Meet the FBI Operative Who Threatened My Life, and the Gov.-Elect Who May Have Helped Him
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On December 7, neo-Nazi hate radio impresario Hal Turner walked out of a Brooklyn courtroom a free man. Charged by federal prosecutors with incitement for urging his listeners to kill three judges who issued rulings supporting gun control, Turner escaped conviction when the jury deadlocked, forcing the judge to declare a mistrial. However, Turner will return to trial soon in Brooklyn and in Connecticut, where he faces state charges for telling his followers to "take up arms" against state lawmakers who voted to give Catholic lay members more control over church finances.
The trials of Turner might not have invited any media interest had he been another lone wolf howling into the night about the swarthy evildoers supposedly destroying America. After all, white supremacists across the country are persistently prosecuted for activities ranging from criminal littering to murder. But Turner has been an insider both in the New Jersey GOP and in a controversial federal anti-terror program designed to "flush out" violent far-right plots, making him a treasure trove of information on the many prominent Republicans he has associated with over the years. These characters include Turner's former friend Sean Hannity, who allegedly counseled him on overcoming his cocaine habit and homosexual urges, and New Jersey Governor-elect Chris Christie, whose alleged involvement with Turner may result in the first scandal of his term.
A former moving company manager and real estate agent from North Bergen, NJ, Turner broke into radio when he purchased a time slot on an eclectic short wave station in 2003. He quickly cultivated a small but loyal following of white supremacists, making his show a key hub for an amorphous and violent movement guided by the philosophy of "leaderless resistance." His formula was simple: discarding the racial code language familiar to mainstream conservative radio jocks in favor of hysterical diatribes against "bull dyke lesbians," "hook-nosed Jews," "savage Negroes," and "filthy mongrels." Turner's official website described him as "so far to the right he makes Rush Limbaugh look like a liberal and Sean Hannity seem like a girlie-man!"
Turner consolidated his extreme profile by consistently urging the assassination of any liberal who offended him, from President Barack Obama to an array of lowly circuit court judges to this writer. Indeed, Turner declared me fair game after my 2005 report for the Nation Magazine about his friendship with Fox News personality Sean Hannity resurfaced during the 2008 presidential primary campaign.
"I am perfectly willing to use force and violence against my enemies while Sean Hannity and others are not," Turner proclaimed in an internet posting in March 2008. "Those using me as a prop to attack Sean Hannity would do well to remember this fact. Rest assured I will remember them when the opportunity presents itself; especially as it pertains to that douche bag sodomite Max Blumenthal for the falsehoods and total trash he wrote about me in ' The Nation' magazine."
I might have ignored Turner's warning as I do the hate-laden diatribes and death threats I routinely receive in my public email in-box from deranged far-right fanatics. However, Turner targeted me at approximately the same time that rumors were reverberating across the internet about his employment as an informant by the Federal Bureau of Investigations. This led me to wonder if his call for "force and violence" against me was approved or even encouraged by the FBI, and raised disturbing questions about the degree to which the FBI had guided his extreme behavior.
On January 1, 2008, two unidentified hackers confronted Turner about several messages they had filched from his blog server that revealed collaboration between him and FBI agents on an effort to "flush out a possible crazy." Neither Turner nor the FBI would deny the charges, lending credence to the hackers' accusations and raising disturbing questions about FBI tactics -- the Bureau appeared to be trivializing the lives of the private citizens Turner was inciting his followers to kill.
"This is clearly over the line," James Nolan, a professor of sociology and former unit chief in the FBI's Crime Analysis, Research and Development Unit, told the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2008. "Informants may be involved in drugs, and you overlook that because of the greater good. However, these are viable threats -- they could be carried out -- that the FBI clearly knows about. I want to see the FBI stop it."
During his trial for incitement, Turner confessed to having been trained by the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force and to working for them from 2002 to 2008 as a paid informant. Turner's lawyer, Michael Orozco, claimed the FBI had funneled up to $100,000 per year into Turner's bank account, and that FBI memos described him as "irreplaceable." According to FBI records, Turner was a key asset. Besides infiltrating white supremacist groups, the Bureau sent Turner to Brazil to investigate a plot to send assistance to Iraqi resistance fighters. "I was a deep undercover intelligence operative," Turner claimed to reporters.
To bolster Turner's case, Orozco attempted to subpoena New Jersey Governor-elect and former US Attorney Chris Christie. Orozco alleged that during his term as US Attorney, Christie was made aware of Turner's employment by the FBI, offered the bureau legal guidance regarding Turner's activities, and ultimately signed a letter promising not to prosecute Turner. On November 24, Christie told a reporter he had never received Orozco's subpoena. However, he refused to answer questions about his knowledge of Turner's involvement with the FBI.
Turner's alleged association with Christie has brought his career full circle. Indeed, before Turner was a neo-Nazi hate merchant, he was a leading activist in the New Jersey Republican Party. Turner first entered politics as the Northern New Jersey coordinator for Pat Buchanan's 1992 presidential campaign. He was an aggressive self-promoter who became a favored caller to the radio show of conservative talker Bob Grant, which was broadcast by ABC's flagship station, New York City's WABC. Grant's diatribes against African-Americans and immigrants landed him in hot water with his sponsors, leading eventually to his firing and replacement in 1996 by Hannity, who called Grant one of his mentors.
Now, Hannity was eagerly fielding calls from Turner, who announced himself on-air as "Hal from North Bergen." During an August 1998 episode of the show, Turner reminded Hannity that were it not for the graciousness of the white man, "black people would still be swinging on trees in Africa."
Instead of rebuking Turner or cutting him off, Hannity continued to welcome his calls. On December 10 of the following year, Turner called Hannity's show to announce his campaign to run for a seat in the US House of Representatives from New Jersey, and to attack his presumptive opponent, Democratic Representative Robert Menendez, as a "left-wing nut."
Turner and Hannity soon developed an unusual off-air relationship. In 1998 Hannity received an anonymous e-mail linking to an AOL discussion board on which Turner had allegedly confessed to a cocaine problem and alluded to past homosexual trysts. Turner (or someone claiming to be Turner) wrote in an August 4, 1998, Google discussion forum that Hannity called him to clear the air: "Just last week, Sean phoned me at home from his job at FOX News to continue a conversation we'd begun earlier while he was at WABC," Turner wrote. "Sean advised that one of you sensitive souls sent him an e-mail about 'revelations I had made' here on the internet. He told me it was obviously and [sic] attempt to 'poison the water.'" Turner went on: "I told him that I've done things I'm not proud of, and had dark times in my life; and those experiences helped shape the way I live todaythe right way. He [Hannity] laughed and commented that he knew the feeling." Turner added that such chats with Hannity were "not unusual," often occurring while Hannity held his calls during commercial breaks.
But Turner and Hannity's relationship collapsed in 2000 after the Hudson County Republican Party endorsed Turner's primary challenger, Theresa De Leon, an accomplished businesswoman and dark-skinned Latina. "I had never judged people on their race, not prior to that point," Turner recalled in a February 23, 2003, article in the Bergen County Record. "And there I was, on the receiving end -- in America -- of a decision that I wasn't good enough because I was a white male." Turner finished last in the primary, just as Hannity was hitting his stride as a major Fox News personality. When WABC's screeners began blocking Turner's calls, he realized he was no longer of use to Hannity. Almost immediately, he turned to shortwave radio, neo-Nazi politics, and apparently, the FBI.
Unfortunately for Hannity, he could not live down his former friendship with Turner. Their relationship became a campaign issue when Hannity hosted New Black Panther Party leader Malik Zulu Shabbaz on Fox's "Hannity and Colmes" during the Democratic presidential primary, in March 2008. Hannity's intention was to embarrass Obama by prodding Shabazz to discuss his endorsement of the candidate as well as Obama's supposed "association" with Louis Farrakhan. But Shabazz threw Hannity on the defensive by referencing his own association with Turner. "A neo-Nazi, you backed his career," Shabazz bellowed.
Hannity struggled with his response. He initially denied knowing Turner at all then insisted Turner had been banned from his radio show ten years before. (In fact, Hannity had banned Turner in 2003). Finally, Hannity proclaimed, "That is an absolute, positive, lie and you've been reading the wrong websitesmy friend. Good try."
Turner did Hannity no favors when he divulged details of their relationship on his website the following day. "Through those calls [to Hannity's show], Sean and I got to know each other a bit and at some point, I can't remember exactly when, Sean gave me the secret "Guest call-in number" at WABC so that my calls could always get on the air." Turner then warned of his "willingness" to use violence against me "when the opportunity present[ed] itself."
With Turner and Hannity's relationship out in the open, speculation will now focus on Chris Christie's involvement with Turner. What did Christie know and when did he know it? The Governor-elect who battered his campaign opponent with the phrase, "Honesty is the best policy," may be forced to embody the slogan under oath.