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Judge dismisses restraining order against Leith web developer, but includes critical comments

CARSON – A judge on Monday dismissed a temporary restraining order filed against the man who maintains a website that has documented the activities of white supremacists in Leith, but also included comments critical of the web developer.

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South Central Judicial District Judge Bruce Haskell ruled that none of web developer Greg Bruce’s actions constituted disorderly conduct toward Deborah Henderson. Henderson alleged that Bruce terrorized her and her children, stalked her, followed her, took pictures of her and posted slanderous things about her online, causing her to feel afraid and unsafe.

Henderson is the girlfriend of Kynan Dutton, who along with fellow white separatist Craig Cobb is charged with felony terrorizing for allegedly approaching Leith residents with loaded firearms last month. Both are jailed without bond and are scheduled to appear Jan. 13 in Grant County District Court.

Bruce, who operates the website from his home in New Leipzig, was served with the restraining order Dec. 4. The judge heard arguments Dec. 9 on whether the order should be extended.

In his ruling Monday, Haskell found that Bruce taking pictures of Henderson’s vehicles and posting comments about them on Facebook didn’t amount to disorderly conduct, nor did his references to her as a neo-Nazi – Henderson testified she’s a separatist – or his likening her actions to terrorist acts.

Because he found no disorderly conduct, Haskell ruled that it wasn’t necessary to address whether Bruce’s actions were constitutionally protected. Still, he added in his ruling that the court “does find it interesting that Bruce cloaks himself in the right to free speech.”

“The Court assumes the majority of people in Leith, in Grant County, and in North Dakota do not agree with Neo-Nazi and separatist doctrines,” Haskell wrote. “However, the purpose of the First Amendment is not to protect majority, mainstream speech and ideas. It is to protect those with minority opinions, even if those opinions are repugnant to the majority. … Bruce wants the benefit of the First Amendment for himself, but is not prepared to provide it to those like Henderson with whom he disagrees.”

Bruce said Tuesday it “never really bothered me in the first place” that Henderson had a restraining order against him.

“I’m happy for the city of Leith now that I can talk about the woman if I want to, but I don’t see the need for it,” he said.

City leaders said Monday they are moving ahead with plans to condemn and demolish Cobb’s house – where Henderson and her three children are currently living – after Cobb missed a city-imposed deadline Saturday to have sewer and water service installed. Henderson said she plans to take the matter to court.

Mike Nowatzki

Mike Nowatzki reports for Forum News Service. He can be reached at (701) 255-5607.