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Blogger Hal Turner Convicted of Threatening Judges

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By Laura Strachan, Esq. on August 17, 2010 1:02 PM

Ah the joys of blogging -- the informal style gives bloggers the ability to comment on virtually anything. But virtually anything still means that the laws of the physical world apply to the cyber world. Case in point: right-wing blogger Hal Turner has recently been convicted of threatening judges based on some inflammatory blog posts he made on his blog.

The offensive post was in response to a 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that upheld a gun ban in Chicago and Oak Park, Illinois. Not happy with the ruling by federal judges Richard Bauer, Frank Easterbrook, and Richard Posner, Turner took to his blog, writing: "The tree of liberty must be replenished from time to time with the blood of tyrants and patriots. Let me be the first to say this plainly: These judges must die. Their blood will replenish the tree of liberty," reports MSNBC. Turner also posted the judges' personal phone numbers and addresses.

The self-proclaimed "Conservative Internet Shock Jock" faces up to ten years in prison and a $250,000 fine for his cyber threat. This case shows the tension between free speech and threats. Although Turner has a right to publically comment on the ruling, he took his first amendment privileges too far by commenting on the rulers themselves. More than just fighting words, the threat against federal judges coupled with providing contact information was enough to seal the conviction in this case.

Whether online or in person, threatening language is not a form of protected speech. Unlike a verbal threat, comments made online are much easier to prove in a case like this because of the physical evidence of the statements. More alarming in this case were the number of comments posted by Turner's readers agreeing with his call for violence. Turner claims that his comments were part of a mission he was doing for the FBI. MSNBC adds the details behind his failed defense: Turner was acting as a paid informant by the FBI to find dangerous neo-Nazi and white-supremacist members of his audience for the government.

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