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BROOKLYN, N.Y. — With the FBI paying for his plane ticket, white supremacist Hal Turner flew to Brazil on behalf of the National Alliance because a Brazilian had offered to donate money to the neo-Nazi group, a government witness testified today.
As the government began presenting its case during the second day of Turner’s trial, testimony from several FBI agents provided a glimpse into Turner’s former role as a confidential informant known as “Valhalla.” The blogger and Internet radio host is charged with threatening to assault and murder three federal judges in Chicago.
Motivated partly by money, Turner provided intelligence on leaders of prominent white supremacist groups, including the National Alliance and Aryan Nations, according to Special Agent Amy Pickett, who supervised the FBI agent handling Turner during Turner’s first two years as an informant. In one instance, his reports led to the arrest and conviction of an Aryan Nations leader, she said. “His information was always valid and true; he gave very good information,” Pickett said. She did not elaborate on Turner’s excursion to Brazil in early 2005. But according to FBI documents filed in federal court, the trip allowed Turner to identify 12 people of interest to the FBI, including an Arab who talked about doing business with Turner in order to provide supplies to Iraqi insurgents.
Pickett testified that Turner was instructed — both on his first day as an informant and yearly thereafter — that he would not receive immunity from investigation, arrest or prosecution. Turner was not authorized to take part in criminal activity and was warned against doing so, she said. Striking at the heart of the defense’s argument, she said the FBI never asked Turner to engage in violent rhetoric against public officials.
Despite his purported value as an informant, Turner had an on-again, off-again relationship with the FBI. After the February 2005 murder of federal judge Joan Lefkow’s mother and husband at the judge’s home in Chicago, Turner took credit for inciting someone to kill her family and suggested that three other judges could be next. (As it turned out, the slayings were not connected to white supremacy.) When his handler asked Turner to remove a request for the home information of the three judges from his blog, Turner wrote a letter of resignation to the FBI, saying the bureau was using its relationship with him to meddle with his website. His handlers ceased contact with him, but they were sure he’d be back. “We didn’t think he could go that long without being an informant for the FBI,” said Pickett. Sure enough, Turner contacted the bureau and resumed serving as an informant in May 2005.
Turner was also admonished after he linked his blog to the home address of the primary witness at the trial of neo-Nazi leader Matt Hale, who was accused of soliciting the murder of Lefkow during a copyright trial involving his group, the World Church of the Creator. The day of Hale’s 2004 conviction, rival white supremacist Bill White posted what he thought was the home address of Tony Evola, who had served as a confidential informant in the Hale case and subsequently testified as the key witness at Hale’s trial, according to testimony from FBI special agent Sara Lopez. Turner removed the link from his blog at the urging of his FBI handler. (White, who after these events went on to join the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement, and later to start his own American National Socialist Workers Party, is to be tried next week on charges of making threats over the Internet in a case that is remarkably similar to Turner’s.)
Turner was cooperative when agents came to his home on June 24 to execute a search warrant — his wife even made coffee that she offered the visitors — and sat down at his dining room table to talk about the posts he’d made earlier that month saying the judges “deserve to be killed.” “He said he intended no harm to anyone,” FBI Special Agent Mark Wallschlaeger testified. “He said he understood he’d be culpable if anyone hurt the judges based on his blog.”
As prosecutors worked to show that the government did not sanction Turner’s hateful posts, a New Jersey mayor was demanding that the FBI reimburse his city $80,000 to cover the cost of police overtime and other expenses associated with Turner’s November 2005 rally in Kingston, N.Y. Mayor James Sottile told The Daily Freeman that he decided to make the request after reading that Turner was serving as an FBI informant when the rally took place. “I think the FBI needs to be held accountable,” Sottile said. The FBI said it had not yet received the request.
The government will continue presenting evidence tomorrow.