Court: Neo-Nazi’s web posting not protected speech

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inthecourts

A white supremacist solicited violence against a juror by posting the man’s address, phone number and other personal details on his extremist website, a U.S. appellate court has ruled in Illinois.

The court overturned a lower court’s decision to toss the neo-Nazi’s conviction on the grounds that his posts were protected by the First Amendment.

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago concluded that the posts by William A. White – who gained notoriety in 2008 for seeming to invite the assassination of then-presidential candidate Barack Obama on the same website – were not subject to the shield that the U.S. Constitution extends to most speech.

Even though White didn’t explicitly instruct anyone to attack the juror when he posted the data on the website, the appellate judges said White’s loyal readers would have known that was just what he meant in the context of other threats, including against Obama.

The juror White singled out served as the foreman in a 2005 trial that convicted another white supremacist of soliciting the murder of a federal judge in Chicago.

In its unanimous 30-page ruling, the three-judge panel agreed that the First Amendment “protects even speech that is loathsome.” But the judges said “criminal solicitations are simply not protected.”

White, from Roanoke, Va., should proceed to sentencing and not get a new trial, the judges wrote.

He faces a prison term of up to 10 years, though a sentencing date hasn’t been set. He is currently serving the last months of a prison term that arose from a separate conviction for intimidation.

An attorney for the self-professed leader of the American National Socialist Workers Party sharply criticized the ruling, saying appellate judges were swayed by his client’s widely reviled racial and political views, not by sound legal theory.

“I think they used hatred towards my client to apply the facts as they wanted to apply the facts,” Chicago-based attorney Nishay Sanan said in a telephone interview.

Sanan favors an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, saying he would argue that the First Amendment protects Internet postings such as White’s. But he said White would make the final decision about further legal action.

In 2011, White was convicted of one count of solicitation for publishing the juror’s name, photograph, home address, phone numbers and sexual orientation on his website; he even posted the name of the juror’s cat. Prosecutors had said his threats against the juror had struck at the heart of the U.S. justice system.

U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman reversed White’s conviction later in 2011, finding that his posts weren’t explicit enough to cross the line into unprotected speech. But the appeals court said Friday that White’s followers would have immediately understood he wanted the juror to be harmed, precisely because White had recently threatened Obama and others.

“Readers of (White’s website) were not casual Web browsers,” the ruling states. “But extremists molded into a community by the Internet – loyal and avid readers who, whether or not they remember every specific solicitation to assassination, knew that (the website) identified hateful enemies who should be assassinated.”

The posting about Obama included a photograph of him with swastika-shaped crosshairs superimposed over his face and the words, “White people must deny (him) the presidency ... by any means necessary.” White was never charged in relation to those postings.

White’s website regularly attacked nonwhites, Jews and gays and expressed approval for acts of violence. But he no longer has control of postings to the website.