Neo-Nazi is handed 2.5 years for threats

The sentence is on the upper end of federal guidelines, though Bill White gets some credit for time served.

The Roanoke Times/April 15, 2010

Once called America's loudest and most obnoxious neo-Nazi leader, William A. White was silenced - at least for now - by a 2½-year prison sentence Wednesday.

"I personally don't have anything to say," White said when asked by Judge James Turk if he had any remarks before hearing his punishment for using the Internet, e-mail and the telephone to threaten strangers who didn't share his racist views.

It was an uncharacteristic finale for a prolific and venomous commentator who once bragged that millions read him on, the now-defunct Web site that was the mouthpiece of his Roanoke-based white supremacy organization.

The prison term locks away White, 32, for a period at the upper end of federal sentencing guidelines. Turk said he rarely imposes such a term but said he did so because of the fear White instilled in many of his victims.

Turk told White that when he gets out of prison, "You can have any thoughts that you want to have, but you ought to keep them to yourself. ... I hope this will teach you a lesson, I really do."

An expert on hate groups said White's downfall marks the end of the American National Socialist Workers Party, the group he formed after moving to Roanoke in 2004 to become a landlord in the predominantly black West End neighborhood.

At the height of his tenure in the white supremacy movement, White was "possibly the loudest and most obnoxious neo-Nazi leader in America," the Southern Poverty Law Center said.

White's followers - who numbered no more than 200 - quickly scattered after his arrest in October 2008, said Mark Potok, director of the law center's Intelligence Project. By then, he said, they had already become disillusioned by White's self-aggrandizing ways.

"Bill White was never a real leader," Potok said. "He was just a loud-mouthed propagandist."

Wednesday's sentencing in U.S. District Court in Roanoke followed an eight-day trial in December in which White was convicted of threatening people in Missouri, Delaware and Virginia Beach.

White's victims - strangers to him and to one another - unwittingly said or did something to anger the neo-Nazi, who then used his Web site, e-mail and the telephone to harass and threaten them.

For Citibank employee Jennifer Petsche, it was the way White's credit card account was handled. For Tasha Reddick and Tiese Mitchell, it was the housing discrimination lawsuit they filed against their Virginia Beach landlord. For University of Delaware administrator Kathleen Kerr, it was a diversity awareness program at the school.

According to earlier testimony, White called a secretary in Kerr's office and told her he was the leader of a neo-Nazi group, that people who think the way she does about race should be shot and that he would hunt her down.

Kerr and other victims testified about the terror they felt when they realized their home addresses and telephone numbers - along with White's inflammatory rhetoric - were posted on a Web site read by racists.

As part of his sentence, White will be on probation for three years after his release from prison. The judge prohibited him from using the Internet for any business or hobby, including posting blog messages, during that time.

White claimed his words were protected by the First Amendment - a defense that proved successful with five of the eight charges filed against him in Roanoke and in Chicago, where he was charged with using his Web site to encourage violence.

"Our analysis of it is that it's a win," said defense attorney David Damico, who represented White along with lawyer Ray Ferris.

Among the charges rejected by the Roanoke jury was an allegation that White threatened nationally syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts. Enraged by a column Pitts wrote about black-on-white crime, White published his home address online and then said he wouldn't shed a tear if "some looney" killed the black columnist.

While acknowledging that White crossed the line in some cases, Damico called the acquittals "a reaffirmation that we still accept and believe in free speech in this county, even when it's obnoxious speech."

White has already served 18 months in jail awaiting the resolution of his case. He will receive some credit for time served and could be eligible for a 15 percent reduction of his remaining sentence for good behavior.

U.S. Attorney Tim Heaphy said that while prison-time calculations are complicated, White could be released in about a year. White was more optimistic, saying at a hearing on a lawsuit that followed his sentencing that his community release date is June 6. In some cases, inmates are sent to a halfway house when they have six months left to serve.

Whatever the exact term, it wasn't enough for many black leaders, who have felt White's wrath for years, said Brenda Hale, president of the Roanoke branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

"We always have the threat looming over us that he's going to return to the community within a short period of time," Hale said. And while Turk hoped that White has learned his lesson, Hale has her doubts.

"If he had the slightest ounce of remorse, he would have said something in court when the judge gave him the opportunity," said Hale, who attended the hearing with about a half-dozen other NAACP members.

At a news conference after the sentencing, Heaphy said the work of civil rights prosecutors John Richmond and Cindy Chung, who traveled from Washington, D.C., to prosecute White, is a prelude to a renewed emphasis by his office on such cases.

"While the First Amendment protects everyone's right to free expression, it does not protect hate-mongers like Bill White," Heaphy said. "The White case demonstrates our commitment to vigorously prosecuting anyone who commits a hate crime in this district."

Although legal scholars have said the case broke little new ground in the arena of Internet threats, Potok described White's conviction as an important blow against white supremacists who in recent years have tested the limits of cyberspace.

"I think it's a real milestone," Potok said. "In some ways, this had been a real gray area of the law, especially because of the Internet. But there are limits, and Bill White seems to have defined them for us."

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