OK, so here's a little mental exercise: Imagine, if you will, a fringe, radical Islamist radio talk-show host who operates on shortwave and thus reaches a modest audience somewhere on the Eastern Seaboard. And this talk-show host is known for making incendiary anti-American remarks on the air.
Not only is he inflammatory, he actually begins calling for violence, preferably assassination, to be inflicted on sitting judges and other authorities -- and then posts their home addresses on his Web site. The threats are serious enough for the State Patrol to begin providing protection for the members of the state Supreme Court.
Now, sit back and contemplate for a moment, if you can, the sea of foam that would come washing over the rest of us from the right blogosphere. It's the homegrown Jihadist threat!
One can also readily imagine the resulting harebrained coverage from the network talking heads: "Well, Brit, you could say that Mr. Jihadi is only a fringe nutcase with a tiny following, but some people say he actually is only the tip of the iceberg, as it were, of a much, much bigger homegrown Islamist threat!"
OK. Enough with the fantasizing. Here's the real-life case:
- The justices of the state Supreme Court have been under increased police protection for the last seven months after a self-proclaimed "pro-white" radio host from North Bergen made public their home addresses on his weekly Internet broadcast.
The personal information was released by Hal Turner, a onetime congressional candidate who claims an audience of skinheads, neo-Nazis and Klansmen, during a broadcast hours after the justices ruled in October that gay couples are entitled to form marriage-like civil unions.
Turner encouraged his listeners to call, write and visit the homes of four of the justices, including the then-chief justice, to show that "they can be gotten to."
The show led to a State Police probe that has yielded no charges. But police departments in the communities where the justices live were told to keep a close watch on their homes because some of their addresses had been released.
In Haddonfield, the hometown of Justice Roberto Rivera-Soto, police checked the area around his home 200 times between November and March, according to records obtained by The Star-Ledger. Rivera-Soto declined to comment.
John Wallace, the only African-American justice, whose address also was released, recalled that the Turner broadcast was followed by a threatening letter. "You think about it and you sort of move on," Wallace said. "It's something that's happened months ago, so it's behind us and nothing that we're focusing on."
The addresses of Wallace and Rivera-Soto were announced in addition to those of then-Chief Justice Deborah Poritz and Justice Barry Albin, who authored the gay unions decision.
The 4-3 ruling in Lewis vs. Harris said same-sex couples have the right to enter unions that are essentially marriages by a different name, and ordered the Legislature to amend marriage laws to make way for gay relationships.
Albin declined to comment yesterday.
Poritz, who disagreed with the majority opinion and said gay couples have the right to marry outright, said "I remember a couple of the justices talking about (the Turner broadcast) and expressing some concern, particularly those with children at home. If you're a judge, you worry but you do your job and go on with life."
State Police Capt. Al Della Fave said investigators probed "threats made against several justices, which never resulted in any charge." He said the decision not to file charges was made by the Attorney General's Office, but as a matter of official policy the State Police "make sure we communicate with local authorities" about threats against the justices and other high-ranking officials.
David Wald, a spokesman for Attorney General Stuart Rabner, declined to comment on the case, except to say "law enforcement is always evaluating threats to public officials."
Turner, in an interview this week, said "there certainly wasn't anything criminal suggested on the show, nothing suggesting they should be attacked or anything or harmed in any way. I haven't violated any laws."
But he also said he "wouldn't shed a tear" if the Supreme Court members were physically harmed.
In a recording provided by Turner of his Oct. 25 broadcast, he told his audience: "I fully expect now that I gave out the home addresses and phone numbers of the New Jersey Supreme Court that I will have the New Jersey State Police here tomorrow again. Well, I'm not going to shut up. I am not going to stop putting these ideas in people's heads because violence solves everything. And if some very angry people were to go down to some of those judges' houses and tune them up, oh sure, they might get thrown in jail, but that would send a shockwave to the rest of those (expletive) in black robes that they can be gotten to."
If all this sounds familiar, it should: Turner made a similar splash a couple of years ago when he issued similar threats against a different group of judges, one of whose families was attacked in an apparently unrelated incident. Nonetheless, Turner tried to claim some credit for the attack.
It's hard, as I've explained, to take someone like Turner seriously -- just as our fictional Jihadi would be relegated, rightly, to the fringes of our concerns. However, there is always the possibility that some listener out there will be inspired to act; the New Jersey State Patrol, in this case, is doing the wise and prudent thing.
And that, really, is the reason ordinary taxpayers should be outraged by cretins like Hal Turner: his free speech, such as it is, is not just costing them money, it is casting a violent shadow over the ordinary operations of their judiciary. Moreover, making threats has never been protected speech, and it is difficult to construe these actions as anything other than as a series of threats. Both the citizenry and the government should be well within their rights not only to stand up to this kind of hatefulness, but to take civil action against it.
In any event, Turner is at least always around to remind us that not every violence-mongering radical is a brown Islamist. The right-wing promoters of the homegrown Jihadi threat are fond, of course, of explaining the motivations of the Islamists simply: "They hate us! They hate America, and everything it stands for!"
Well, that's all probably true. But they're not alone.