WASHINGTON — The FBI is investigating death threats against syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts after a column he wrote about black-on-white crime triggered a furor on white supremacist Web sites.
Days after Pitts’ column ran — including in the June 5 Free Press — Overthrow.com posted his address, his home phone number and his wife’s name. Several other white supremacist Internet sites followed suit, and one gave directions to his house along with a satellite image of the neighborhood.
Pitts, who is based at the Miami Herald, said that none of the threats was specific and that “nobody has come to the house.” However, he said, someone leafleted his neighborhood with a flyer attacking him for the column.
Pitts has received dozens of hostile phone calls at his home and about 400 e-mails, said Dave Wilson, the Herald’s managing editor for news.
“An unsettling number of those were threats,” Wilson said. The messages, which ranged widely in gravity, included death threats, he said.
Wilson said he had tried to prevent the incident from escalating by sending an e-mail to Bill White, the site editor for Overthrow.com, asking him to delete Pitts’ address and phone number. He said White replied: “We have no intention of removing Mr. Pitts’ personal information. Frankly, if some loony took the info and killed him, I wouldn’t shed a tear. That also goes for your whole newsroom.”
Reached in Roanoke, Va., where Overthrow.com is based, White said he is 30 years old and is the commander of the American National Socialist Workers Party, which aspires to build a nation “modeled on the German Third Reich.” He said the group has about 280 contributors.
Pitts’ column challenged the claims of white supremacists that the recent murders of a white couple in Knoxville, Tenn., reflected a surge in racially motivated violence by African Americans against whites.
Five African Americans have been arrested, but Pitts emphasized that the killings weren’t being investigated as a hate crime, and he rejected the groups’ contention that black-on-white crime is underreported.
Pitts also wrote that African Americans and Latinos “are underrepresented in news media as victims of crime and significantly overrepresented as perpetrators, based on crime statistics.”