WASHINGTON – Bill White harbors a strong hatred for police officers.
And he has no qualms about lecturing others on ways to find and kill them.
“Police departments are the government’s group of armed thugs,” said White, a 19-year-old senior psychology major at the University of Maryland College Park. “The only way to effectively counteract that violence is by retaliation.”
White’s convictions have sparked several confrontations with police, for which he faces roughly a dozen criminal charges, and scrutiny by campus officials.
Law enforcement officers say White’s remarks concern them. But they also say they are required by law to protect the First Amendment guarantee of free speech.
“As the Prince George’s County Police Department, we certainly don’t advocate overthrow of the government,” said Sgt. Peter White, a department spokesman. “As police officers, we represent law and order. But one of the great things about this country is constitutional protection of everyone’s beliefs.”
White’s latest public, verbal bashing of law enforcement occurred earlier this month on the College Park campus. White and members of the Utopian Anarchist Party held a lecture titled, “Retaliation Against Police Officers: What Has Been Done and How.”
The program, attended by about 40 people, detailed methods of finding police officers at home and using vandalism, explosives, arson and shootings to harm them.
“We weren’t there advocating anything,” said White, who does public relations work for the five-year-old anarchy group, which sends a newsletter to about 10,000 subscribers internationally.
“We were providing an overview of acts committed against cops in this area. We discussed what has happened rather than what should happen,” he said.
The distinction is an important one to stretch the legal limits of protected speech. And White knows it.
“Conspiracy and accessory laws are vaguely defined,” the Montgomery County resident said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “If you go out and tell someone to do something, give them the tools to do it and have reasonable expectation that the act will be committed, that’s pretty much conspiracy.
“We don’t want to make it seem like we only live within the boundaries of legality, because we don’t believe in that. But we wanted to avoid those issues [conspiracy and accessory charges] entirely.”
Campus officials said White’s recent lecture on campus, which included phrases such as, “I urge the use of napalm,” danced dangerously close to being unprotected.
To be deemed such, it would have to be a “call to illegal action,” said university spokesman Roland King. “That seems to be where he’s getting closest to the line. … It’s a situation that we’ll be looking at and making some decisions.”
King said the administration’s evaluation of White’s actions will not be focused around finding “ways we can shut him down.” Rather, university officials in legal affairs, judicial affairs and the campus police would determine whether White’s remarks meet the standards of protected speech.
“At the point he steps over the line, we’ll impose the appropriate restrictions,” King said.
Sometimes protected speech requires physical protection.
University policy dictates that the campus police attend any event that might be considered controversial. For that reason, two campus police officers were assigned to monitor White’s event on Nov. 14.
“Part of the reason we were there was to make sure there was no clash between him and anyone else that might have differed with his opinions,” said Lt. Don Smith, a University Police spokesman.
White said he first began resisting authority as a high school student, when he was transferred to different schools as a result of behavior problems.
He now faces criminal charges in Montgomery County for several counts of assault and battery, resisting arrest, malicious destruction of property, possession of a concealed deadly weapon and possession of a graffiti instrument, according to a District Court clerk in Montgomery County. White said he also faces a civil traffic violation. Since the cases are ongoing, he said he could not comment on them. -30-