BY DAVID RESS AND ALAN COOPER TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITERS Mar 13, 2004 The judge hadn't been on the online message board for weeks when another member posted a comment suggesting Darwin's theory of evolution could be blamed for Hitler's rise. When he went on the Internet that Saturday afternoon in late January, Richmond General District Judge Ralph Robertson had no idea he soon would be clicking his way out of the courtroom he had presided over for 19 years. A little after 8 that evening, he saw a comment from "gymnast chick." The post said that Darwinism prompted laws that restricted immigration to the United States to Anglo-Saxons and banned interracial marriage, and also led to laws on eugenics. Robertson batted out a quick reply: "Oh, that we could only go back to those wonderful times," he wrote in a posting to the "Atticus" online discussion group, a Yahoo! message board that boasts of "intelligent discourse." It would start an argument during which Robertson would bang out comments about race and crime that nobody in Richmond knew he held. It was a clash that would lead one adversary in the group to call him a racist - a charge he vehemently denied - and that eventually drove her to track down the judge and make public his comments. Robertson had identified himself by his first name and mentioned in postings that he lived in Richmond and had been a judge for 19 years. Knowing his comments were about to be published, Robertson stepped down from the bench late last month, taking immediate sick leave and announcing he would retire this month. He would publicly apologize for his remarks and say there never had been racism in his courtroom. He has declined requests to comment further on the postings. Several hours after Robertson posted his comment that Saturday evening, "gymnast" replied. "Sorry Ralph," she wrote. "All good things must come to an end. We people of European descent are well on our way to being a minority in the United States. We belong in a museum somewhere." That exchange would soon draw a sharp rebuke from another Atticus member, Lisa Tellez, a Texas woman who had been the target of a series of postings the week before, telling her to lighten up in her criticism of other Atticus members. "You don't belong in a museum, but your attitude most certainly does, . . . the Auschwitz museum." "I can't believe that the two of you are not ashamed to write such racist garbage," she wrote, in another item she posted within minutes. Things would soon get hot and heavy. In response to an item from another Atticus member, Robertson typed: "I have no more in common with a Hottentot [nomadic people of southwest Africa] than I have with a space alien. Why should I anticipate liking him?" This prompted the Atticus group's "moderator," an English woman named Julie Baxter, to ask why Robertson would expect not to. "Same reason, I treat a dog with healthy regard until I get to know him," Robertson snapped back. Tellez then posted a comment that her objections to Robertson's attitudes had nothing to do with "political correctness, . . . but rather the understanding that no group of people is superior to others." Robertson hadn't said anything about racial superiority that weekend, but replied, "I don't know you mean superior to others. But I will never play basketball like Lew Alcindor, or run a football like Barry Sanders. Of course they will never do Quantum mechanics. I guess it all depends on what you think adds to the value of society." He spun off into a long diatribe, saying the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. plagiarized his Ph.D. thesis and attacking the Rev. Jesse Jackson as "a thief a liar and traitor to his own people." And a few minutes after that, he added: "Personally I like a country where morality has a meaning. We have had more people killed in the city I live in by minorities in the last 15 years than were ever supposedly lynched. When do they get through being even?" Tellez later weighed in with two separate postings. One, in response to his exchange about Hottentots, complained that Robertson often used analogies involving animals when discussing racial relations. The other, in response to his comment about killings in Richmond, was: "What, only minorities commit murder? Surely you can't be that ignorant, Ralph." Robertson seemed to have moved on: He did not reply. That same afternoon, Robertson posted a comment, "IQ has nothing to do with race." The next week, Robertson and Tellez were at it again. "I am so fed up with this notion that minorities are not capable of performing as well as Anglos, and that the only time they make good grades is when they are given special treatment. Nothing could be farther from the truth," Tellez wrote the next Sunday. "And your data to support this supposition comes from what source?" Robertson replied. "It's amazing, I have never heard this argument made. It has always been what we have to do provide minorities with the opportunity to compete fairly. Even the most liberal commentators that I have heard, Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, have always recognized a difference and attributed it some source, usually racism. So truly this takes me by surprise." They squabbled about whether an example she cited of a school that worked really existed and over a PBS show about bias in the media. Robertson told her she should read several books on race, including one conservative critique that argues white racism is not an explanation for African-Americans' troubles but an excuse, as well as the controversial book "The Bell Curve," which argues there is a link between race and intelligence. At another point that week, Tellez asked if Robertson believed minority students' lower scores on standardized tests are strictly due to their race. "Do you actually believe that minorities are by genetics intellectually inferior to Anglos?" she asked. "Actually Lisa, that is what the repeated testing does show. I don't use the word inferior though," Robertson replied. The exchanges continued into the next week. "You know, I was thinking, Ralph," Tellez wrote, "if you are correct in your assumption that African Americans are prone to crime and violence because it is in their DNA." "Why not? It controls everything else. Why is a lion more ferocious than a kitty cat?" Robertson replied. "The answer of course is that somewhere along the way someone bred it out of them." Tellez then asked him why medical treatment wouldn't be a better answer than punishment. "There is no treatment for DNA defects yet, but they are working on it," Robertson replied. But a few days later, he came back to post, "Only a small part of DNA has to do with race. There are certainly violent people of all races, it just [seems] to predominate in some races." That weekend, Feb. 14, Robertson complained Tellez's comments are causing him discomfort. Which ones, Tellez asked. "The one I am most sensitive to is being called a racist," Robertson typed back. "I am not one. I am a racialist and there is a great deal of difference . . . during the civil rights era I was frequently put in positions where I was called a '****** lover.'" Robertson would later write that he thought a racialist was someone who did not discriminate but who did believe there were differences between the races. This would spark a dispute over the definition of racialist, which Robertson eventually admitted he did not realize the standard definition was essentially the same as racist. He finally said he was not going to discuss race with Tellez any more and asked the moderator to put an end to the dispute. But within a few days, Tellez had contacted the NAACP office in Richmond, seeking help in publicizing Robertson's remarks. Robertson would submit his resignation shortly after that. "Some on this list have argued that Ralph has a right to express his opinions here, privately," Tellez wrote in response to postings by Atticus members who criticized her for making Robertson's postings public and suggested that she had baited him. "Some have demonized the act of exposing his words, and have minimized Ralph's outrageous remarks to mere 'venting.' . . . "I disagree. I believe that Ralph's words reveal what he truly believes. He has made it clear that he believes such things to be proven scientific fact. . . . Ralph expressed his views on this list willingly. No one has 'goaded' him into saying anything."