Sandy Hook

Sandy Hook

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Hal Turner: Limits of Free Political Speech

Believe it or not, Glenn Beck is not the only hatemonger with mashed potatoes for brains – and without the parsley, thank you. There’s another in the person of Hal Turner, an Internet radio talk show host from New Jersey. This guy is on a vicious mission to spew hate and racism wherever and however he can. But his case might just test the limits of free political speech.

In 2000 Turner ran for the Republican party’s nomination to New Jersey’s 13th district congressional seat against Theresa de Leon, a dark-skinned Hispanic. He lost and he has not been a happy camper since. Like most right-wingers, Turner seems to get angry when he loses – especially to one of them “furiners”.

He moved from politics to radio and then to webcasting. What better way to vent your anger than by broadcasting it? The guy loves to hate Jews, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and whites like me. But he didn’t have much more luck with broadcasting than he did with playing politics. His website was closed down in August 2008 and Google recently yanked his blog out from under him.

Interestingly enough, in 2008 word surfaced that Turner allegedly spent several years as a paid informant for the FBI, providing them with information on – get this – right-wing extremists. Now he is a guest of the feds for his own brand of extremist ranting.

After Connecticut lawmakers introduced a bill in June giving Roman Catholic lay members more control over their parishes’ finances, Connecticut’s Capitol Police arrested and charged Turner with inciting injury after he urged his website readers to “take up arms” against two state legislators and an ethics official.

Less than a month later, on June 24, Turner was arrested again but on a far more serious charge. Wired reports that:

According to court documents, after a three-judge panel of the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit of Appeals upheld a Chicago handgun ban, he blogged that the judges should be “killed.”
“Let me be the first to say this plainly: These judges deserve to be killed. Their blood will replenish the tree of liberty. A small price to pay to assure freedom for millions,” he wrote on his blog ( on June 2, the day of the ruling, according to court documents. A day later he posted addresses, photos, maps and other identifying information about Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook and Judges Richard Posner and William Bauer, the authorities said.

Peter Slevin of The Washington Post writes that the FBI found three semiautomatic handguns, a shotgun and 350 rounds of ammunition in his North Bergen, N.J. home. “Too dangerous to be free,” said a U.S. magistrate when he denied bail. Frankly, if I had Turner in my courtroom he’d be shackled inside an iron cage, with chained clamps attached to his nose and he wouldn’t be allowed to even pee.

Slevin asserts that “Turner's case is likely to test the limits of political speech at a time when incendiary talk is proliferating on broadcast outlets and the Internet, from the microphones of well-known commentators to the keyboards of anonymous netizens.”

"Law enforcement's challenge every day is to balance the civil liberties of the United States citizen against the need to investigate activities that might lead to criminal conduct," Joseph Persichini Jr., chief of the FBI's Washington field office, told reporters. "No matter how offensive to some, we are keenly aware expressing views is not a crime and the protection afforded under the Constitution cannot be compromised."

My gut reaction is that “expressing one’s opinion” is far removed from inciting people to riot or urging them to cause bodily harm. But I’m no legal expert. David L. Hudson Jr., is a First Amendment scholar who has just published a paper for The First Amendment Center on the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decisions on freedom of political speech.

The most significant decision came in 1969 in the case of Ku Klux Klan member Clarence Brandenburg in Brandenburg v. Ohio.

The case began after Brandenburg telephoned a reporter at a Cincinnati television station and invited him to a rally. A reporter and cameraman attended the event and filmed it. It featured about a dozen Klansmen — some of whom carried guns — standing around a burning wooden cross. Brandenburg gave a speech in which he uttered disparaging remarks about blacks and Jews. He also said: “We’re not a revengent organization, but if our President, our Congress, our Supreme Court, continues to suppress the white, Caucasian race, it’s possible that there might have to be some revengeance taken.”

The Court determined in Brandenburg that “the constitutional guarantees of free speech and free press do not permit a State to forbid or proscribe advocacy of the use of force or of law violation except where such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.”

The result was a unanimous opinion issued by the Court (as opposed to being signed by a particular justice) that led to a sweeping victory for Brandenburg. The Court determined that the Ohio law punished mere advocacy and failed to distinguish between abstract advocacy and true incitement to imminent lawless action.

The so-called Brandenburg incitement test or Brandenburg exception provides much First Amendment protection for controversial speech — particularly political speech that challenges existing government and law.


Orcinus, "Hal Turner: The Right's Ward Churchill." A chronology and description of Turner’s bizarre extremist activities. It only goes through 2005 but is well worth the read.

Wikipedia's biography of Hal Turner - one of the most disorganized biographies I've ever seen.

Turner's family shut down his web blog on June 30, 2009. But never fear - there are a couple of new ones. The Family of Hal Turner and Free Hal Turner, which claims to have no direct contact with anyone in the Turner family. Interesting claim since they sport the same mailing address, the same fund-raising charts and the same propaganda video. One thing they do have in common - they're both illiterate as hell.


  1. "...and he wouldn’t be allowed to even pee.

    Cold, Leslie. Cold.

  2. Well, I could have put the clip somewhere else.