First Amendment Protects Neo-Nazi's Blog Post, Judge Rules

A federal judge was unequivocal in his ruling that the government has no case against the neo-Nazi leader it accused of encouraging violence against a jury foreman.

In a decision that will likely influence similar cases, the judge ruled that the free speech protections of the First Amendment allowed Bill White to post the foreman’s personal information on his blog. The foreman had served on the federal jury that in 2004 convicted white supremacist Matt Hale of seeking the murder of a federal judge.

White, 32, heads the American National Socialist Workers Party, which the Southern Poverty Law Center lists as a neo-Nazi hate group. He had been scheduled for trial in Chicago next month, but U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman this week dismissed the indictment charging White with soliciting harm against the juror. White still faces other federal charges in Virginia in connection with threats he allegedly made against other people.

“The posting of personal information about an individual involved in a judicial proceeding, even under circumstances that are intimidating or unsettling, cannot, absent a true threat or an incitement to imminent lawless action, be criminalized consistent with the First Amendment,” wrote Adelman in the 35-page decision.

White posted the birth date, address and phone numbers of the “gay anti-racist juror” and wrote that the juror “played a key role in convicting Matt Hale.” But Adelman noted that White in his posts never directly calls for violence against the juror. He also asserted that the First Amendment protects “scrutiny and criticism” of people involved in legal cases, including the publication of personal information.

“The decision is not surprising,” said SPLC President Richard Cohen. “But I don’t think that White is out of the woods yet. He’s posted a number of other things that probably go over the First Amendment line.”

In making their case against White, the government had alleged that he knew his website was frequented by white supremacists who sometimes harm people they view as traitors to the white race. But the fact that his audience included (potentially dangerous) white supremacists isn’t enough to conclude that the First Amendment doesn’t apply, Adelman said. “Knowledge or belief that one’s speech, even speech advocating law breaking, may cause others to act does not remove the speech from the protection of the First Amendment, unless the speech is directed to inciting imminent lawless action and is likely to produce such action,” he wrote.

The government also contended that, months before White wrote about the jury foreman, he posted personal information about other people he hoped would be harmed. But again, Adelman found that those posts don’t make his writings about the juror unlawful; in fact, they appeared to have no connection to the juror.

(Although not mentioned in Adelman’s decision, Dr. James Corcoran, a psychiatrist for the defense, testified at a detention hearing in December that he did not believe White was a danger to the community. However, he said he thought White suffered from a personality disorder. He said White exhibited “histrionic and narcissistic” behaviors such as his “excessive need of approval from other people” and “pervasive pattern or need for grandiosity.”)

Adelman discussed several past court decisions that support the right to reveal personal information, “even under threatening or intimidating circumstances.” Among them was a Supreme Court ruling that organizers of a boycott of white-owned businesses in Claiborne County, Miss., could not be held liable for publicizing the names of those who did not take part. Even making generalized threats against the non-participants was protected, so long as they didn’t lead to criminal action, the court ruled. “The fact that I might regard as noble the struggle of Mississippi blacks for equal treatment, and defendant’s views as reprehensible, is irrelevant to the constitutional analysis,” Adelman wrote. “Nevertheless, there is irony in the fact that defendant’s right to spread a message of white supremacy has, in large part, been secured by the efforts of African-Americans to obtain civil rights.”