A lawyer for jailed North Bergen resident and former white supremacist radio DJ Hal Turner was in court this past week in an effort to have charges dropped against Turner for allegedly encouraging violence against public officials.
In 2010, Turner was convicted of making death threats against three Chicago judges on his blog. In a separate incident, he allegedly encouraged blog readers to “take up arms” against Connecticut lawmakers regarding proposed legislation that would have given lay members of the Roman Catholic Church more control over parish finances. (That legislation was eventually dropped.)
“They are now trying to shred the right to freedom of speech.” – ‘Family of Hal Turner’ blog
A controversial career
Over the years, Turner was no stranger to controversy. Born in Jersey City, he eventually moved to North Bergen, where he lived with his wife and son before heading to federal prison.
Turner was a member of the Hudson County Republican Committee as well as a campaign manager for gubernatorial candidate Murray Sabrin.
In an effort to evade or lessen his jail time, Turner has argued that he was an FBI informant who supplied the agency with information regarding hardcore right-wing white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups.
A frequent guest caller to Sean Hannity’s radio show, Turner made headlines after Hannity was criticized for having a good relationship with him. Hannity has since claimed that they are not friends, although Turner suggested otherwise.
A May 14, 2000 article in The Reporter quotes Turner as saying, “I’ve always been the kind of person who is willing to speak out and say something when I don’t agree with something.”
Although spoken in the context of his run for the 13th District Congress seat, Turner has lived his life by this sentiment, never shying away from letting his opinions be heard.
His words often cause trouble
It seems, however, that the sentiment failed him. On June 24, 2009, Turner was arrested after stating on his blog that three Chicago federal appeals judges that upheld a local Chicago handgun ban “deserve to be killed,” according to published reports. He also wrote, “Their blood will replenish the tree of liberty. A small price to pay to assure freedom for millions.”
He also included where to find the court house addresses of the judges.
Turner was also charged with three counts of inciting injury to a person after allegedly urging readers to “take up arms” against Connecticut lawmakers. Turner also allegedly said that lawmakers should “Obey the constitution or die,” according to multiple reports.
Judge Carl Schuman did not immediately decide the appeal on Tuesday.
Turner’s public defender, John Stawicki, reportedly argued that Turner was exercising his right to free speech, and that his remarks were similar to baseball fans yelling, “Kill the umpire!” He also argued that Connecticut does not have jurisdiction over remarks made from his North Bergen home in New Jersey.
Freedom of speech? You decide
Hal Turner’s family posted on their blog an argument similar to that of Stawicki’s on Tuesday.
“What’s so sad – and dangerous – is that the same way these three 7th Circuit Judge tried to shred the right to keep and bear arms, they are now trying to shred the right to freedom of speech,” the family’s blog states.
The First Amendment states that, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
However, death threats – specifically those to government officials – are a crime under federal law.
Should Turner’s remarks be constituted as death threats? Or are they less serious, such as baseball fans yelling “Kill the umpire”? Take our poll after this story at hudsonreporter.com.
Stephen LaMarca may be reached at email@example.com.