arrest warrant affidavit that Turner took responsibility for what he wrote. “I did an article on it, and then posted some very terse commentary at the bottom,” Turner told the officer. “It’s certainly my intent to motivate the public to get involved in this, and certainly we hope that nobody’s going to go off the deep end and do something terrible, but ... you never can tell.”
According to the June 10 AP article, Turner’s activity has drawn scrutiny before. The FBI questioned him in 2005 regarding the Lefkow case, because years earlier he had said on his radio show that Lefkow “was worthy of being killed.” Two years ago, local police increased security for several New Jersey Supreme Court justices after Turner revealed their addresses in the wake of the court’s ruling that gay couples were entitled to the same rights as married couples. Turner was not charged in either instance.
Frank Askin, a professor of constitutional law at Rutgers University, said in the June 30 New York Times story that even statements as “obnoxious and offensive” as Turner’s are still protected by the First Amendment. “In order to convict him, the U.S. Supreme Court is going to have to overrule earlier doctrine,” Askin said. “I don’t think he can be convicted of incitement. People who listen to him have time to think.”
Gene Policinski, vice president and executive director of the First Amendment Center, mentioned Turner in a June 14 post on the center’s Web site, concluding that “judgment on public pundits and broadcast provocateurs is – and should be – rendered in the court of public opinion.” Policinski also cited other recent events, such as the accusations that conservative FOX News commentator Bill O’Reilly was directly responsible in the May 31 shooting death of Kansas doctor George Tiller, who performed late-term abortions.
Policinski wrote that the principles upheld in the Supreme Court case Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395 U.S. 444 (1969), should preclude any criminal charges against commentators such as Turner or O’Reilly. In Brandenburg, the Court held that the First Amendment protected statements advocating use of force or illegal activity “except where such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.”
The June 25 New York Times story, however, compared Turner’s situation to that of the defendants in Planned Parenthood of Columbia/Willamette, Inc. v. American Coalition of Life Activists, 290 F.3d 1058 (9th Cir. 2002), in which the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals upheld a district court decision by a 6 to 5 vote that the American Coalition of Life Activists (ACLA), and several individuals associated with it were not protected by the First Amendment for maintaining a Web site called The Nuremberg Files, which included a list of names of doctors who performed abortions, along with judges, politicians, police officers, and others that the group identified as being abortion supporters. Some of the names were linked to “wanted” posters that included the person’s work and home addresses, photographs, telephone numbers, spouse’s names, and children’s names and school addresses. The site crossed out names of individuals who had been killed, listing them as “fatalities.”
“ACLA was aware that a ‘wanted’-type poster would likely be interpreted as a serious threat of death or bodily harm by a doctor in the reproductive health services community,” the Planned Parenthood opinion said. “ACLA was not staking out a position of debate but of threatened demise. This turns the First Amendment on its head.”
Blogger Acquitted of Soliciting Harm to Juror, Remains in Custody
A federal judge in Chicago dismissed a charge against a Roanoke, Va., blogger accused of using his Web site to encourage harm to a juror. The judge ruled on July 21, 2009, that the First Amendment protects the blogger’s post. However, the blogger remains in custody awaiting a hearing in a case stemming from other threats.
In United States v. White, 2009 WL 2244639, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 65085 (N.D. Il. July 21, 2009), District Judge Lynn Adelman said that William White’s blog posts about the juror did “not solicit violence” themselves and his history of encouraging violent behavior through his Web site failed “to provide the strong corroboration necessary for a lawful prosecution under … the First Amendment.”
White was indicted on Oct. 21, 2008, on allegations that he had violated 18 U.S.C. 373, which makes it a crime to solicit or persuade another person to commit a felony involving physical force. According to the order, White published several items on Sept. 8, 2008 on his Web site, overthrow.com, criticizing the 2004 conviction of white supremacist Nathan Hale for soliciting the murder of a federal judge in Chicago. White’s post included the photograph, name, address, and phone number of the jury foreperson, whom White referred to as “gay” and “anti-racist.”
The indictment alleged that White’s posting of the juror’s personal information, combined with his history of violent writing on the site, made his intent to cause harm to the juror clear, even though he did not directly state that any action should be taken against the juror. The indictment included several previous quotations from White’s blog, such as a March 26, 2008 post where White wrote that an unnamed Canadian civil rights lawyer “is an enemy, not just of the white race, but of all humanity, and he must be killed. Find him at home and let him know you agree… .” White also posted the lawyer’s address.
Adelman’s order said, “In a democratic society, it is axiomatic that the [First] Amendment’s protections are not limited to the genteel, the enlightened or the tasteful.” He cited cases such as NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co., 458 U.S. 886 (1982), in which the Supreme Court stated that “mere advocacy of the use of force or violence does not remove speech from the protection of the First Amendment.”
“The fact that defendant knew that white supremacists sometimes viewed his Web site and sometimes harmed people they perceived as enemies is insufficient to transform his lawful statements about [the juror] into criminal advocacy,” Adelman wrote. “The posting of personal information about an individual involved in a judicial proceeding, even under circumstances that are intimidating or unsettling, cannot, absent a true threat or an incitement to imminent lawless action, be criminalized consistent with the First Amendment.”
Adelman, a federal district court judge from Wisconsin, was assigned the case after the judges from the Chicago-based U.S. District Court were recused because the Hale case involved a Chicago-based judge.
According to a July 23 AP story, White is the “self-styled” founder and leader of the American National Socialist Workers Party. His writing regularly attacked non-whites, Jews, and homosexuals and expressed approval of violent acts. His Web site is no longer online. At the time of White’s September 8 post, the jury foreperson’s name had not previously been made public.
According to the AP, White’s attorney, Nishay Kumar Sanan, said Adelman “obviously followed the law and made the right decision.” He also said the government had already sought to stay the ruling while it decides whether to appeal. The AP reported that the government was reviewing the ruling and would consider what steps to take next.
According to the AP, White also faces federal charges in Virginia for making online threats to several other people, including the Canadian civil rights lawyer and a New Jersey mayor. White cannot be released until there is a bond hearing in the Virginia case, Sanan said.
According to a July 26 story in The Roanoke Times, three different courts have declined to release White on bond, saying that his writings indicate that he is a danger to the community. The story cited a post from White’s site in which he wrote about waking up every morning with the urge to “kill, kill, kill,” and another in which he said he had developed a “very intricate plot for the murder of about a score of Roanoke city’s Negro nuisances and their annoying counterparts at The Roanoke Times.”
– Jacob Parsley
Silha Research Assistant