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Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Roanoke neo-Nazi Bill White may win freedom on free speech appeal (USA)

Neo-Nazi activist William A. White, who for the past three years has waged a First Amendment battle with the federal government, has won another round.

A U.S. District Court judge ruled today that a Chicago jury was wrong when it convicted White in January of using his website to solicit violence.

The decision means that White, who has been jailed almost continuously since October 2008, may soon be released.

It was not immediately clear if White intends to return to Roanoke, where he formed the American National Socialist Workers Party, a white supremacy movement that gained national attention.

In a decision today, Judge Lynn Adelman reversed a conviction that White -— angry at the conviction of a fellow white supremacist for trying to have a judge killed years ago -— used his website to solicit violence against the foreman of the jury.

White publicized the juror’s name and contact information, but made no direct threats against him. Prosecutors argued, and the jury agreed, that the posting should be taken in context with a campaign of intimidation and thinly-veiled threats that White maintained on his website, overthrow.com.

In reversing the jury’s verdict, Adelman ruled that White’s actions did not amount to a solicitation, and that they were protected by his free-speech rights.

"The First Amendment protects vehement, scathing and offensive criticism of others, including individuals involved in the criminal justice system," such as the juror, Adelman wrote.

White has been held in Chicago’s Metropolitan Correctional Center, awaiting a decision from the judge. Because he has already completed a 2½ year prison term from previous convictions in Roanoke, While could be released as soon as today, said his Chicago attorney Nishay Sanan.

Federal prosecutors are expected to ask that White be sent back to jail pending an appeal, Sanan said.

Today’s decision is the latest in a back-and-forth conflict between the rights of a neo-Nazi to make hateful statements and the fears he struck in some of his targets.

Since 2008, federal authorities have filed eight charges against White, alleging in one form or another that he crossed the line between free speech and criminal activity. White was convicted of five charges in Roanoke and Chicago, although two of them -- including the one today -- were later reversed by judges.

"I think justice was done," Sanan said. "The First Amendment has been upheld."

"The government can’t just go around charging people who make unpopular speech."