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Roanoke Times: Did Neo-Nazi White go too far this time?


Toe Jam

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http://www.roanoke.com/news/roanoke/wb/181798

From behind his computer screen, William A. White has called the Roanoke NAACP president a "n----- in need of lynching." He's written that Roanoke Times journalists should be dragged from their homes and hanged "1898 style in the Market Square." He's described himself as both the commander of a white supremacy movement and a depressed man with an urge to "kill, kill, kill."

Federal authorities have been investigating White's online ranting for more than a year now.

But the only charge against him so far comes from a federal grand jury in Chicago. Last week, White was indicted on a charge of encouraging violence against the foreman of a jury that in 2004 convicted a fellow white supremacist of soliciting the murder of a Chicago judge

White's modus operandi -- posting on his Web site personal attacks on the juror along with his home address and telephone numbers -- is similar to what he's done with his Roanoke targets.

So how did a Sept. 11 post about the Chicago juror lead to the jailing of a neo-Nazi leader who, by most accounts, had managed to tiptoe along the boundary between free speech and illegal threats?

It seems that White picked a fight with the wrong person.

Although it appears he made no explicit threats, White's decision to target a juror exposes him to a charge of obstruction of justice, legal and First Amendment experts said in interviews last week.

"Even if it's not a threat, if it does cause a clear and present danger to the operation of the judicial system ... then that kind of speech can be proscribed," said Wat Hopkins, a communications law professor at Virginia Tech.

If someone tries to intimidate a juror, the thinking goes, that's a threat not just to an individual, but to an institution.

"Not to downplay the other threats at all," said Scott Sundby, a law professor at Washington and Lee University who specializes in criminal law and juries. "But if we can't count on people to serve as jurors and render their honest opinions without fear, the criminal justice system itself becomes endangered."

Technically, White is charged with soliciting others to injure or threaten someone identified only as Juror A. But a line in the indictment alleges that the solicitation was "on account of a verdict assented to by Juror A," citing an obstruction of justice law that deals with jury tampering.

"The government certainly has a plausible case" by taking such a tack, said Brian Levin, a California lawyer and criminal justice professor who heads the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism.

Even so, White -- who at a bond hearing last week described himself as a tabloid journalist who mixes satire with mockery -- may seek some protection under the First Amendment.

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