Ruling: Neo-Nazi William White can be free on bond

After a dismissed case in Chicago, a judge said he was skeptical of a case in Roanoke against White.

Roanoke Times/September 11, 2009

The same judge who ordered William A. White held without bond a year ago decided to release him Thursday, citing renewed skepticism of charges that the neo-Nazi leader used the Internet to threaten blacks, Jews and others.

In setting a $25,000 bond, U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael Urbanski noted that a similar charge against White was recently dismissed in Chicago.

That ruling -- which validated White's long-standing position that his online rants are protected by the First Amendment -- led Urbanski to conclude that "the government's case is not as strong as what I saw last October" when he denied bond for White.

White won't get out of the Roanoke City Jail just yet, though.

The government appealed Urbanski's decision, and White will remain locked up until at least Tuesday, when the case is scheduled to be heard by District Court Judge James Turk.

Since he was arrested in October, White had sought pretrial release from four different judges and an appellate court. All of them, including Urbanski, ruled he was too dangerous to set free.

But those decisions were based not so much on the charges against White as on several comments he made on his now-defunct Web site,

In one frequently quoted post, White wrote about waking up each morning with the urge to "kill, kill, kill." In another, he revealed a "very intricate plot for the murder of about a score of Roanoke city's Negro nuisances and their annoying counterparts at The Roanoke Times."

Yet there was no mention of killing in the post that led to White's arrest in October. Federal authorities in Chicago said White posted the contact information of the foreman of a jury that convicted a fellow white supremacist, hoping that one of his readers might harm the man.

In July, Judge Lynn Adelman ruled that White's actions were protected by the First Amendment.

"Doesn't Judge Adelman's opinion change all of this?" Urbanski asked at one point during Thursday's bond hearing. "I think it has to be factored in."

Justice Department attorney Paige Fitzgerald responded that unlike the indictment in Chicago, the second set of charges that White faces in Roanoke contains allegations of more direct threats.

White, 32, is charged with making six threats through a variety of sources: e-mail, telephone, and Internet discussion groups for white supremacists.

White selected his targets -- who included a nationally syndicated newspaper columnist, a human rights attorney, a university administrator and a small-town mayor -- from across the country, according to the grand jury indictment.

For the most part, White's motivation was anger over racial issues, such as a column about black-on-white crime written by Leonard Pitts of the Miami Herald.

Some of the posts are two years old, defense attorney David Damico said, and no harm ever came to any of White's targets. "There's no evidence anywhere that there has been anything other than talk," Damico said.

Urbanski first raised questions about the strength of the government's case last year, during White's first bond hearing. And while he seemed even more skeptical after the dismissal of the Chicago charge, the judge also made it clear he was troubled by White's online comments.

"All of these statements are reprehensible. All of these statements are loathsome," he said. "The question is, does our Constitution protect them?"

In the end, Urbanski said he was influenced by the dismissal of the charge in Chicago and the finding from a psychiatrist that White does not pose a danger -- evidence that was not available to him in October when he ordered White detained.

If Urbanski's decision is upheld, White will be placed on home electronic monitoring and can leave his apartment only under certain circumstances. White was also ordered stay off the Internet and to receive mental health treatment for a personality disorder that includes histrionic and narcissistic features.

In arguing that White remains a danger, Fitzgerald pointed out that the psychiatric evaluation found that White enjoys the controversy his hateful comments create, and that he lacks empathy for the people he targets.

Those concerns were shared by Roanoke NAACP President Brenda Hale, who attended the bond hearing with about a half-dozen other concerned citizens.

Once described online by White as a "n----- in need of lynching," Hale said many people in the community consider the neo-Nazi activist to be a threat.

"The community at large is extremely concerned about the hatefulness and the malicious words that he has posted for years," Hale said. "We have to live with these concerns every day, and there's no credible way you can predict what he's capable of."

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