White Supremacist Leader Arrested for Threatening Federal Judges

easterbrookposnerA white supremacist blogger, Hal Turner, 47, has been arrested for allegedly posting threatening messages about three federal judges in Chicago. Turner was upset with the decision to uphold a handgun ban in Chicago. The judges are Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook, Judge Richard Posner, and Judge William Bauer. Turner is the host of the Hal Turner Show.


In his posting, Turner wrote “Let me be the first to say this plainly: These judges deserve to be killed.”

That statement alone might not be enough to cross the line established by the Supreme Court in 1969 in Brandenburg v. Ohio as advocating imminent violence. Violent speech is protected under the Constitution absent such a threat of imminent violence.

However, Turner went further and posted the work addresses of the judges as well as their photos — while promising to later supply their home addresses. He also included a map that showed where the anti-truck pylons were located.

Even with the addition of the addresses and map, I am not sure that this is unprotected speech. The location of the court building is public information. Moreover, many groups have protested at the homes of judges and politicians. It will be interesting to see what the prosecutors cite as moving this speech over the line under Brandenburg. Obviously, this was a stupid and reprehensible statement made by an extremist. He may, however, have a viable free speech claim to raise with the court.

This is a signature form of speech for Turner. When judges ruled against white supremacist Matt Hale in 2005, Turner also publicized the names and addresses of the judges. In 2006, he used the same violent language with regard to disfavored politicians:

“We may have to ASSASSINATE some of the people you elect on Nov. 7! This could be your LAST ELECTION CHANCE, to save this Republic… Sorry to have to be so blunt, but the country is in mortal danger from our present government and our liberty is already near dead because of this government. If you are too stupid to turn things around with your vote, there are people out here like me who are willing to turn things around with guns, force and violence. We hope our method does not become necessary.”

In 2008, he called for direct violent against against Lexington, Massachusetts school superintendent Paul Ash for creating a curriculum supporting gays and lesbians:

“I advocate parents using FORCE AND VIOLENCE against Superintendent Paul B. Ash as a method of defending the health and safety of school children presently being endangered through his politically-correct indoctrination into deadly, disease-ridden sodomite lifestyles.”

This past use of such violent language could curiously support Turner to show that there is no imminent danger since no violence followed such writings over the years. It does seem that Turner has only two political responses in dealing with contemporary policy issues: professed agreement and assassination. However, the constitutional question is whether this is merely over-heated and juvenile language or an actual instigation of assassinations.

Ironically, Easterbrook and Posner are not liberal activists but conservative icons. Both are former law professors who have written highly influential works. In Posner’s case, he is viewed as the virtual father of the Law and Economics school. He writes a book roughly every thirty seconds, usually with the title “The Economic of . . . ” Indeed, I expect that next week we will see a new book entitled “The Economics of Imminent Threats.”

The decision by Easterbrook, Posner and Bauer on the gun ban may have pushed Turner over the edge, but it was a saving grace for Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, who has been under fire for her support of the same logic in a Second Circuit case, here.

For the full story, click here.

29 thoughts on “White Supremacist Leader Arrested for Threatening Federal Judges”

  1. Jill, Mike S., lottakatz and FFLEO, you are all very kind. It’s nice to know that the ability to plow through turbid prose almost daily for many years without dropping dead from accumulated ennui is appreciated in a small corner of cyberspace.

  2. Even actions can and should be protected IMO- I can find out where some political ‘enemy’ lives after calling for him/her to be hung for treason and show up on the sidewalk with a sign, and like minded people, to protest the politicians actions. Considering the treatment of some ‘pro-life’ groups, I can announce my demonstration in the form of a wanted poster, so long as I don’t announce it as a lynch party and for the purpose of actually killing the focus of my ire.

    Actually, if the proper disclaimers were contained therein, it could very probably be announced as a “lynch party”, a self-help exercise to demonstrate justice in keeping with American tradition in the absence of the state taking appropriate action to bring a miscreant politician to trial. Bring your own rope to SYMBOLICALLY illustrate the point. Much like a “Tea Party”.

    If I walked off the public sidewalk and onto that politician’s lawn though I’d expect to spend a night in jail for trespassing. If I did it every day and tried to get to his front door I’d expect a trespassing charge, surveillance and who knows what other statutes applied to my actions for the purpose of prosecution.

    I think one of the problems is that laws at hand aren’t used properly or are selectively used. The Tiller murderer was reported to the FBI several time shortly before he killed Dr. Tiller for vandalizing Dr. Tiller’s clinic (right up to the previous day as I recall) and the FBI did nothing. We naturally want another law to take care of the problem but what we need is dis-interested enforcement of the laws we have already. This paragraph is just a vagrant thought and not an attempt to turn the thread in a different direction.

    Thanks Mike for the synopsis of the Brandenburg v. Ohio decision. I too appreciate your posting it.

  3. Gila,

    We share the same concerns and I had meant to say I also was glad you joined in the discussion.

  4. I tend to agree with JT, et al, that Turner’s reprehensible actions have not risen to the level where prosecution is called for. However, what if someone actually acts on this and attempts violence on one of these judges? Is Turner then an accessory to the crime, or is he culpable under conspiracy laws?

    Mike A.,
    While you even backed down on the conclusions of your initial post, your provision of context was as usual concise
    and right on target. You always provide a clarity of vision and
    fairness in your writing that makes it a pleasure to read you.

  5. Thanks for what you wrote and wading through the legal opinion, Mike A.,

    Do you think it is also unlawful to surveil to him? I thought about that after my comment and wondered about it. Does he deserve to be surveilled? Our govt. has surveilled peaceful protestors as well as those who advocate violence.

  6. Sometimes my annoyance with the hate-filled rantings of the right, which have been incessant since the election of Pres. Obama, cause me to forget my constitutional bearings (after all, don’t we all sometimes want to squelch what some idiot has to say?) and my First Amendment heroes. In any event, as soon as I posted the comment, I realized that my response is a perfect example of why we need the First Amendment. Mr. Turner crossed MY line, but not the Constitution’s.

    As an act of penance I have re-read Brandenburg v. Ohio. It is actually a very short, succinct and unanimous opinion. Brandenburg reversed the conviction of a Ku Klux Klan member under Ohio’s criminal syndicalism statute, which prohibited advocating violence or criminal acts in the furtherance of political or industrial reform. The statute was unconstitutional because it criminalized mere advocacy. The test announced by the court is two-pronged: a. the speech must be “directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action,” and b. must be “likely to incite or produce such action.” The statements of Mr. Turner do not satisfy either prong of this test.

    As someone who is close to being a First Amendment absolutist, I am actually more comfortable with the concurring opinion of Justice Douglas in Brandenburg. He expressed discomfort with both the old “clear and present danger” test and the Brandenburg version of it, insisting that the only true protection for unpopular advocacy under the First Amendment is to recognize a distinction between advocacy and action, between speech and actual criminality. In my opinion, the advantage of this view is that it provides clarity and imposes an additional safeguard against the natural human tendency to find imminency during periods of civil unrest or political controversy, that is, during times in which fear is most likely to influence judgment in favor of suppression. Our history is riddled with those instances.

    In sum, I think Mr. Turner’s statements and postings are protected. Had he added, “Meet me and other like-minded individuals at the courthouse at noon today and we will storm the chambers and show these judges what we think of them,” the line would have been crossed. Had he added, “I have scheduled a meeting tonight where we will map out a plan for eliminating these judges,” the line would probably have been crossed. But, at least according to the report, he stopped short of taking or announcing any overt action in furtherance of his professed beliefs.

    The Brandenburg opinion also cites a wonderful reminder from Oliver Wendell Holmes on the purpose of free speech: “Every idea is an incitement. It offers itself for belief and if believed it is acted on unless some other belief outweighs it or some failure of energy stifles the movement at its birth. The only difference between the expression of an opinion and an incitement in the narrower sense is the speaker’s enthusiasm for the result.”

  7. Gila Rayberg,

    Welcome, I am pleased to have you join our discussion.

  8. Mr. O’Reily and Mr. Limbaugh et al. have a far wider audience than Mr. Turner and they are at least equally “culpable.” Up until 3.5 years ago, I listened to both men to gain a wider perspective. Although I am a conservative Republican, I cannot bear to listen to either man except during an occasional video view on HuffPo and other sites when they do/say something especially outrageous.

    Remember that with Dr. Tiller’s murderer, he not only spoke out he violated the FACE Act and broke other laws and was not arrested, although he clearly trespassed on the clinic property and glued doors shut, etc.

    Mr. Turner, to my knowledge, has not even come close to the *actions*–not just speech—the other man took before he killed Dr. Tiller.

    Let O’Reily Limbaugh, Turner et al. spout there hate because it continues to expose them. However, only arrest them for their actions or verifiable conspiracy plots of murder and/or other applicable crimes.

  9. What Turner & others like him espouse is sickening & scary. But so too, is arresting people that have not actually broken the law.

    I’m reading your responses with great interest on this one. I’m torn as to where we draw the line.

  10. Mike A.,

    Sorry man. I’m falling squarely in the mespo/FFLEO/Jill camp on this one. I think it’s stupid yet protected. If this guy was arrested, I want Bill-O arrested for aiding and abetting the murder of Dr. Tiller. Why? It’s not because of the Free Speech issues proper. At this point, it’s a question of equal application. If the two cases are factually similar as they seem to be (entertainers spouting stupidity), what’s more heinous? This guy being full of hot air and hyperbole that ended in what? Nothing? Maybe some hurt feelings or mild paranoia. Or Bill-O’s comparable rants that ended in murder? I’d really like to know why you think he should have been arrested. And do you think Bill-O should be cuffed for his role in Tiller’s killing?

  11. FFLEO,

    “Mr. Turner should have received increased, lawful surveillance and then arrested if he violated any law or became involved in an actionable conspiracy assignation plot/plan against these judges. Until that threshold, he has not crossed the line from free speech to action.”

    That makes sense to me but I would like to hear how Mike A. perceives that Mr. Turner crossed the line.

    Mike A.

    How did Mr. Turner cross the line?

    I want to hear everyone out on this.

  12. Hal Turner should be publicly scorned and ostracized by reasonable people everywhere, but he should *not* have been arrested. As Professor Turley stated previously, we want people like Turner to speak out to show up on the radar screen for potential closer police scrutiny, given the content of his speech.

    However, we do not want police actions against free speech regardless of how objectionable or irrational, in such cases. To do so will continue to limit free speech rights when someone in power has a different view—more conservative or more liberal—than you or I might espouse.

    Mr. Turner should have received increased, lawful surveillance and then arrested if he violated any law or became involved in an actionable conspiracy assignation plot/plan against these judges. Until that threshold, he has not crossed the line from free speech to action.

  13. Mr. Turner is a product of the age of the internet and talk radio. A generation ago he would have been relegated to hanging out in the woods with likeminded paranoids, drinking beer, cursing Jews and blacks and firing random rounds at imaginary enemies of the state. Then along came Rush Limbaugh, spiritual progenitor of a new class of commentators: uneducated xenophobes who deal with their private cowardice through arrogant bluster, self-righteous condemnations and hatred masked as opinion. The smart ones, like Mr. Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, make huge sums of money by cynically playing to a segment of the population that is unable to comprehend the enormous changes in the world and predisposed to believe anyone who preaches about the destruction of “our way of life.” They are the spiritual mentors to men like Hal Turner, providing encouragement and moral justification for those dwelling on the fringes of reality. And now that anyone can buy a microphone and start an internet radio program, the Hal Turners have come out of the woods and onto the airwaves.

    Mr. Turner has now crossed the line and will properly be held accountable. And he will undoubtedly be criticized by the Limbaughs and the Hannitys as an extremist lunatic. They will of course be technically correct in denying any responsibility for Mr. Turner’s actions, just as the right has denied responsibility for the murder of abortion doctors. But they are like drug dealers who aggressively market their poison, deny responsibility for the use of their products and mock the weakness of their addicted customers.

  14. rafflaw and mespo,

    I agree that this “speech” must be take serious. I have no problem with that. But is not the speech still protected? He may have crossed the line of moral decency. But would I want to start Anticipatory Arresting people who call to arms?

    What about the North Koreans living in America today? Should they all be arrested and detained because of Kim’s action of aggression against the US? Should only Korean Nationals who reside within the US Borders be detained?

  15. Something to watch out for. There’s a lot of hyping right now about right wing extremists. It reminds me of the bush years hyping of left wing extremists. It makes me nervous. Governments always need “enemies” to distract from their own misdeeds.

    After this story on NPR, the report went on to a new topic– another wealthy financier being brought up on charges for a ponzi scheme. I found the juxtaposition of how the stories were covered, interesting. We really do have quite a few “white collar crime scenes” going on right now, to include those in our govt. (as the info. on the Fed and Bank of America, to name one example of thousands, will show).

    What this man did is scary and there is an organized movement behind him. But the white collar criminals, many of whom work at the highest level of our govt., are quite dangerous and I am struck at the difference in how their actions are perceived.

    Jonathna, I don’t know if death threats coupled with tracking of movements should be tolerated as free speech. The two things together seem to me to fall into the category of action, not speech. Judges should be able to work without fear of being killed. I am all for loud and strong protest at the homes of anyone, but I think there is an additional consideration when death threats are added to the equation. I am thinking about what you wrote, and I’m going to take seriously what you and others with a differnt point of view on this say, but as of now, I think he did cross a line into action.

  16. This idiot got what he deserved. In light of the radical right’s recent call to arms, this threat must be taken seriously. He has the right to say just about anything, but calling for the murder of public officials is beyond the protection of the first amendment.

  17. Here’s a wonderful example of stupid, perverse, and irrational ideas being put into action. Maybe if our Nazi friend had been subjected to some public scorn early in life over these ideas, he’d be more restrained but alas he lives in a tolerant time. I see no free speech right to call for the death of another or to provide the means of effectuating that sentiment. As has been said many times, the Bill of Rights is not a suicide pact, nor, in my estimation, a shield for murderous intent. Turner’s words are a concrete offer for a hit, and if accepted he should be held accountable as an aider and abettor. But in the meantime, a charge of threatening the lives of federal judges is fine by me.

  18. Well, there is freedom of speech in the Constitution, but there are limitations. Posner himself has already that book on imminent threats.

    The title?

    Not a Suicide Pact: The Constitution in a Time of National Emergency

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