Neo-Nazi leader may face more time in prison
By Laurence Hammack
The Roanoke Times | January 3, 2011
As William A. White nears the end of his prison sentence, the neo-Nazi leader from Roanoke is facing the possibility of more time behind bars for his Internet aggressions.
A trial is scheduled to begin Monday in federal court in Chicago, where White is charged with using his website to encourage violence against the foreman of a jury that convicted a fellow white supremacist in 2004. Slated to last all week, the trial comes just two weeks before White's expected release date.
Once described as one of the loudest voices in America's neo-Nazi movement, White has been serving a 2½-year sentence after his convictions in Roanoke of making threats against a bank employee in Missouri, a university administrator in Delaware and a group of apartment tenants in Virginia Beach.
The victims -- like the juror in the Chicago case -- were strangers to White and to one another, bound only by their innocent involvement in a news event or controversy that enraged the 33-year-old enough to make him bombard them with hateful e-mails, telephone calls, letters and blog posts. Most of White's outbursts were prompted by his contempt for blacks and Jews.
White argues that, even as an avowed racist, he is entitled to free speech protection.
It is a defense that has produced mixed results, depending on the individual details of each of the eight charges White has faced during his three-year battle with the federal government.
Convicted of three charges and cleared of four, White will face the final one Monday when jury selection begins in U.S. District Court in Chicago. If found guilty, he would face up to 10 years in prison.
The charge involves a Sept. 11, 2008, post that White made to Overthrow.com, a website he used to promote his white supremacy group, the now-defunct American National Socialist Workers Party, and disparage his perceived enemies.
White listed the name, address and telephone numbers of a juror who, he said, "played a key role in convicting Matt Hale," according to federal prosecutors. Hale, the former leader of the white supremacist World Church of the Creator, was convicted of soliciting the murder of a federal judge in Chicago and sentenced to 40 years in prison.
Although the post made no direct threats against the juror, prosecutors say it amounted to a solicitation of others to harm the man -- especially when taken in context with other Overthrow.com missives. White would often list the names, home addresses and telephone numbers of his targets, along with language that prosecutors say was likely to influence his racist and potentially violent audience.
For example, when the case of six black youths charged with assaulting a white classmate led to a civil rights demonstration in Jena, La., White listed the defendants' addresses under the headline: "Lynch the Jena 6." White said he was making the information public "in case anyone wants to deliver justice."
Other posts expected to be presented as evidence this week include White's opinion that his ideological opponents "should be shot, rather than debated," and accounts of his self-described urge to "kill, kill, kill."
White's attorneys say that, despite his unpopular political views, there's nothing in his writings that explicitly encourages violence.
"This was not a solicitation, and it was protected by the First Amendment," attorney Nishay Sanan of Chicago said of the post about the juror in the Hale case. "That's the crux of our case."
Any mention of the First Amendment will be contested by federal prosecutors. In a motion filed last month, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Ferrara asked U.S. District Court Judge Lynn Adelman to prohibit White from invoking the First Amendment, saying he should not be allowed to testify as a lay witness on a legal matter.
"This court will instruct the jury on the appropriate legal standards for when a communication is a solicitation," Ferrara wrote. Because the right to free speech is not part of that standard, he argued, invoking the First Amendment would be "gratuitous and an appeal to emotion and sentiment."
Yet free speech has been a key part of the case from the start.
In July 2009, Adelman dismissed the charge against White, noting that he broke no laws in obtaining the publicly available address and telephone numbers of the juror. As for using passages from Overthrow.com to interpret White's motives, "an intimidating context alone does not remove the protection of the First Amendment," the judge ruled. One year later -- after White had been convicted of the charges in Roanoke -- the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed Adelman's decision and sent the case back for trial.
Sanan declined to say if White will testify. In past court appearances, the usually bombastic and talkative defendant has remained silent, declining to testify or present evidence.
In an unusual move, Adelman recently ordered that the names of jurors will not be made public or shared with attorneys. "Empaneling an anonymous jury is an extreme measure that is warranted only where there is strong reason to believe the jury needs protection," Adelman wrote in a Dec. 16 ruling.
The judge said he was granting the prosecution's motion to keep the names secret for several reasons: supporters of White might try to influence the jury, the victim of his alleged crime was a juror, and the panelists might reasonably become "fearful of intimidation or harassment."
Meanwhile, White continues to write messages that appear on the Internet, despite his incarceration since October 2008. His comments have been published by a website calling itself the "Bill White Trial Update: Following the Political Persecution of White Activist Bill White."
In a recent post, White noted that the American Civil Liberties Union has filed a brief on his behalf in the appeal of his Roanoke convictions, agreeing with him that his words are entitled to First Amendment protection.
"This is a really technical issue in law, and one I think is a bit goofy -- evidence of the degree to which the law has divorced itself from any sort of reality and become embroiled in Talmudic esotericism," White wrote.
"However, there is no question in my case that I did not intend to threaten anyone, and thus, the ACLU is right -- I should never have been convicted."
White also offered this view of the Metropolitan Correctional Center in downtown Chicago, where he is being held: Overcrowding "makes everything here stressful. And the facility is -- I hate to say it -- insufficiently violent, which means idiots and scumbags get a pass everywhere they go."
"Doesn't matter to me, though," he wrote at the time. "I go home in 24 days."
White's expected release date on his Roanoke charges is Jan. 18, according to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. But whether he gets to go home then will soon be a question for a Chicago jury.