RACHEL MARTIN, host:
Now, we're going to switch gears. We're going to talk about a case of racism, media, FBI - these are all elements of the story about FBI informants. Probably, it wouldn't surprise you to know that the FBI uses informants. I mean, that's kind of expected. It's a choice between two evils in order to catch the bad guys, they co-opt the help from a presumably lesser bad guy. But, what if the informant is man linked to the white supremacist movement in the United States who happen to have - who has an Internet radio show, who's made a name for himself by saying things like this:
Mr. HAL TURNER (Former Radio Host): I say publicly what most folks already know and think. I am offended that the culture that developed and built and paid for this country is now being put at the back of the bus, so to speak. Because for some reason or another, all these lower cultures and lower races are more important, and I find that disgusting.
MARTIN: That's a man named Hal Turner, talking to CNN, using much less inflammatory language than you'd usually find archived on his radio show Web site. Civil rights groups have named him one of the most vocal and dangerous neo-Nazis in the county.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights law firm and advocacy group, alleges that Turner is an informant for the FBI. Now, if that's true, they say the FBI has crossed an ethical line.
Now, here to sort through the story and its implications is Mark Potok, the director of the intelligence project at the Southern Poverty Law Center in Alabama.
Mr. MARK POTOK (Director, Southern Poverty Law Center): Well, glad to be here.
MARTIN: Glad to have you here.
First, can you describe for us who Hal Turner is and how do you come to the conclusion that he's one of the most vocal Neo-Nazis in the country?
Mr. POTOK: Well, as you said, the outtake you played was extremely mild for Hal. He has done things like he probably first came to major public attention back in 2003 when a federal judge's family was murdered and Turner suggested that it would be good to kill more judges families along that line. He went on to do such things as suggested the same would be a good thing to do to New Jersey Supreme Court justices, so to say.
MARTIN: Now, we should say he doesn't say go do this.
Mr. POTOK: He suggests essentially that it would be a good thing to kill certain people and in the case of the New Jersey Supreme Court justices, he posted the home addresses and telephone numbers of some of the justice along with that. That resulted actually in close to a year of heavy extra security including, actually at one point, at about 200 visits to a particular justice's house.
Turner's also suggested that it would be a good thing if about half the members of the U.S. Congress were killed and he routinely advocates shooting, quote, unquote, "Mexican's crossing the border and so on."
MARTIN: Now, we should say that we put in a couple of calls to Hal Turner to comment on this story and did not hear back form him. The Southern Poverty Law Center is alleging that Turner is an FBI informant. What do you base that on?
Mr. POTOK: Well, basically what happened was Hal Turner's Web site was hacked by still unknown people about three weeks ago. The hackers allegedly went in and found a series of e-mails between Turner and his alleged FBI handler, which seemed on the face to be very authentic for a number of reasons, including the tone, you know, the way that Turner wrote, it's a very particular style he adopts. In any case, that was the first thing that happened. They went on to his site and actually posted in his comment section some of these e-mails. A very few days after that, although Turner shut down the site almost immediately within about 10 minutes, shut down his servers and so on so the stuff wouldn't get out.
In fact, the stuff was snatched by somebody and reposted on a neo-Nazi Web forum. So as this was getting discussed, this was about a week after the initial outing or alleged outing, Turner suddenly announced that he was leaving the business that was out of the white supremacy movement. He was shutting down his Internet radio show, and a very few days after, what we wrote a few days, it's almost immediately after that we wrote a story, telling this tale and reportedly, we have heard from sources - it's not confirmed by the FBI - that his handler, Turner's handler, in fact, was sent from Newark at Afghanistan. He's been reposted. We've had no confirmation from the FBI of these events. But I have no doubt that they're true.
MARTIN: Now, Mark, why - if you're speculating that this man is an FBI informant. What do you find so particularly egregious about this case? I mean if the FBI uses informants, you know, it's clear that they have to form alliances with some unsavory characters at times. What did the Southern Poverty Law Center find so particularly troubling about this case?
Mr. POTOK: Yeah. No. You were absolutely right and I think the use of informants has absolutely needed with many of these groups and I do not mean to offer any kind of general criticism, as you said in your introduction. Some of these groups are very bad. Many of them produce serious crimes and often times, they do need to be infiltrated because there's no other way to get at them.
The thing about this case is that, in effect, people like the New Jersey Supreme Court justices, like some of us at the Southern Poverty Law Center, any number of other people who've been named in Hal's threats or near threats and so on, have been made essentially bate. You know, I quoted in my own story about the situation, several experts on police procedure and the use of informants, and everyone of them felt that this had gone way over the line. That in effect, this was encouraging, or potentially encouraging, much more violence than would have occurred otherwise. I think it's also extremely difficult to see how this would be useful.
Turner, in one of his alleged e-mails, talking to his handler, talked about how a particular person had sent in an e-mail threat against a particular U.S. senator to his Web site. And he was kind of boasting to his handler that, you know, see how I flash out the crazies, here's sort of another nut for you to take care of. And you know, from my own position and I think that of many other people who've been named on Hal's site, you know, it's a very far out idea that somehow you make these threats and then someone before actually going after say a New York Supreme Court justice, you know, sends in a note to Hal so that he can let the FBI know. I think it's, you know, essentially absurd on its faith, and essentially uses people as bates in a very dangerous way.
MARTIN: Okay. We're talking to Mark Potok, the director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center. Mark, I'd like you to stay on the line. We're going to bring into the conversation Dina Temple-Raston. She is NPR's FBI correspondent. Hi, Dina.
DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: Hi. How are you? Good morning.
MARTIN: Hey, thanks for being here.
TEMPLE-RASTON: You bet.
MARTIN: Let's take a step back from the specific case of Hal Turner and talk more generally about the way that the FBI uses informants. Is it so unusual for the FBI to enlist informants who are, indeed, rather, shady?
TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, I think by definition, informants tend to be shady. You got drug dealers. You got - this is one of the things that comes up in court when informants are actually used as witnesses against people that they are trying to press charges against - just how ugly is this real informant. What have they done? What did they do? In order to become an informant, what did they trade? I mean, this is a huge issue in the Miami terrorist case, in which an informant was clearly - had a reason to implicate these guys because he wanted a lesser drug sentence.
MARTIN: Now, do you know of any cases where informants might play up their criminal behavior as Mark has suggested to then draw out suspects?
TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, I mean, this is always the difficulty for the FBI when they're doing this. And I don't want to seem like an advocate for Hal Turner in any way, shape or form. But this is a fine line that they have to draw.
I mean, one of the things that they say is that when they have an informant, the FBI starts getting really worried when the informant starts doing most of the talking because then they're becoming - sort of they're meeting people when - maybe into a crime that they would never have done.
This is an issue with the JFK - so-called JFK terrorism plot - in which they were a little bit concerned that the informant was talking a lot, and had actually warned the informant not to draw these guys out, but let these guys go and do their stuff on their own.
Mr. POTOK: Because there is an actual danger of entrapment of - you know? If somebody actually carries out a crime, it is conceivable that they would actually get off because they have been led to it, in effect.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Exactly, exactly. So - and apparently, one of the big red flags that goes up when they have this - they have an informant working for them, is that the informant is doing a lot of talking. I mean, I guess from my perspective of reporting on the FBI…
TEMPLE-RASTON: …I would much rather know that they had people who were infiltrated in these groups and knew what these groups were up to.
MARTIN: To keep an eye on them.
TEMPLE-RASTON: To keep an eye on them - better to have your enemies close to you instead of outside the tent.
MARTIN: So, Mark, are you saying that that calculation is weighing too much on the potential that they're going to capture some criminals, and in the wake of that, they're creating more havoc?
Mr. POTOK: I think in this particular instance, and only this instance that I'm seeking of, they have actually put people in danger - potentially put people in danger, who might not otherwise be in danger. You know, I absolutely agree with Dina that these are groups that - and as I said earlier - need to be infiltrated - certainly need to be kept a very serious eye on.
Turner was essentially an independent, though. He had been associated with the National Alliance, which, at one time, was the leading neo-Nazi group in this country. But really, in effect, he was a kind of a lone wolf, a guy who sent out these extremely racist and extremely violent messages over his show.
And, you know, the world of people who listen to a guy like Hal Turner includes some very, very scary and nutty people, who I think, can be led to serious violence. So, in this case, because of his particular technique of kind of naming enemies and suggesting that it would be a good thing if they were to exist no longer, and in some cases, actually post their addresses, it seems to me obvious that, you know, the line has been crossed.
MARTIN: Now, we should say again that we do not have evidence that Hal Turner is indeed an FBI informant. But he - his radio show has since gone off the air, Mark. Is…
Mr. POTOK: Oh, yeah. His show - when this went public as it got out onto the neo-Nazi discussion boards - you know, I listened to his very last show. I mean, you could hear him shutting down the show with an actual breaking voice. I mean, he sounded a bit teary, at times, almost. You know, this was his world and he is now leaving it.
MARTIN: So this should make you - at least assuage your concerns?
Mr. POTOK: Well, sure, sure. I mean, I think, you know, now if you - if one were to explore out in the Internet world of neo-Nazis, one would find that, you know, virtually everyone in the so-called movement has repudiated Turner, and now understands that, you know, from their point of view, he is bad news.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Because he is a snitch.
Mr. POTOK: Because he's a snitch. He's been, you know, essentially neutralized. And again, you know, I want to say that far be it from me as a normal - in the normal course of events to be outing FBI informants. I am not, in any way, in that business. In this case, though, as I've said a few times, you know, I think it really put people in danger and simply went beyond virtually all lines.
MARTIN: Okay. Lines in the sand - difficult to navigate sometimes.
Mark Potok, director of the intelligence project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, and Dina Temple-Raston, NPR's FBI correspondent. Thanks for both of you for trying to shed some light on this.
Mr. POTOK: And thanks for having us.
TEMPLE-RASTON: You're welcome.
MARTIN: So that's it for THE BPP. We are always online, though, at npr.org/bryantpark.
Thanks to everyone, especially you, Korva Coleman, for helping me steer the ship today.
KORVA COLEMAN, host:
Girl, you're a pro.
COLEMAN: It was a pleasure to be here.
MARTIN: So fun.
MARTIN: And we'll go back to semi-normal tomorrow. Alison Stewart will be back along with Toure, our guest host for the rest of the week. I'll be back in my little news booth. Telling you what's up in the world.
COLEMAN: You've done well. You do well. It's going to be (unintelligible).
MARTIN: I'm Rachel Martin. That's Korva Coleman. And this is THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT from NPR News.
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