For 10 years, Christian Hine from Fort Mill was a familiar face of conservatism in Charlotte.
Hine was all over the Internet and other media for years. He spoke passionately at rallies at the U.S. Capitol on behalf of conservative causes.
He spoke out against the Affordable Care Act; was against toll roads in Mecklenburg County and taxes in York County; spoke before rallies for such candidates running for president and Congress as Rand Paul and Greg Brannon in North Carolina. He was president of a Charlotte area Tea Party group for years. He was the volunteer Mecklenburg County chair for N.C. Lt. Gov. Dan Forest’s campaign in 2012 and co-designed the grassroots strategy to get Forest elected, his lawyers said.
He led the charge to stop sports taxes in Charlotte. He stood up for what he believed in, say those who knew him.
But Christian Hine had a secret.
In order to battle an autistic disorder and depression from a failed relationship, he was “self-medicating” with child pornography.
He now sits in a prison cell within the S.C. Department of Corrections for possession of child pornography, having admitted an addiction that involved hundreds of pictures of children, shared thousands of times over a decade, as he dealt with bouts of depression by viewing porn involving children.
The guilty plea prosecuted by the S.C. Attorney General’s Office last week, covered 10 felonies. Hine had another eight years of prison time suspended, as long as he completes probation and other requirements after two years in prison. Hine will have to register as a sex offender upon release and go through three years of probation.
“His descent into depression and pornography abuse was as swift as it was tragic,” wrote former federal prosecutor Johnny Gasser, Hine’s lawyer, in trying to get Hine probation instead of prison time. “It’s difficult to understand how Christian ended up in such a terrible place,” his lawyers wrote in his sentencing documents.
Mark Gibbons of Mecklenburg County, who worked with Hine on candidate elections and knew him from political functions for years, said that Hine believed in fiscal conservative causes and worked hard for them. Gibbons said Hine was a hard worker against toll roads and was a frequent visitor to Gibbons’ home. Gibbons said he was shocked at finding out about the criminal allegations, saying it was “surprising and “unfortunate.”
But Gibbons said that there has to be laws and consequences for “offensive pictures” and that Hine himself would say the same thing.
Hine wrote about Libertarian and conservative views for Pundit House, a now defunct conservative news and opinion website he co-founded in 2010 But while the online site was up, he frequently was on radio and other media talking about conservatism and significant public policy issues. He was quoted in news stories and led an active public speaking, conservative advocacy and political campaigning life, championing the more freedom, less government causes typical of fiscal conservatives.
He kept the secret hidden. Apparently nobody knew, court documents show.
Until the cops showed up at the front door.
On June 24 2015, Hine, 39, opened the door of his Fort Mill home and was looking at state agents carrying search warrants. Hine pointed the agents to his computer, tablet and other electronics. The agents grabbed it all. By November 2015, Hine was arrested on 20 charges of sexual exploitation of minors. York County authorities, knowing that Hine was active politically and wanting to make sure that there was not even an appearance of conflict of interest, asked state agents to handle the case.
The investigation with police looking for sexual crimes online started in Florence and led to York County . Agents alleged to have found more than 700 pictures, involving underage children in pornography. More, the photos had been shared thousands of times, often over something called E-Mule, for more than 10 years, police and prosecutors said.
Hine’s lawyers said that the number of pictures was between 250 and 350, but that Hine had an addiction to porn. His lawyers, former federal prosecutors Gasser and Greg Harris, wrote that Hine had had been diagnosed with autistic spectrum disorder, an affliction that leaves people unable to communicate well with others or socialize well.
Hine “began to search for images of teens, as opposed to adults,” his lawyers wrote in court documents.
Hal Weatherman, the campaign manager for the Committee to Elect Dan Forest, said he was "very disappointed in hearing of Mr. Hine's actions. He was a dedicated Mecklenburg County volunteer 5 years ago. Hope he gets the help he needs and I support the court's decision so that justice can be served."
Hine worked as a mail carrier but his political activism went back to at least 2000, when he was an executive director for the North Carolina Young Republican group after college and continued with many successes.
“His future seemed bright,” his lawyers wrote. “However, unbeknownst to his business partners, his friends, and his mother, Christian started the pornography. With no medical help and “no one to speak to due to the stigma of Internet pornography,” Hine quickly became addicted, his lawyers wrote.
Hine was lonely, had limited social skills and the computer became an outlet for Hine’s sexuality, his lawyers said. Hine became addicted to porn in an attempt to “fill the void in his life,” his lawyers wrote in court documents.
That porn led to pictures of children.
“Like many others before him, Christian’s spiral into the world of Internet pornography led him to stumble upon deviant and illegal sexual interests he did not know existed,” the lawyers wrote.
Many people wrote letters to the court asking for mercy for Hine before he pleaded guilty. Former coworkers at a mail sorting plant, conservative activists, and others wrote that he was a good person who had interaction with their families without problems. A doctor wrote and testified that Hine was not likely to re-offend after treatment.
Hine, who branded himself as able to do political messaging and consulting, took full responsibility for his actions in court. Hine has had medical help since his arrest and cooperated fully with treatment, his lawyers wrote to the court. He made a living working some for a Fort Mill company and as an UBER driver.
Hine “understands that he has permanently affected his future and that his life is changed forever. His felony convictions will follow him forever, as will his lifetime reporting requirement...However, he also believes he is on the right path to being a productive citizen. He has no intention of ever returning to pornography to ease his depression and anxiety. He hopes to make amends for his crime by working hard in his community...”
Hine’s lawyers called sending Hine to prison futile, instead suggesting house arrest.
It didn’t work. Hine left court Aug. 22 in chains.