After two attempts to convict Hal Turner of threatening federal judges ended in mistrials, the government last Friday finally made it stick — despite the fact that the neo-Nazi blogger had served as an FBI informant for years. A sentencing date was not set, but Turner faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000.
Turner, who worked as an FBI informant between 2003 and 2007, consistently insisted that his June 2009 Internet threats were merely political hyperbole of the sort that he claimed his FBI handlers had once encouraged. And in two earlier trials, in December 2009 and last March, jurors failed to convict him. They were apparently confused by testimony that left it unclear if Turner was acting at the behest of authorities and whether or how real his threats were.
But on Friday, jurors took only two hours to decide that Turner was guilty of making serious threats against three federal appeals court judges who upheld a ban on handguns in Chicago. Unlike in the earlier trials, Turner’s direct FBI supervisor, Steven Haug, testified, denying that he had told Turner to “ratchet up his rhetoric” to help the FBI find the killer of a federal judge’s family in another case. Haug said Turner was a “control” problem for the FBI, but also testified that he was an important asset because of his star status in the white supremacist world.
When Turner’s relationship with the FBI was first disclosed in January 2008, the agency was sharply criticized for running an informant who seemed to be creating far more danger to the public than he was averting. Those comments were published on this blog, which also was the first to confirm Turner’s informant status.
In the postings that drew the federal charges, Turner, who was already widely known for his vitriolic Internet postings and threats, said of the three judges, “If they are allowed to get away with this by surviving, other judges will act the same way.” He also wrote: “Let me be the first to say this plainly: These judges must die. Their blood will replenish the tree of liberty.” The next day, Turner updated the post to include the names, work addresses, phone numbers, and photographs of the three judges. He also added a photograph of their courthouse that was modified to show the locations of “anti-truck bomb barriers.”
Turner, who showed little reaction to the verdict, was immediately returned to custody. His wife, Kathy Diamond, told reporters, “There goes the First Amendment for everybody.” His 16-year-old son said, “I love you, Dad.”