A Scottish court convicted Youtube personality "Count Dankula" of a hate crime for posting a joke video of his girlfriend's dog giving the Nazi salute.
Count Dankula, whose real name is Mark Meechan, was released on bail earlier today and will be sentenced next month, according to Breitbart.
Just before the verdict, Meechan told his fans: "If worse comes to worst and everything goes fucking terribly, keep fighting for free speech, the great meme war."
The video that got Meechan in trouble was posted on Youtube in April 2016. It depicts his girlfriend's dog, Buddha, responding to Meechan saying "want to gas the Jews?" over and over again. Meechan also positions the dog to be watching an Adolf Hitler rally on the computer, and to perform a Nazi salute. As Reason's Christian Britschgi reported earlier, Meechan claimed his sole intention was to troll his girlfriend, who was "always ranting and raving about how cute and adorable her wee dog is."
"And so I thought I would turn him into the least cute thing I could think of, which is a Nazi," said Meechan. "I'm not a racist by the way, I just really wanted to piss her off."
Police arrested Meechan for violating Section 127 of the U.K. Communications Act, which prohibits "grossly offensive, indecent, obscene, or menacing" electronic communications. At the trial, Ephraim Borowski, director of the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities and a witness for the prosecution, offered the following testimony: "My immediate reaction is that there is a clear distinction to be made between an offhand remark and the amount of effort that is required to train a dog like that." But the video presents little evidence that the dog underwent some sort of rigorous programming. (My dogs respond positively to pretty much everything any human being says, as long as it's uttered in a friendly tone.)
Meechan has claimed that this trial is about defending the right to make offensive jokes, and engage in free speech more generally. Unfortunately, the U.K. doesn't have the First Amendment—such speech would undoubtedly be protected in the U.S., where the Supreme Court has routinely thwarted the government's efforts to punish even the vilest kind of expression.
It may very well be the case that the Glasgow judge was right about the facts of the case, and that Meechan broke the law. But it's wrong, as a matter of moral principle, to lock people up for engaging in hate speech. It's particularly wrong here—but it would be wrong even if Meechan was a legitimate Nazi sympathizer.
Yesterday I wrote about the so-called campus free speech "crisis," and why I think there's solid evidence that some young people—the most radical activists, in particular—are turning against the First Amendment. Kids today are more favorably disposed toward some kinds of speakers that used to be considered offensive—communists, gays, atheists—but many remain willing to support censorship of racists and other deplorable persons. Of particular concern is their attitude toward hate speech: Current college students were evenly split on the question of whether the government should prohibit hateful expression.
Liberals and civil libertarians must continue to challenge this attitude if we don't want to end up living in a country where the state imprisons people for making idiotic but harmless Youtube videos. Meechan's conviction is an odious reminder that such places exist, even in the most advanced, progressive, and supposedly tolerant corners of the world.