Sunday, March 13, 2005

Hal Turner: The right's Ward Churchill

One of the real consequences of the right-wing transmission belt is that it has an amplifying effect. It's often described as an echo chamber, but what actually occurs is more of a two-sided dynamic of upwardly spiraling ugliness: the mainstream "transmitters" indulge in a little bit of rhetorical nastiness, and soon those on the extremist right are playing the same tune, but even more hatefully, more viciously, more ... fascistically.

They keep pushing the envelope, and after awhile, they can't push any farther without becoming explicit bigots and unmistakable fascists. So they push farther anyway.

Usually, Michael Savage provides some of the more vivid examples of this amplification -- as when he said of the tsunami disaster, "It's not a tragedy. I wouldn't call it a tragedy." However, Savage occupies a somewhat unique space somewhere exactly in between the mainstream and genuine extremism; most "transmitters" tend to align more clearly with movement conservatism (see especially Rush Limbaugh) or the extremist far right.

One of the most repugnant of these latter figures is the fellow who pushed himself to the fore during last week's investigation into the murders of a federal judge's husband and mother in Chicago: Hal Turner.

Turner's case is particularly instructive, because he not only is unusually -- even eagerly and proudly -- vile, he also has history of activity within the Republican Party. On top of that, he reportedly has (or had) a friendship with one of the conservative media's leading figures: Limbaugh Jr. himself, Sean Hannity.

What it illustrates is how the dynamic of the transmission belt works: the extremist side of the equation provides the mainstream right-wing agitators with a fresh supply of outrage and talking points, and the mainstream connections give the far right a legitimacy, a connection with the larger political discourse, they would not otherwise have.

During the 1990s, Turner made a habit of calling into Hannity's WABC radio program as "Hal from North Bergen," one of the show's regular callers. "Hal" liked to say increasingly outrageous things: in August 1998, according to the One People's Project profile [Google cache],
he remarked on Hannity's show that "if it weren't for the white man, blacks would still be swinging from the trees in Africa." Hannity not only failed to rebuke "Hal" for the remark, he continued plugging into Turner whenever he called.

Turner in fact had a history of quasi-racist activism, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which profiled Turner last year:
As early as 1994, he was defending racism, holding a rally for New York radio talk show host Bob Grant, who had been fired from his show for making racist comments about blacks. In the late 199s, Turner often called in to local radio shows as "Hal from North Bergen," telling their hosts things like, "The problem with police brutality is that cops don't use it enough."

All this culminated in 2000, when Turner stepped forward to run for the Republican nomination for Congress in his home district in New Jersey. He appeared on Hannity's Fox News program and received his old friend's endorsement. Turner himself has claimed that during this time, he and Hannity were "good friends." Hannity himself has since remained mum on the subject -- because as noxious as Turner may have been before 2000, afterward, his true stripes became unmistakable.

Turner lost that race, and it became something of a turning point for his ideological career. Where before his bigotry had been of the "edgy" variety, he soon openly embraced the ideology of various hate groups and white supremacists, as the SPLC explained:
In 2000, Turner sought the local Republican nomination for Congress, and was enraged when GOP leaders instead supported Theresa de Leon, a dark-skinned Hispanic who was the chief financial officer for New York's Legal Aid Society and the mother of 10 children. It was at this moment that Turner had a reported "epiphany," deciding the system was rigged against white men and abandoning all ties to the mainstream.

Not long after, he started up "The Hal Turner Show," renting time on shortwave radio maverick Allan Weiner's WBCQ, located in Monticello, Maine.

Building up a substantial audience and paying for the five-nights-a-week, two-hour show with advertising and donations, he became a favorite of many on the radical right, including several in the neo-Nazi National Alliance*. After neo-Nazi World Church of the Creator* leader Matt Hale was arrested in late 2002 for allegedly soliciting the murder of a federal judge, Turner openly supported Hale.

"I don't think killing a federal judge in these circumstances would be wrong," he said, referring to the judge's ruling against Hale's group in a copyright dispute over its name. "It may be illegal, but it wouldn't be wrong."

Turner's reptilian nature, of course, was revealed for all to see this past week as he expanded on the earlier remarks -- "I have rendered an opinion that what she did on the bench makes her worthy of being killed, yeah" -- as well as posting "Gotcha!" over a picture of Judge Lefkow after the killings in her home by someone, it turned out, who had no connection to the white-supremacist movement.

This isn't the first time that Turner has threatened judges. As Farmer at Corrente details, citing Daryle Jenkins' One People's Project material:
In one instance he has threatened to incite people to "dispense revenge" on Federal Judge Maryanne Trump Barry and New Jersey NAACP officials and their attorneys after a fire in North Bergen claimed the lives of four people in 1998. Turner charged the NAACP with the deaths because they filed an anti-discrimination lawsuit against the local fire department. Barry was the judge who presided and imposed a hiring freeze on the department until the matter was resolved. After the fire, Turner, a real estate agent with access to the names and addresses of virtually everyone who lives in the state, wrote a letter that appeared on (now Google) that said that he was going to release the names and addresses of Barry, the NAACP officials, and their lawyers to the families of the fire victims. "It would be interesting to see how those families dispense revenge on those who are really responsible for the deaths of their loved ones, he wrote."

At other times, Turner has voiced other kinds of extremism, as when he defended the Bush side in the 2000 election by openly advocating civil war if Al Gore were to win the then-contested outcome of the Florida vote:
Not since the early 1860's, prior to the Civil War, has the US population been so divided and openly talking about violent civil warfare. Radio callers are making unprecedented open and public calls to employ the Second Amendment (right to keep and bear arms) to protect the integrity of the Constitution and of the Bush election.

This election has pitted brother against brother, parent against child, young against old, white against black, Gentile against Jew. The anger is palpable and the situation grows steadily worse.

An examination of Turner's record reveals a long and sordid history of all kinds of outrageous remarks, particularly those expressing the ugliest kind of racial bigotry. This is how Turner "pushes the envelope." But it is the open advocacy of the intimidation of judges by invading their personal lives in a way that purposely exposes them to the threat of violence.

Turner did this last week, too, publishing the names and office addresses of three federal judges who ruled in the same case in which Lefkow was involved with Hale, and vowing to publish their home addresses. It's possible to do this while advocating merely for civil protests, as Turner claimed to be doing -- he even added a disclaimer urging everyone not to break any laws.

But it's not possible to do this while simultaneously celebrating -- which is to say, condoning and encouraging -- the murders of Judge Lefkow's family members. It's not possible to claim you are merely advocating nonviolent protests when you make it clear that you see the killer as having carried out a "comeuppance," and that you believe some judges "deserve to die."

It was this moment that should have crystalized, in the national consciousness, just what it is these people stand for: they openly condone, and indeed encourage, the use of criminal violence as a way of intimidating (or "sending a message to") the nation's judiciary.

Here's Turner's message, in a nutshell: "Nice family you got there, judge. Be a shame if anything should happen to it."

Could you imagine the uproar if, say, a spokesman for radical Islam did the same on the airwaves? Hell, we wouldn't stand for it if it were the Mob.

And could you imagine what would happen if such a figure had run as a Democrat for Congress? If he had a long-term friendship with a prominent "liberal media" figure?

We already have an idea what would happen in terms of law enforcement. The case of Sherman Austin -- arrested for merely having a link on his Web site to another site that discussed bomb making, something that would have gotten half the Patriot movement in trouble back in the 1990s -- does not compare favorably with Turner's.

An even more germane comparison, though, is to Ward Churchill. The right has been eagerly trying to drape Churchill around the left's neck for the past several months, even though he has no connection to Democrats or prominent liberals, and no one on the left seriously endorses his views.

The same can't be said of Turner. Indeed, it seems to me that people like Sean Hannity, who have made Turner's career possible, have a lot to answer for in this regard.

It's possible that Hannity has severed all ties with Turner, and disavows any prior relationship with him now. If that's so, though, we don't know, because he refuses to say. But we do know that, even before Turner went completely off the deep end, he engaged in nakedly racist banter even on Hannity's show and not only suffered no consequences, but used the reputation gained from that kind of outrageousness to run for Congress and to launch his own talk-show career.

Maybe a gentle letter-writing campaign will produce some answers. Hannity's e-mail address at Fox is You can also send him e-mail at this page. However, these kinds of form e-mails have a history of being giant black holes, especially for those impertinent enough to ask pointed questions.

You might have better luck by also contacting his superiors at Fox at the various addresses here.

Did Sean Hannity help launch the career of a notorious racist and hatemonger who has called for terroristic retaliation against federal judges? Is he still personal friends with this moral reprobate?

Discerning viewers want to know. Especially after having their own decency and patriotism impugned, over the last several years, by the likes of Sean Hannity.

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