Today, a trial will begin for a French politician who was charged for criticizing immigration as a public danger. In the meantime, a Christian street preacher was reportedly facing criminal charges in the United Kingdom for declaring that a trans woman was really a “gentleman” and a “man in woman’s clothing.” The counter-terrorism unit arrested David McConnell, a Christian preacher who was already convicted last year for “harassment” in the incident last year.
For the earlier offense, McConnell was sentenced to a 12-month community order with 80 hours unpaid work. However, according to the Daily Mail, he was also reported to the counter-terrorism unit and, according to McConnell’s probation officer, he is “viewed [as] persistently and illegally espousing an extreme point of view” with his preaching.
That is all that it takes now in the UK and most of Europe today: “an extreme point of view.” So now he is akin to a terrorist for exercising free speech.
This case is reminiscent of the “toxic ideology” ruling in the Brock case.
Last year, Nicholas Brock, 52, was convicted of a thought crime in Maidenhead, Berkshire. The neo-Nazi was given a four-year sentence for what the court called his “toxic ideology” based on the contents of the home he shared with his mother in Maidenhead, Berkshire.
While most of us find Brock’s views repellent and hateful, they were confined to his head and his room. Yet, Judge Peter Lodder QC dismissed free speech or free thought concerns with a truly Orwellian statement: “I do not sentence you for your political views, but the extremity of those views informs the assessment of dangerousness.”
Lodder lambasted Brock for holding Nazi and other hateful values:
“[i]t is clear that you are a right-wing extremist, your enthusiasm for this repulsive and toxic ideology is demonstrated by the graphic and racist iconography which you have studied and appeared to share with others…”
Even though Lodder agreed that the defendant was older, had limited mobility, and “there was no evidence of disseminating to others,” he still sent him to prison for holding extremist views.
After the sentencing Detective Chief Superintendent Kath Barnes, Head of Counter Terrorism Policing South East (CTPSE), warned others that he was going to prison because he “showed a clear right-wing ideology with the evidence seized from his possessions during the investigation….We are committed to tackling all forms of toxic ideology which has the potential to threaten public safety and security.”
“Toxic ideology” also appears to be the target in Ireland with the recently proposed Criminal Justice (Incitement to Violence or Hatred and Hate Offences) law. It would criminalize the possession of material deemed hateful. The law is a free speech nightmare. The law makes it a crime of “possession of harmful material” as well as “condoning, denying or grossly trivialising genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and crimes against peace.” The law expressly states the intent to combat “forms and expressions of racism and xenophobia by means of criminal law.”
What is so striking about the law is that it allows for the prosecution of citizens for “preparing or possessing material likely to incite violence or hatred against persons on account of their protected characteristics.” That could sweep deeply into not just political but literary expression.
The expansion of such prosecutions to thought crimes is a natural extension of the anti-free speech movement that took hold of much of Europe decades ago. The decline of free speech in the United Kingdom has long been a concern for free speech advocates. A man was convicted for sending a tweet while drunk referring to dead soldiers. Another was arrested for an anti-police t-shirt. Another was arrested for calling the Irish boyfriend of his ex-girlfriend a “leprechaun.” Yet another was arrested for singing “Kung Fu Fighting.” A teenager was arrested for protesting outside of a Scientology center with a sign calling the religion a “cult.”
Once you start as a government to criminalize speech, you end up on a slippery slope of censorship. What constitutes hate speech or “malicious communications” remains a highly subjective matter and we have seen a steady expansion of prohibited terms and words and gestures. We recently discussed a woman arrested for praying to herself near an abortion clinic.
Free speech is in a free fall in the West. The United Kingdom, France, Germany, Canada, and other Western powers have plunged headlong into censorship and speech crimes. This case is a sad demonstration of the loss of a critical core of constituents who demand the protection of this core liberty. Conversely, those who embrace censorship and criminalization today are blissfully content that their own views will never be deemed “toxic” or “extreme.” It is the siren’s call of censorship and more citizens are yielding to the temptation to silence (rather than debate) those with opposing views.