Hannity's Soul-Mate of Hate
This year a man named Hal Turner sat before his computer at his suburban home in North Bergen, New Jersey, posting bomb-making tips on his website, hailing the firebombing of an apartment containing "Savage Negroes" and calling for the murder of immigrants. "When enough illegal aliens get killed they will stop coming to the country!" Turner wrote.
Turner was once a prominent activist in New Jersey's Republican Party. To area conservatives, he was best known by his moniker for call-ins to the Sean Hannity Show, "Hal from North Bergen." For years, Hannity offered his top-rated radio show as a regular forum for Turner's occasionally racist, always over-the-top rants. Hannity also chatted with him off-air, allegedly offering encouragement to Turner as he struggled to overcome a cocaine habit and homosexual leanings. Turner has boasted that Hannity once invited Turner and his son on to the set of Fox News's Hannity and Colmes. Today, Turner lurks on the fringes of the far right, spouting hate-laced tirades on his webcast radio show. Hannity, meanwhile, remains mum about his former alliance with the neo-Nazi, homing in instead on the supposed racism of black and Latino Democrats.
A former moving company manager and real estate agent, Turner cut his teeth as the Northern New Jersey coordinator for Pat Buchanan's quixotic 1992 presidential campaign. He was an aggressive self-promoter who found a platform for his views on the radio show of Bob Grant, which was broadcast by ABC's flagship station, New York City's WABC. Grant was a pioneer of right-wing radio and, incidentally, a hysterical racist. In March 1995, according to the media watchdog FAIR, Grant entertained the call of a promoter for the neo-Nazi group National Alliance who billed his mission as the "support of European males." "I don't have a problem with the National Alliance!" Grant twice declared. Less than one month later, the Oklahoma City Federal Building was blown up by a white supremacist who said he was influenced by the plot of National Alliance founder William Pierce's pulp novel, The Turner Diaries. Grant insisted on his show for days afterward that Arabs were responsible for the bombing.
WABC came under enormous pressure from the NAACP and other civil rights groups to dump Grant. He had called Haitian refugees "subhuman infiltrators"; remarked that the United States contained "millions of subhumanoids, savages who really would feel more at home careening along the sands of the Kalahari or the dry deserts of eastern Kenya"; and often promoted "The Bob Grant Mandatory Sterilization Program" for minorities. In 1994, after a group of African-American clergy members issued a plea for sponsors to boycott Grant's show, Turner, at the time a frequent voice as a caller on Grant's show, organized a pro-Grant rally in Trenton, which was attended by numerous members of the white supremacist Nationalist Movement. Two years later, WABC finally gave Grant the boot.
WABC tapped Sean Hannity to fill Grant's seat in the broadcast booth. For Hannity, who had spent his career in the wilderness of the right-wing radio circuit, the gig was like a dream. "I'd grown up listening to Bob Grant...one of the most entertaining hosts I'd ever heard," Hannity wrote in his 2002 book, Let Freedom Ring: Winning the War of Liberty Over Liberalism. Hannity started out as a broadcaster at the liberal University of Santa Barbara. "But it didn't last long.... The left-wing management had a zero-tolerance policy for conservative points of view. And I was promptly fired," Hannity wrote. "They didn't like the comments one guest made on the show," he added, without specifying what those comments were. From there, Hannity was hired by the right-wing WVNN in Huntsville, Alabama, and then by WGST in Atlanta, where he filled in for his friend, the "libertarian" broadcaster Neil Boortz. By the time WABC brought him on board, he was already co-hosting Fox News's newly minted Hannity and Colmes, which, as of May, was America's second-rated cable news show, with 1.3 million households viewing each night.
On WABC Hannity inherited Grant's fan base of angry white males, who listened to his show in the New York City area. Hannity recognized his audience's thirst for red meat, racist rhetoric. However, he knew that if he wanted to avoid Grant's fate, he needed an air of deniability. When "Hal from North Bergen" began calling his show, Hannity found he could avoid the dangers of direct race-baiting by simply outsourcing it to Turner.