Did Hal Turner Cross the Free Speech Line?

It really was a toss up, whether to talk about now disgraced South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (I’m guessing he’ll soon be ex-Gov.) or a guy that’s much closer to home, Hal Turner.

Don’t know the name? Neither did I until recently. Hal Turner is a white supremacist blogger based in North Bergen, NJ. In addition to being arrested on charges he encouraged violence against two Connecticut lawmakers, he now stands charged with threatening three Chicago based federal judges.

One thing’s for sure. Hal Turner  gets around. He used to have an Internet radio program where he seemed to advocate violence against people he disagreed with.

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Yet it’s his blog that seems to arouse the interest of law enforcement. In the Connecticut case, for example, his targets were two lawmakers who introduced a bill that would have created a mechanism for monitoring how the Catholic Church handles its finances.

In his blog, Turner said he “advocates Catholics in Connecticut take up arms and put down this tyranny by force. It is our intention to foment direct action against these individuals personally. These beastly government officials should be made an example of as a warning to others in government: Obey the Constitution or die”. And that was just in Connecticut.

My blood runs cold when I see this guy described in articles as a radio host. Still, I have to examine in my own mind whether Hal Turner’s speech, at least in the Connecticut case, is protected by the First Amendment. That’s because I tend to be absolute about the right of free speech.

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As my brother Clayton once told me, “You can’t be halfway for the First Amendment”. Yet somehow, encouraging people to go out and kill a state senator and assemblyman just sounds cowardly.

If Hal Turner’s blog postings in Connecticut don’t appear to be criminal on their face, his rant about the federal appeals court judges is beyond the pale. This time Turner allegedly wanted to retaliate for a recent ruling that upholds handgun bans in Chicago and a nearby suburb. Again, from Turner’s blog. “Let me be the first to say this plainly: These judges deserve to be killed“. Turner then posted photos of the judges, phone numbers , their work address and room numbers.

This could get him ten years in prison if convicted. Hal Turner may find the First Amendment doesn’t shield everything, least of all calling for the assassination of judges. Turner also posted a chilling reference to the 2005 killings of the mother and husband of Illinois federal judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow. Maybe he should have considered leaving America and settling in a country that applauds those who advocate hatred and death. Such places do exist.

So, after all these years, I finally found a case where free speech has been taken too far.

What do you think? Did Hal Turner cross the line of free speech?

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Obama a US Citizen? Some in Congress Still Doubt

So you thought the right wing crazies who questioned President Obama’s citizenship during last year’s campaign folded their tents and went home? Guess again.

And to make matters worse, some of these people actually walk around Congress as elected officials!

Consider Rep. Bill Posey, Republican of Florida. He’s introduced a bill that would require candidates for president to supply their birth certificates to the Federal Elections Commission in order to be eligible to run.

At first, his bill had little support. Now, however, others have jumped on the bandwagon. Three members of the House from Texas, John Culberson, John Carter and Randy Neugebauer, along with Rep. Robert Goodlatte of Virginia have signed on as co-sponsors. Last week Georgia Congressman John Campbell joined the “I wanna see a birth certificate” movement. Sen. Tom Coburn says he’ll support the bill if it reaches the Senate.

What color is the sky in their world? Neugebauer told a Texas talk show host he’s “never seen him produce documents that would say one way or another”. Hello?

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Factcheck.org has done the research these dolts haven’t got the brains to do themselves. They found Obama’s birth announcement in a local paper, and a copy of the certificate with a raised seal and the stamp of the state registrar. That won’t deter these people, however. They’ll simply say they’re forgeries.

Then there’s World Net Daily. The conservative site has reportedly begun fundraising for billboards across the country questioning Obama’s citizenship. What this all boils down to is the simple fact that some people will never be satisfied that this president is in fact a US citizen. Like their friends who continue to trumpet his middle name as if it’s some call to jihad (like he had a choice in the matter), these mental midgets have a vested interest in portraying Barack Obama as the Other.

It is precisely the Other that has left a stain across the legacy of this great nation. In many cases, the Other was based on race or ethnicity. That component simply can’t process the notion of a black president. However, when politicians get involved, you’ve got to figure there’s another motive here, one of speaking to the worst in America for the sake of grabbing or maintaining powder.

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Those members of Congress who are dumb enough to sponsor or co-sponsor a bill requiring a birth certificate to run for president are frighteningly transparent. That’s why, unless I miss my guess, the bill will only be a topic of conversation on right wing radio and television. That, after all, is where the “Obama’s not a citizen” movement got its start.

Am I nuts here? Do you think this bill has any chance of passing? You tell me.

NB: Thanks to Think Progress for the info on this.

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Who's Afraid of the Voting Rights Act?

Monday’s Supreme Court Decision on a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act seems to have caught the civil rights community by surprise. The high court affirmed, for the time being, the validity of Section Five of the Act, which requires a pre-clearance before a municipality covered by it can bail out of it. The decision, however, seems to have raised as many questions as it answered.

The court allowed a Texas jurisdiction covered by the Voting Rights Act to opt out, largely because it had no past history of discrimination against black voters.

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At the same time, they punted on the constitutionality of the Act itself. Maybe that’s because Congress passed an extension back in 2006, and  an 8-1 majority decided they didn’t want to be the ones that struck it down. The ruling did allow for challenges in the future, and make no mistake, those will come, and come quickly.

There are those who would argue that the election of Barack Obama makes the Voting Rights Act obsolete (knock wood, the court wasn’t one of them).

What nonsense! One need only look at various attempts (mostly by Republicans) to pass voter ID laws to realize that attempts to disenfranchise people of color and the poor are alive and well.

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Chief Justice Roberts was right when he said “The South has changed”. That, however, would mandate an update of Section 5, not gutting the Act itself.

Isn’t it ironic that some of the same politicians who criticize President Obama for not being forceful enough in speaking out about elections in Iran want to gut a law that provided for free and fair elections here?

And what specific harm has the Voting Rights Act done to America?

Has it disenfranchised Americans, as was the practice of many jurisdictions prior to 1965? Has the Justice Dept. been accused of using Section Five (or any other section for that matter) in an arbitrary manner?

No, the effort here, and on the part of some conservatives in Congress, was to eviscerate the Act before the redistricting that will come with next year’s census. Some states, free of the Act and on the brink of passing voter ID laws, could draw legislative lines that could make it that much more difficult to elect people of color. Some of those places are not in the South. But then, the Voting Rights Act didn’t just cover the South.

I’ve posted my personal mea culpa on this blog in the past to those who sounded the alarm about the Act back before Congress extended it. It wasn’t that I thought it wasn’t needed, I just never thought Congress would let it lapse without renewal. I may have been right about that, but I was wrong about the need for continued vigilance. If the recent p;ast has taught us anything, it’s that taking rights for granted can sometimes lead to them vanishing before our eyes.

What do you think? Was Monday’s Supreme Court ruling on the Voting Rights Act a victory?

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