Testifying at his federal "Death-Threat Trial," Internet shock jock and FBI confidential informant Hal Turner said federal agents -- while asking his help in identifying a white supremacist killer -- told him to "ratchet up the rhetoric."
Turner, on trial for threatening the life of three federal judges who issued rulings supporting gun control, claims he followed the agents' suggestion immediately, posting a picture of Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow of Federal District Court in Chicago on his blog below the headline "Gotcha!" and later appearing on television to declare the judge "worthy of death." In exchange, Turner said, he was paid by the F.B.I.
In his five hours on the witness stand, Turner detailed his ascent as a shock jock, as well as his relationship with the F.B.I. , which he says encouraged his seemingly racist rants over the years. Turner's first trial ended with a deadlocked jury last year, with prosecutors admitting then that he was an F.B.I. informant.
In that trial, Michael A. Orozco, one of Turner's lawyers, offered as a defense that his client is "nothing but a shock jock." Turner has long been notorious for making anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic, white supremacist remarks and encouraging violence on his Internet radio show and companion Web site. Last June, for example, he posted this message: "The government -- especially these three judges -- are cunning, ruthless, untrustworthy, disloyal, unpatriotic, deceitful scum."
Offering that opinion was certainly Turner's right -- but going on to say, "These judges deserve to be killed" may not be. "That is not just political rhetoric," said the prosecutor, assistant United States attorney William R. Hogan. "It is not O.K. -- very definitely not O.K. -- for him to call for their execution and their murder."
That's when Orozco chimed in. Not only was Turner just a "shock jock" offering constitutionally-protected "opinion," he was also speaking and acting in accordance with guidelines the F.B.I. had set out for him as a confidential informer, Orozco noted. In fact, he added, the F.B.I. had even requested that Turner turn up the heat and the volume of his remarks to impress -- and perhaps infiltrate -- certain shadowy groups the Bureau was looking into. Turner's "hand was guided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation," Orozco said. "He was providing a service. This is betrayal."
Prosecutor Hogan acknowledged in his opening statement that Turner was an informer for the government, beginning in 2004 and culminating in 2007.
In his retrial, Mr. Turner has claimed he is opposed to the racist views he expounded, and said he never wanted anyone to get hurt. Instead, he says, he is a a patriot who worked on behalf of the government to infiltrate the white supremacist movement, and never believed the messages he put forth supposedly at the behest of the feds. As proof, he offered a letter he wrote to an F.B.I. agent that noted, "the person you hear [or hear about] on radio is not real life."
Turner also faces state charges in Connecticut, for telling his followers to "take up arms" against state lawmakers who voted to give Catholic lay members more control over church finances.