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.
During an August 1998 episode of the show, Turner reminded Hannity that were it not for the graciousness of the white man, “black people would still be swinging on trees in Africa,” according to Daryle Jenkins, co-founder of the New Jersey-based antiracism group One People’s Project. Instead of rebuking Turner or cutting him off, Hannity continued to welcome his calls. On December 10 of the following year, Turner called Hannity’s show to announce his campaign to run for a seat in the US House of Representatives from New Jersey, and to attack his presumptive opponent, Democratic Representative Robert Menendez, as a “left-wing nut.”
By this time, according to Jenkins, Turner and Hannity had bonded off-air. In 1998 Hannity received an anonymous e-mail linking to an AOL discussion board on which Turner had allegedly confessed to a cocaine problem and alluded to past homosexual trysts. Turner (or someone claiming to be Turner) wrote in an August 4, 1998, Google discussion forum that Hannity called him to clear the air: “Just last week, Sean phoned me at home from his job at FOX News to continue a conversation we’d begun earlier while he was at WABC,” Turner wrote. “Sean advised that one of you sensitive souls sent him an e-mail about ‘revelations I had made’ here on the internet. He told me it was obviously and [sic] attempt to ‘poison the water.’ ” Turner continued, “I told him that I’ve done things I’m not proud of, and had dark times in my life; and those experiences helped shape the way I live today…the right way. He [Hannity] laughed and commented that he knew the feeling.” Turner added that such chats with Hannity were “not unusual,” often occurring while Hannity held his calls during commercial breaks.
Jenkins told me that while he and a group of antiracism activists demonstrated against a July 17, 2003, National Alliance meeting in Elmwood Park, New Jersey, which Turner attended, he encountered Turner and asked him about his relationship with Hannity. Turner claimed that he and Hannity would talk by phone and even recounted that Hannity had once invited him and his son on to the set of Hannity and Colmes. “In my view,” says Jenkins, “I think Hannity has helped Turner out quite a bit. I’m willing to bet most of the conversations they had consisted of them talking shop.”
But Turner and Hannity’s relationship collapsed in 2000 after the Hudson County Republican Party endorsed Turner’s primary challenger, Theresa De Leon, an accomplished businesswoman and dark-skinned Latina. “I had never judged people on their race, not prior to that point,” Turner recalled in a February 23, 2003, article in the Bergen County Record. “And there I was, on the receiving end–in America–of a decision that I wasn’t good enough because I was a white male.” Turner finished last in the primary, just as Hannity was hitting his stride as a major Fox News personality. When WABC’s screeners began blocking Turner’s calls, he realized he was no longer of use to Hannity.
So Turner took matters into his own hands, purchasing a time slot on the eclectic shortwave radio station WBCQ. For more than four years, Turner unleashed a barrage of hate speech at his perceived enemies–“bull-dyke lesbians,” “savage Negro beasts,” “filthy mongrels,” etc. In 2003 Turner said US District Judge Joan Humphrey Lefkow was “worthy of being killed” for ruling against white supremacist leader Matthew Hale in a trademark dispute. The day after Lefkow’s husband and mother were found murdered on February 28, Turner penned an article for the far-right chat room Liberty Forum outlining tips to help white supremacists avoid scrutiny from federal agents. “So what can we, as White Nationalists (WN), expect as a result [of the killings]?” Turner wrote. “Frankly, a SHIT STORM!” Turner was eventually visited by FBI agents, though when a suspect was arrested, he had no organizational links to white supremacist groups. By this time, Turner had quit the Jewish-owned WBCQ because, as he told the Associated Press, he saw Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ and realized he “could no longer do business with Jews.”
Today, as one of America’s most recognizable broadcast personalities, Hannity vehemently denounces racism as he sees it. During the 2000 presidential campaign, Hannity demanded time and again that Al Gore fire his black campaign manager, Donna Brazile, for her comment that “we’re not gonna let the white boys win.” Two years later, during California’s gubernatorial recall election, Hannity repeatedly attacked Democratic candidate and Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante as a racist for refusing to renounce his association thirty years prior with the Chicano student group MECHA. Yet Hannity is silent about the racist affiliations of favored guests like Family Research Council president Tony Perkins, Mississippi Republican Governor Haley Barbour and former Republican Congressman Bob Barr, all of whom have spoken before gatherings of America’s largest white supremacist group, the Council of Conservative Citizens.
Hannity remains silent, too, about his relationship with his former friend, the neo-Nazi Hal Turner. Whatever he thinks about Turner’s politics today, Hannity views his career as a uniquely glorious phenomenon–right-wing hate radio as the American Dream. “This is America, after all,” Hannity wrote in Let Freedom Ring. “Whatever you think, you’re free to say it out loud–as long as you’re prepared to defend it. And if you get lucky…someday you might even get paid for it.