Hal Turner's right to speak ends with death threats

Today's arrest of Hal Turner, a white supremacist, for threatening to murder three federal appeals court judges in Chicago is expected to set off the usual hand wringing among bloggers about threats to free speech.

Bunk.

He used his web site to call for the killing of three federal judges in Chicago. The Chicago Breaking News Center reported that the U.S. Attorney here accused Turner of posting the judge's names, photos and addresses, with such statements as "Let me be the first to say this plainly; These judges deserve to be killed." Their offense? They upheld ordinances banning handguns in Chicago and Oak Park.

Hunter's previous brush with the law over using such language on his site has set him chattering about the need to protect his "right to free speech." He screeched:
 

How would this affect you? Simple: People you never met, in places you've never been, can take offense to something you write on the Internet and have you jailed in THEIR state for it! Do you see the risk now? Do you understand how important this case is going to be?

The case in question then involved criminal charges against him filed by Connecticut for couple of weeks ago for "incitement to harm persons or property," a felony for which he could get one to ten years in prison. It stemmed from a posting a few weeks ago from his blog in his New Jersey home, in which he called Connecticut officials "tyrannical" and said citizens should "take up arms to put down this tyranny."

Not quite as bad as calling down a death sentence on three federal judges and helping violent nuts locate them; perhaps it might more properly fall under the classification as sedition, a word that hasn't been heard in these parts for years.

Well-established case law holds that the right of free speech, just as every other right such as bearing arms, is not absolute or unlimited. (The right to abortion is just about the only one that some would have us believe doesn't need to be balanced with any other persons' rights, but that's another story.)

Turner's blog proclaims "Free Speech: No Matter who Doesn't Like It!" He and his supporters will break out the heavy rhetoric about some fanciful government conspiracy to yank away our fundamental rights, such as free speech. Internet purists will claim that any restrictions on what is said digitally is entitled to special protections.

Maybe, as the Internet moves out of its adolescence and into adulthood, we'll understand and acknowledge that the Internet is just another form of communication that merits no special exemptions to law and decency.

 

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    Chicago Tribune contributing op-ed columnist and author of forthcoming historical novel, "Madness: The War of 1812." Reporter, editor and columnist for Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Daily News. Freelance writer and editor.

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