A New Jersey blogger who suggested that Connecticut officials should “obey the Constitution or die” and urged his readers to “take up arms” against them has been found not guilty of threatening and inciting injury.
Harold “Hal” Turner of New Jersey has a long history of violent rhetoric and is already serving a nearly three-year sentence for threatening federal judges in Illinois who had dismissed challenges to handgun bans. In this case, however, he convinced the jury that he was merely exercising his right to free speech and that there was no evidence his words had led to violence.
According to jurors who were interviewed after the verdict, they had found Turner’s words “outrageous” but didn’t believe the prosecution had proven the charges. The prosecutor, however, called the verdict disappointing and accused Turner of twisting the facts.
In the course of the trial, former State Senator Andrew McDonald had told the jury that Turner’s posting “was an extraordinary document that far exceeded any other threat I had ever received. I thought that this was a very real threat.”
State Ethics Enforcement Officer Thomas Jones testified, “I interpreted this as people were going to be coming to my house within 24 hours with bullets and guns. … This was real. This was tangible. This was electric.”
The case arose out of a June 2009 blog posting in which Turner suggested that proposed legislation which would have given Roman Catholic lay people more control over church finances violated the Constitutional separation of church and state. He urged Catholics to “take up arms and put down this tyranny by force,” threatened to post the home addresses of state officials, and wrote that if authorities tried to stop him, “I suspect we have enough bullets to put them down too.”
Turner has a long history of seemingly inciting violence, but it has been difficult for prosecutors to secure convictions. In the Illinois case, he posted the judges’ photographs, addresses, and phone numbers and wrote, “Let me be the first to say this plainly: These judges deserve to be killed.” Even then, two juries deadlocked before a third finally voted to convict.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has tracked Turner’s career for some time. In January 2009, for example, they reported that “neo-Nazi threatmeister Hal Turner, amplifying on an earlier posting suggesting that it would be a good thing to use an unmanned drone carrying explosives to attack inaugural crowds, said a mass murder of those attending the festivities ‘would be a public service.’”
According to a profile of Turner at the SPLC website, “Harold C. ‘Hal’ Turner is a white supremacist true believer who has used radio and Internet broadcasts to disseminate his hate since the 1990s. At the same time, he worked as an informant for the FBI between 2003 and 2007, providing information on white supremacist groups for the same government he frequently railed against. On his radio show, Turner has ranted about ‘bull-dyke lesbians,’ ‘savage Negro beasts,’ ‘faggots,’ and even joked about a ‘portable nigger lyncher’ machine. He has a nasty history of threatening political enemies, saying that they deserve to be killed and posting their addresses online. That practice caught up to him in August 2010, when he was convicted of threatening to assault and murder three federal judges. Jurors’ confusion about his FBI role seems to have been behind two earlier mistrials.”