from the there's-nothing-not-ridiculous-about-that-headline dept
Across the sea in the UK, offensive speech is still getting people jailed. An obnoxious person who trained his girlfriend’s dog to perform the Nazi salute and respond excitedly to the phrase “gas the Jews” is looking at possible jail time after posting these exploits to YouTube under the name Count Dankula. According to Scotland resident Markus Meechan, it was the “least cute” thing he could train his girlfriend’s dog to do, apparently in response to her constant gushing about the dog’s cuteness.
Meechan’s video racked up 3 million views on YouTube, but it really didn’t start making news until local police started paying attention.
That April, soon after the video was posted, police knocked on Meechan’s door in Coatbridge, a town in North Lanarkshire, Scotland, he told Alex Jones. The officers told him that he was being charged with a hate crime and that the video could be seen as promoting violence against Jews. They told him to change his clothes, took pictures of his apartment and hauled him off to jail.
There’s is no doubt the video is offensive. But offended people have plenty of options to counter Meechan’s speech with their own. Unfortunately, the 2003 law being used against him has ensured this counterspeech is solely taking the form of testimony against Meechan.
During the trial, Ephraim Borowski, director of the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities, who lost family members during the Holocaust, said the video was “grossly offensive. It stuns me that anyone should think it is a joke,” he said, according to The Times.
“My immediate reaction is that there is a clear distinction to be made between an off-hand remark and the amount of effort that is required to train a dog like that. I actually feel sorry for the dog.”
Meechan says he has no hate for Jews and did it solely to annoy his girlfriend. It was recorded, which means it was meant to entertain YouTube users, some of which likely viewed the video as generally supportive of gassing Jews (which may have helpfully aligned with their own views on the subject). But speech can be offensive without being a hate crime, and the general criminalization of offensive subject matter isn’t doing much to curb actual racially-motivated criminal activity. All it’s really doing is ensuring UK courts receive a steady stream of defendants who’ve done nothing more dangerous than publicly display their questionable opinions and terrible senses of humor.
The YouTuber is now facing a year in prison because an unfunny prank came to the attention of local police. Prosecutors are busy trying to prove intent, which should be an uphill battle. Meechan has already issued a public apology, as well as a follow-up video further distancing his distasteful prank from any support for anti-Semitism. Nevertheless, prosecutors are alleging the sole reason for the recording was to cause fear and stir up hatred. That really doesn’t seem to be the case despite several bigots deciding the video’s release meant they should inundate the local Jewish community council with hateful messages.
Laws enforced in this fashion don’t instill a greater respect for rule of law or those who craft bad laws with good intentions. Fifteen years have passed since this law took effect and it’s certainly hasn’t shown much return on investment. Instead of stomping out hate, it’s being used to carve holes in speech protections, ensuring the merely offensive will be given the same punishments as those who actually incite hatred and violent acts.