Did Hal Turner Cross the Free Speech Line?

It really was a toss up, whether to talk about now disgraced South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (I’m guessing he’ll soon be ex-Gov.) or a guy that’s much closer to home, Hal Turner.

Don’t know the name? Neither did I until recently. Hal Turner is a white supremacist blogger based in North Bergen, NJ. In addition to being arrested on charges he encouraged violence against two Connecticut lawmakers, he now stands charged with threatening three Chicago based federal judges.

One thing’s for sure. Hal Turner  gets around. He used to have an Internet radio program where he seemed to advocate violence against people he disagreed with.

Hal_Turner2

Yet it’s his blog that seems to arouse the interest of law enforcement. In the Connecticut case, for example, his targets were two lawmakers who introduced a bill that would have created a mechanism for monitoring how the Catholic Church handles its finances.

In his blog, Turner said he “advocates Catholics in Connecticut take up arms and put down this tyranny by force. It is our intention 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”. And that was just in Connecticut.

My blood runs cold when I see this guy described in articles as a radio host. Still, I have to examine in my own mind whether Hal Turner’s speech, at least in the Connecticut case, is protected by the First Amendment. That’s because I tend to be absolute about the right of free speech.

imprisoned_speech

As my brother Clayton once told me, “You can’t be halfway for the First Amendment”. Yet somehow, encouraging people to go out and kill a state senator and assemblyman just sounds cowardly.

If Hal Turner’s blog postings in Connecticut don’t appear to be criminal on their face, his rant about the federal appeals court judges is beyond the pale. This time Turner allegedly wanted to retaliate for a recent ruling that upholds handgun bans in Chicago and a nearby suburb. Again, from Turner’s blog. “Let me be the first to say this plainly: These judges deserve to be killed“. Turner then posted photos of the judges, phone numbers , their work address and room numbers.

This could get him ten years in prison if convicted. Hal Turner may find the First Amendment doesn’t shield everything, least of all calling for the assassination of judges. Turner also posted a chilling reference to the 2005 killings of the mother and husband of Illinois federal judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow. Maybe he should have considered leaving America and settling in a country that applauds those who advocate hatred and death. Such places do exist.

So, after all these years, I finally found a case where free speech has been taken too far.

What do you think? Did Hal Turner cross the line of free speech?

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8 Comments

  1. Absolutely. Solicitation to commit murder (even if the solicitation is for volunteers) is a crime and therefore not protected by the First Amendment.

  2. Hmmm…interesting post.

  3. Not a lawyer, but I do think Peg is correct. Taking it further, there has not been enforcement of it in re abortion clinic attacks and murder of medical providers of care to women in terminating pregnancy. DemocracyNow had guests point out since Dr. Tiller’s murder, that the media (and enforcement) of the right wing vilification of abortion providers, the calls to murder are covered in the media, and often by law enforcement, as individual incidents. The examples of the killer of Dr. Tiller and the shooting in the Holocaust (Jewish) musuem were treated as “isolated incidents by individuals” instead of the white supremacist/nationalist and overlapping with anti-abortion extremists, who are using violence as deterrence (which is “terrorism”). And on radio extremism: depends on who you are, BIG names can say more on the air, without fear of reaction from management or the law. Mostly, it’s political speech of dissent that is scary to law enforcement, not right wing hate speech.

  4. One example of BIG name: was it Pat Robertson who suggested on the air that Pres. Hugo Chavez of Venezuela should be assassinated? It was treated, mildly, as in bad taste, is all.

  5. Turner’s statements must be viewed in the larger context of his past history threatening judges where as early as August 10, 1998 he posted thusly:

    “As a consequence of this tragedy, I will contact the families of the victims of this fire. I’m going to give those families the home addresses of NAACP Officers who brought this lawsuit, the home addresses of their attorneys and home address of Federal Judge Mary Ann Trump Barry. It ought to be interesting to see how grieving families dispense revenge on those really responsible for the death of their loved ones!”

    Now in the Connecticut situation, Turner blogged, ”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.”

    This and additional instances speak to INTENT. If Turner had spontaneously opined off the cuff that certain judges need to be killed, then he might have a good leg to stand on. Posting maps to find these judges also speaks to his repeatedly stated intent to foment violence.

  6. Did this guy actually say…”go out and do it”..? Or did he express what he imagines, or maybe feels? Everything else is left to interpretation.

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