Troubling — in so many ways

Posted on 08 Jun 2009 at 11:16am

I just read an Associated Press story about a blogger in New Jersey who has been arrested for inciting readers to “take up arms” against two state politicians.

According to the Connecticut State Capitol Police, Hal Turner in his blog encouraged his “Catholics in Connecticut to take up arms” against Connecticut State Sen. Andrew McDonald and State Rep. Michael Lawlor and “put this tyranny down by force,” because Turner was upset over the lawmakers’ vote on an issue dealing with Catholic parish finances.

Turner’s post went on to say, “It is our intent 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.”

My first reaction comes from a journalist’s point of view: The police are violating Mr. Turner’s freedom of speech.

But then I looked again, and I got a little queasy: Mr. Turner was encouraging people to assassinate two public officials. Just look at the recent murder of Dr. George Tiller and you’ll see a very obvious example of the effect that hate speech can have.

And it turns out, this isn’t the first time Mr. Turner has had a brush with the law because of the violence he has advocated. According to the AP story, the FBI questioned him in 2005 after the mother and husband of U.S. District Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow were found shot to death in Chicago. In an interview with The Associated Press at the time, Turner said he was questioned because two years earlier he had said on his radio show that Lefkow “was worthy of being killed.” He was not charged in connection with the crimes.

Two years ago, local police beefed up security for four state Supreme Court justices whose addresses Turner revealed in his weekly Webcast “to show they can be gotten to.” Turner released the information after the court ruled that gay couples were entitled to the same rights as married couples. He was not charged with any crime.

Mr. Turner’s attorney told the AP that this is “obviously a First Amendment, freedom speech issue.” But is it really? I mean, yes, we are guaranteed freedom of speech. But we ARE NOT allowed to shout “fire” in a crowded theater, right?

And isn’t Mr. Turner yelling “fire”? Only instead of warning of a blaze, it seems he is giving commands to an extremist firing squad.

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