CHICAGO (CN) - The 7th Circuit reinstated the conviction of a white supremacist who solicited a crime of violence against a juror by posting online comments that identified him.
William White is the creator and operator of Overthrow.com, a website affiliated with the American National Socialist Workers Party, a white supremacist group.
The site regularly featured posts about fellow white supremacist Matthew Hale, who is serving 40 years in prison for trying to solicit the murder of U.S. District Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow.
In 2005, White wrote that "everyone associated with the Matt Hale trial has deserved assassination for a long time." This post included the names of federal agents, prosecutors and others involved in Hale's arrest.
Three years later, White posted the name, address, phone number and a photo of Mark Hoffman, the jury foreperson in Hale's trial. The government submitted two of the posts about Hoffman into evidence. One has the subheading "Gay Jewish Anti-Racist Led Jury," and another is titled "The Juror Who Convicted Matt Hale."
Hoffman, a former assistant dean at the Northwestern School of Education and Social Policy, reported receiving crude text messages and one harassing phone call, but there were no death threats or attempts on his life.
The government indicted White, claiming that he had violated federal law by attempting to incite violence against Hoffman. But U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman concluded otherwise and dismissed the indictment.
On appeal, the 7th Circuit reinstated White's indictment, finding that there was a valid dispute over the intent of the online remarks. If White intended for others to harm Hoffman, and such harm was likely, the First Amendment would not protect White.
"Although First Amendment speech protections are far-reaching, there are limits ... asking another to commit a crime [is a] punishable act," the appellate panel wrote in June 2010.
Though a jury convicted White, Adelman granted him a judgment of acquittal in April 2011.
"The words defendant used in his three posts about Mark Hoffman did not expressly solicit anyone to harm Hoffman," Adelman wrote. "Indeed, they did not suggest or imply that anyone do anything to Hoffman. ... Having now heard all the evidence, I am convinced that no reasonable fact-finder considering the posts and the context in which they were made could conclude, based on an objective standard, that they constitute a solicitation."
A three-judge appellate panel reinstated the conviction Friday, saying that the incitement determination hinges on the context and audience of White's post.
"Readers of Overthrow.com were not casual Web browsers, but extremists molded into a community by the internet - loyal and avid readers who, whether or not they remember every specific solicitation to assassination, knew that Overthrow.com identified hateful enemies who should be assassinated," the unsigned decision states.
The court also highlighted White's history of using his website and the radio to release the names and addresses of "enemies" of his cause. In multiple cases, White explicitly contemplated the murder of the named individuals.
Two days before information about Hoffman appeared, White's website included an article titled "Kill this Nigger?" that contained images of and articles about President Barack Obama, who was a candidate at the time.
Against this backdrop, "White didn't have to say harm [Hoffman]," the appeals court found. "All he had to do and did do to invite violence was to sketch the characteristics that made [Hoffman] a mortal enemy of White's neo-Nazi movement and to publish [Hoffman's] personal contact information."
Though White tried to discourage Hoffman's assassination as charges against him loomed, a jury could still have convicted White based on the original solicitation, the ruling states.
The appellate judges also affirmed the use of an anonymous jury in White's trial, finding no evidence that the decision had prejudiced White.
"White rightfully emphasizes that the First Amendment protects even speech that is loathsome. But criminal solicitations are simply not protected by the First Amendment," the decision states.
White should not get a new trial and proceed to sentencing, the court concluded.
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