We have previously discussed the German laws barring certain expressions and symbols connected to Nazi Germany. Germany like much of the West has continued to criminalize speech in a gradual erosion of free speech. Most recently, the German police arrested two Chinese tourists for making illegal Hitler salutes in front of the Reichstag building that houses the German parliament. It was obviously a joke but in Germany it is a crime. The problem is that most tourists will not assume that such a picture could be a crime because it is such a senseless denial of free speech. It is ironic that the arrests would involve Chinese citizens who probably assumed that in the West they could enjoy free speech.
While I am certainly sympathetic to the Germans in seeking to end the scourge of fascism, I have long been a critic of the German laws prohibiting certain symbols and phrases, I view it as not just a violation of free speech but a futile effort to stamp but extremism by barring certain symbols. Instead, extremists have rallied around an underground culture and embraced symbols that closely resemble those banned by the government. I fail to see how arresting a man for a Hitler ringtone is achieving a meaningful level of deterrence, even if you ignore the free speech implications.
In this case, the two men, aged 36 and 49, were taking pictures posing in front of the symbol from the rise of Nazi Germany. The building was burned on February 27, 1933 after Hitler was sworn in as Chancellor of Germany. The incident was used to blame the communists and help the Nazis take control.
They now face charges for “using symbols of illegal organizations.” They were released after posting bail of €500 each.
I do not believe for a second that these cases actually succeed in deterring extremism any more than the arrest for the ring tone did so. Neo-Nazis have continued to flourish in Germany. They simply change their symbols and work below the radar screen. Attempts to criminalize speech have never succeeded in deterring dangerous thoughts. What they do succeed in doing is fuel greater and greater criminalization as groups demand greater protections from hateful or degrading or harmful speech.