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The Heretical Two
January 24, 2010 1:01 PM   Subscribe

heretical.com and its discontents. The US and the UK have incompatible perspectives concerning the ownership and distribution of web pages and comic books. The "Heretical Two" are a case in point.

A few words of caution. None of the links in this essay will cause harm to your computer. But some of these links contain content that may be illegal in your country or forbidden at your school, workplace or internet access point. Critics have said some of these links contain content that is factually in error, cruel, and inciting of hatred and violence.

Simon Sheppard is the owner of heretical.com.  Stephen Whittle has written for heretical.com. Sheppard and Whittle are citizens of the United Kingdom, while heretical.com is located in the United States. The content of heretical.com is illegal in the UK (as 'rate hate') where the authors and editors reside.  The same content is not illegal in the US, where the content resides.  The content of heretical.com is online right now, while the authors and editors are in prison.

R. Crumb is a comic book artist. Among his work is a page from Zap Comics titled Niggers Over America.  Crumb described the piece in an interview for the New Yorker by saying "I just had to expose all the myths people have of blacks and Jews in the rawest way possible to tilt the scale toward truth." In the UK, Sheppard and Whittle were found guilty of race hate for publishing Niggers Over America. In the US, Niggers Over America was exhibited in the David Zwerner Gallery (New York) as high art.

The Internet Archive is located in San Francisco.  About: "Open and free access to literature and other writings has long been considered essential to education and to the maintenance of an open society." The US-based Internet Archive includes a comic book called Tales of the Holohoax. Sheppard and Whittle were found guilty of race hate for the possession of and distribution of this same comic book.

Sheppard and Whittle fled to the United States when charged and applied for political asylum.  They claimed that their content was protected as free speech under the United States Constitution because heretical.com was located in the United States.  Their application was denied and they were extradited back to the United Kingdom.

Index on Censorship describes itself as "Britain’s leading organisation promoting freedom of expression."  Index on Censorship includes information on Sheppard and Whittle. Threatened Voices (based in the Netherlands) describes itself as "a collaborative mapping project to build a database of bloggers who have been threatened, arrested or killed for speaking out online and to draw attention to the campaigns to free them."  Threatened Voices includes information on Sheppard and Whittle. While the content of heretical.com is protected as free speech by United States law, the main free speech advocate groups based in the United States have not supported Sheppard and Whittle.

The Heretical Two have received some support from online authors. Some of their support comes from advocates of free speech, such as that offered by Free the Heretical Two and The Spearhead.  Some of their support comes from advocates of holocaust revisionism, such as the support offered by Northwest Nationalists and The International Campaign for Real History. Some of their support might be some of each, such as the support offered by Cosmodromium and the Hoover Hog.  A quote from the Hog: "If you would like to know what criminal speech sounds like, Sheppard and Whittle's words still pulsate with harmful potential on the Heretical website. Perhaps you will be offended, or bemused, or provoked, or simply bored. It doesn't much matter at this point. The law has spoken. Two writers have been imprisoned for expressing thoughts and we should breathe easier. Persecution is just a noisy watchword anyway. Free speech is about Henry Miller and Lenny Bruce and Salman Rushdie and those Muhammad cartoons. It is important to understand the difference."

For the crime of for race hate, Sheppard has been sentenced to four years and ten months, Whittle to two years and four months. Sheppard's computer and printing equipment have been impounded.
posted by eccnineten (73 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
(as 'rate hate') should be (as 'race hate') although I do hate the rate of errors that seem to evade my editing skills.
posted by eccnineten at 1:06 PM on January 24, 2010


Racists publishing hate speech, illegal in home country, mistakenly think that by hosting it in country with less enlightened legal system that they can avoid much-needed punishment, get years in prison.

Not seeing the problem here.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 1:10 PM on January 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


A cursory examination of heretical.com suggests that it is a repository of hate speech operated by men in serious need of psychological help. I'm not sure why R. Crumb, a famous underground cartoonist and satirist, is showing up in the same FPP.
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:11 PM on January 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Did you read the FPP?

R. Crumb is a comic book artist. Among his work is a page from Zap Comics titled Niggers Over America. Crumb described the piece in an interview for the New Yorker by saying "I just had to expose all the myths people have of blacks and Jews in the rawest way possible to tilt the scale toward truth." In the UK, Sheppard and Whittle were found guilty of race hate for publishing Niggers Over America.
posted by kenko at 1:14 PM on January 24, 2010


Racists publishing hate speech, illegal in home country, mistakenly think that by hosting it in country with less enlightened legal system that they can avoid much-needed punishment, get years in prison.

Not seeing the problem here.


The problem is that some people think that the other country actually has a more enlightened legal system, see, at least in this respect. Sheppard and Whittle's being mistaken as to which country's laws would apply to them isn't really the point.
posted by kenko at 1:18 PM on January 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


That site is some surreal shit.
posted by Decimask at 1:18 PM on January 24, 2010


The problem could also lie in the characterization of the punishment they're receiving as "much-needed".
posted by kenko at 1:18 PM on January 24, 2010


less enlightened

[citation needed], particularly because of idiotic shit like libel tourism. I have yet to hear a good justification for restraints on speech by individuals outside of a tort setting (e.g., damaging someone's livelihood with falsehoods) or as a product of another harm (e.g., child pornography).
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 1:18 PM on January 24, 2010


They had me up until "Women—as many of you know well—will be happy to tell you what you can and cannot say. Women are ascending to power. How long will they continue to allow you to freely and openly question them? How many feminists would defend your right to free speech if they found what you wrote threatening, insulting or “politically incorrect?”"

>: Racists publishing hate speech, illegal in home country, mistakenly think that by hosting it in country with less enlightened legal system that they can avoid much-needed punishment, get years in prison. Not seeing the problem here.

I disagree. I might think someone's a shitbag for saying something hateful, but I still think they deserve to be able to say it. And the people behind the main link seem to be pretty shitty people.
posted by dunkadunc at 1:24 PM on January 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


This isn't about "ownership and distribution of web pages and comic books", it's about neo-nazi activists -- specifically British neo-nazi activists, publishing material aimed at a British audience, but trying to hide behind the US first amendment by hosting it overseas.

Given that the material they're publishing is illegal under British law, their position is broadly equivalent to, say, a couple of American paedophiles publishing child pornography on a web site and claiming immunity from prosecution because their server is physically located in Thailand.

(The issue of whether the publication of certain matter should be illegal is an entirely separate one from the basic problem that their theory that US constitutional law ought to apply to matter published by Brits and read by Brits in the UK is, er, rubbish.)
posted by cstross at 1:24 PM on January 24, 2010 [7 favorites]


They are a pair of odious clowns and I must confess to a bit of a chuckle when they fled to the US seeking asylum, but much as I have spent a number of years in anti-fascist and anti-racist activity in the UK, I don't want them prosecuted under these laws. It's a political contest that should be won in that arena and there's no sense in making martyrs of these little-read buffoons.
That said, the campaigner for their freedom at your main link seems like a twat of similar water to the bold boys from County Durham, and can fuck off.
posted by Abiezer at 1:25 PM on January 24, 2010 [6 favorites]


Racists publishing hate speech, illegal in home country, mistakenly think that by hosting it in country with less enlightened legal system that they can avoid much-needed punishment, get years in prison.

The Python links are explosive indeed!
posted by Max Power at 1:26 PM on January 24, 2010


Do people really think that suppressing hate on the internet will make it go away? I'm afraid hate has been around since way way back before the internet. Prosecuting and imprisoning those with hateful views has furthermore not been shown to rehabilitate those views. In fact, many hate groups start and recruit in prisons. Oh the irony if they get plenty of recruits to their views while in prison.
posted by melissam at 1:27 PM on January 24, 2010


Women—as many of you know well—will be happy to tell you what you can and cannot say. Women are ascending to power. How long will they continue to allow you to freely and openly question them? How many feminists would defend your right to free speech if they found what you wrote threatening, insulting or “politically incorrect?

Hmm... it's certainly a valid argument that even offensive speech should be protected, but is there an essay defending these guys that doesn't itself resort to offensive generalization? Maybe that would be more persuasive.
posted by Crane Shot at 1:29 PM on January 24, 2010


"Women—as many of you know well—will be happy to tell you what you can and cannot say. Women are ascending to power. How long will they continue to allow you to freely and openly question them? How many feminists would defend your right to free speech if they found what you wrote threatening, insulting or “politically incorrect?”"

Yeah, that's pretty shitty. It's like women to him are this oppressive bloc of evil rather than a diverse half of the human race that includes plenty of libertarians, anarchists, and what not. I get the feeling he doesn't have much experience with the opposite sex. He's just mad not because women want to jail him, we just don't tend to want to date racists.
posted by melissam at 1:33 PM on January 24, 2010 [5 favorites]


Disclaimer:didn't read many of the links - don't need to read hate-mongering to understand that it exists
Pedantic: he wasn't convicted of race hate, but race hate speech

Can anyone out there point to any studies done on this matter? Specifically: Do countries with 'hate speech' laws have less racism? Has rates of racism declined in countries that have adopted these laws? Is there any indication that people who hear/read hate speech are influenced by it?

Is there any evidence to the opposite - that hate speech laws enable martyrs and hate speech laws have the opposite intended effect?

Why mention Crumb, Faint of Butt asks? Well apparently hate speech law can find it hard to distinguish between social commentary/satire and actual hate speech. Apparently the racists had a hard time with this distinction as well.

I get the impression that the publishing of Crumbs work in the UK was also a crime in the US - that of copyright violation. I wonder if the US could consider that Crumbs implied endorsement (the readers of the works within the context of a racist republishing it might assume so) would constitute slander.

The US has a history of bankrupting racist 'leaders' through civil law (suing when the racists followers commit violent acts they were encouraged to commit), so I think there is an alternative to hate speech laws to deal with dangerous racists.

IMHO the best way to demonstrate the bankruptcy of racists viewpoints is to allow them to explain themselves (this works much better when the medium of communication is two-way, and not controlled by the state or one way communications - television, newspapers, etc).
posted by el io at 1:35 PM on January 24, 2010


I'm not sure if it's funnier that Sheppard and Whittle apparently didn't understand that When the Niggers Take Over America is satirical, or sadder that the UK legal system didn't either.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:35 PM on January 24, 2010


Did you read the FPP?

I need to get my money back from those speed-reading courses.
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:39 PM on January 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


I would support prosecution of Steve Whittle for crimes against ginger hair though (see Hoover Hog link in FPP if you've not had the pleasure of gazing on his manful master-race countenance) Sheppard is more the 'face you'd never tire of punching' type.
posted by Abiezer at 1:39 PM on January 24, 2010


I'd totally defend these guys' right to free speech under US law: if they were US citizens.

And assuming their hate speech doesn't fall under our new terrorism laws about promoting violence and threatening people for political ends. In which case, they are Enemy Combatants, who don't get Habeas Corpus and get to enjoy being Not Tortured (TM).

Maybe they can request extraordinary rendition?
posted by yeloson at 1:42 PM on January 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Do people really think that suppressing hate on the internet will make it go away? I'm afraid hate has been around since way way back before the internet.

It's reasonable to assume that people won't stop hating others, but it is reasonable to assume that increasing the cost and hardship of publishing hate speech would be an effective way to limit its audience. Racism is a learned behaviour, and limiting the audience is a good way to hamper the ability of people to teach racism.

Whether you think it's right or wrong to attempt to limit this kind of speech is a separate question from whether it's effective.
posted by odinsdream at 1:48 PM on January 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Just to be clear, the two individuals were not convicted of "race hate". They were convicted of selling racist materials. A small difference, I know, but if "race hate" was a crime in the UK, most of the BNP would be in prison, along with several prominent lords and ladies.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:02 PM on January 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


Racism is a learned behaviour, and limiting the audience is a good way to hamper the ability of people to teach racism.

It is an excellent way to wall people off from anything that offends them. It is a terrible way to teach critical thinking, good argumentative skills, etc. and gives active racists an additional incentive to conduct their activities in forums where it is more difficult for other people to provide an opposing argument.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 2:10 PM on January 24, 2010 [6 favorites]


The indictments included 'publishing racially inflammatory written material', BP. There were also convictions for distribution, but that wasn't the whole case as far as I'm aware. Sheppard had a previous conviction from 2000 for similar offences. Looking that up I also realise I defamed the lovely County Durham in my earlier comment and the charming pair were mostly holed up in Hull.
posted by Abiezer at 2:16 PM on January 24, 2010


I thought this was going to be about comic books. I'm going to be now.
posted by Elmore at 2:50 PM on January 24, 2010


I'd totally defend these guys' right to free speech under US law: if they were US citizens.

Would you totally defend Iranian gay people's right to not be executed for being gay under US law, only if they were US citizens?

In my opinion, the British law's unjust. You can't have free speech without free speech, and that includes all sorts of people's speech, including people like David Duke and David Irving- even if what they say makes us want to do horrible things to them.
posted by dunkadunc at 3:01 PM on January 24, 2010 [8 favorites]


even if what they say makes us want to do horrible things to them.

Hmmm. Frankly, I'm more worried about what the things they say might make other people do to me.

Turning to the post itself: Critics have said some of these links contain content that is factually in error, cruel, and inciting of hatred and violence.

Count me among the critics. I'm really hoping that this sentence was a misguided attempt at humour through twee phraseology, rather that a genuine attempt to imply that there is a serious debate, between rational critics as it might be, about the the factual accuracy of holocaust denial or the aims of neo-nazi propaganda.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 3:11 PM on January 24, 2010


I'm very surprised that the ACLU didn't get involved, considering the many unpopular folks they've defended in the past (Rush Limbaugh, the Skokie Nazis, NAMBLA). However, they do have a process for requesting aid, and we don't know if the Heretical Two went through it.

I'd favor giving them asylum, since they are being prosecuted for a crime that the US system regards as a civil liberty. I'm very surprised that their judge didn't recognize that. Too late now, though.

The problem with prosecuting speech crimes is that while you might consider the speech being prosecuted right now as a crime, you shouldn't be surprised if your own speech becomes a crime sometime in the future. Unless you are a complete toady, that is.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 3:17 PM on January 24, 2010


Could some of you free speech absolutists flesh out what you think is right when a political movement whose goal is the elimination of a particular class of people produces material vilifying that class, with the aim of persuading the rest of society to join the movement?

How is that class, perhaps an already unpopular minority, to defend itself? Is it solely their responsibility? What if no one else comes to their defence?

I often hear that the cure for hate speech is more speech -- what if that doesn't work? What if, in fact, suppressing the original propaganda is effective in preventing violence spurred by propaganda, and public service announcements aren't?
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 3:25 PM on January 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


In the case of any unpopular minority, it's more likely that their defensive speech will be suppressed as hate speech, than that the aggressive speech will be suppressed.

We free speech absolutists don't have much faith in the benevolence of a government that tells us what we can and can't say. Somehow it seems to me that the rules, no matter how honestly enacted in the first place,will gradually drift toward protecting the entrenched party from dissent.

Laws against violence will take care of any violence spurred by the propaganda, and outright incendiary speech, such as direct threats or calls for acts of violence, can still be prosecuted.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 3:36 PM on January 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


i_am_joe's_spleen: are you saying you support the criminalization of advocacy of prop 8?

Prop 8 supporters are part of an organized political movement, whose speech threatens a particular class. Many of its supporters have engaged in hate-filled speech.

Would criminalizing the speech of Prop 8 supporters make America less bigoted, would it reduce prejudice?

I think most people may agree that hate speech is a problem. The question is what is the most effective solution?

And what are the possible negative side effects of disallowing hate speech? I personally consider it quite hateful when people postulate that me not believing in their Deity means I am allies with their devil, and will burn forever because of my beliefs. But I don't want the government saying what religious beliefs are okay to communicate. If hate speech law is unequally applied (which seems inevitable), that would seem to imply the state endorsement of some hate-speech - something that probably doesn't serve society.
posted by el io at 3:48 PM on January 24, 2010


That's a lot of suppositions, i_a_j_s…

Hate speech doesn't magically turn otherwise angelic people into violent oppressors. Hate speech is part of a larger cultural process of racism. If your culture values freedom, then having the speech in the open allows racism to be rebutted and reacted against; keeping it secret means you can't fight against it. If your culture doesn't value freedom, on the other hand, no amount of censorship will make it free. It almost seems like acceptance of censorship might make people feel that it's OK to suppress the views of minorities they don't like.
posted by hattifattener at 3:52 PM on January 24, 2010


having the speech in the open allows racism to be rebutted and reacted against treated as a valid, mainstream viewpoint which reasonable people can reasonably disagree on

Fixed that for you.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:03 PM on January 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


The kind of thing I am more thinking of is, for example, distribution of Nazi material in modern Germany, which is not merely outlawed but forbidden at a constitutional level.

hattifattener: that's exactly the kind of thing that makes me uncomfortable about gung-ho free speech advocacy. It positions the debate as a choice between extreme alternatives, and it casts one fear (people will persuade other people to hurt a third group) as unreasonable, or as a cost we have to bear, while treating another fear (this will turn into state-based oppression of groups based on arbitrary dislike) as certain to happen and worthy of any measures to prevent.

Hate speech doesn't magically turn otherwise angelic people into violent oppressors. Hate speech is part of a larger cultural process of racism.

Propaganda has more than one purpose. It is both a way for a group to reinforce itself, AND for it to recruit.

If you are an anxious and insecure about your state in society, maybe you haven't decided yet whether immigrants are to blame for taking your job, your woman and your manhood. Maybe what you need is a clearly articulated statement to push you into one political movement rather than another.

If your culture values freedom, then having the speech in the open allows racism to be rebutted and reacted against; keeping it secret means you can't fight against it. If your culture doesn't value freedom, on the other hand, no amount of censorship will make it free.

First, the fact that racism CAN be combatted doesn't mean that it IS combatted, or that it is combatted EFFECTIVELY.

Second, dividing societies in to those that value freedom vs those that don't is bullshit. All societies impose some limits on their members in various ways, often to strike a balance between the competing rights of different members. And in fact, for example, the one I live in DOES impose limits on speech, in a limited, constrained way, and yet it doesn't seem to be heading in the direction feared by Jimmy Havok and others.

It almost seems like acceptance of censorship might make people feel that it's OK to suppress the views of minorities they don't like.

The issue isn't that I merely don't like Nazis (although to be fair, I don't) but that I fear that if they get organized enough, I will not be safe in my own country. Suppressing their views isn't something I'm into because mere of dislike, otherwise this would be a much quieter country, especially on a Monday morning.

I think it would be good for free speech absolutists to lay out why this fear of thorough-going arbitrary censorship is a more credible fear than the fear of persecution spurred by propaganda. I know that we can find real world examples of both fears coming true in recent history.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 4:24 PM on January 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm not a free speech absolutist (I don't think anyone is, really), but I imagine that the power to punish speech based on its content, justified by an appeal to some speculative social harm, is a power the religious right would quite like to wield.
posted by planet at 4:25 PM on January 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'm in two minds about the benefits and costs of absolute free speech. I would still prefer, as Abiezer suggests, that racists are publicly disabused of their beliefs rather than coerced into silence. But I'm not keen on defending the right to say things that have very real costs to others. Hate speech straddles that boundary between "words we think abhorrent" and "words which harm". I think I would like to know if people who strongly support the right to free speech believe it is possible to abuse that right, and why (not just the shouting "fire" in a theater example, though).
posted by Sova at 4:30 PM on January 24, 2010


Another thing I would like American free speech advocates to explain, brought up as they are to regard the First Amendment as sacred in character, is how it is that societies with ostensibly less legal protection for free speech, such as the UK and most of Western Europe and Australia and New Zealand, are able to have public discourse (particularly on religion and sexuality) which is in practise as free and broad in range if not more so than that in the US.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 4:34 PM on January 24, 2010


I think I would like to know if people who strongly support the right to free speech believe it is possible to abuse that right, and why (not just the shouting "fire" in a theater example, though).
Of course it's possible. Any time someone speaks and thereby makes the world a worse place, they're abusing their right to speak. I don't support criminalizing everything that I wish people wouldn't do, though. In particular, I'm leery about criminalizing actions that don't cause identifiable harm to particular people, but instead "weaken the social order" or "corrupt morality" or whatever you want to call it.
posted by planet at 4:37 PM on January 24, 2010


an appeal to some speculative social harm

Another perfect example.

The social harm of advocating the inferiority of a particular race, discrimination against them and their eventual elimination is not speculative.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 4:39 PM on January 24, 2010


are able to have public discourse (particularly on religion and sexuality) which is in practise as free and broad in range if not more so than that in the US.

Particularly on religion? Geert Wilders begs to differ.
posted by MikeMc at 5:03 PM on January 24, 2010


Any time someone speaks and thereby makes the world a worse place, they're abusing their right to speak.

So what's the possible answer to this? I mean, if I take a person's possession and they lose the enjoyment of it, that's wrong and should be punished. But if my actions lose somebody the enjoyment of society, is that also punishable? I don't mean that they "damage society" in a nebulous and undefined way, but prevent another from the society they were used to.
posted by Sova at 5:13 PM on January 24, 2010


When are we going to get around to fixing the message on the Statue of Liberty? "Give us your wealthy, your influential, your highly skilled emigrants willing to work for less than the prevailing wage..."
posted by mullingitover at 5:27 PM on January 24, 2010


Women—as many of you know well—will be happy to tell you what you can and cannot say. Women are ascending to power. How long will they continue to allow you to freely and openly question them? How many feminists would defend your right to free speech if they found what you wrote threatening, insulting or “politically incorrect?”
Women not wanting to date me because I'm a fat, ugly, and sexist is a violation of free speech!
How is that class, perhaps an already unpopular minority, to defend itself? Is it solely their responsibility? What if no one else comes to their defence?
Well, fascists are a minority these days too. If the minority is actually unpopular what's to prevent the government from pandering to the majority by attempting to limit the free speech rights of said minority? For example, in the past the government could go after gays as perverts. In the south they passed laws that made it illegal to teach black people to read, etc. Australia banned witchcraft until the 1990s. Without free speech, truly embattled minorities are at a greater disadvantage.
I often hear that the cure for hate speech is more speech -- what if that doesn't work? What if, in fact, suppressing the original propaganda is effective in preventing violence spurred by propaganda, and public service announcements aren't?
Again, you don't get to pick what speech gets censored and what doesn't. How do you know the religious right would get into power and ban atheism as "religious hate speech". Or some islamophobe like Guiliani coming in and claiming that Islam is a hate-filled religion, etc. You could say those aren't real examples of "Hate speech" but like I said, you're not going to actually be the one who picks.
posted by delmoi at 6:48 PM on January 24, 2010


Would you totally defend Iranian gay people's right to not be executed for being gay under US law, only if they were US citizens?

My point is that I don't think US law should trump other countries' laws- these guys were neither US citizens nor were they living in the US- they were living in their country, with their people and their laws. If they want to live under US law, then they need to go through the nightmare of immigration (granted, not very nightmarish for european immigrants compared to everyone else), and do the whole process if they want that.

I actually do think a lot of the hate groups should fall under terrorism laws, but so far the US has shown that "terrorists" like peaceful protesters, labor organizers, equal rights activists, and old ladies knitting for peace are the types we put on watch.
posted by yeloson at 7:00 PM on January 24, 2010


Also: I defend queer folks' right to life on it's own principle.

It's a pretty far difference between people being killed for being alive vs. two assholes getting the privilege of their home country, spewing hate and breaking their laws, then turning around and demanding protection from another country.

So yeah, random assholes? Better be paying taxes here if they want the right to call on our laws to protect them.
posted by yeloson at 7:14 PM on January 24, 2010


Restrictions on the right to free speech don't just affect the hate-speaker, they also affect potential listeners. It's as much about your right to hear what guys like the heretical two have to say (if you choose to listen to them) as their right to say it. And there are plenty of good reasons why you might want to retain your right to view/listen to hateful speech even if you find it abhorrent.

It's easy to declare that the suppression of this or that publication is justified when you can inspect it for yourself and decide whether you think it should be banned. But what if laws against hate speech were actually effective, and someone else makes that decision on your behalf without you ever being able to verify it?

Another thing I would like American free speech advocates to explain, brought up as they are to regard the First Amendment as sacred in character, is how it is that societies with ostensibly less legal protection for free speech, such as the UK and most of Western Europe and Australia and New Zealand, are able to have public discourse (particularly on religion and sexuality) which is in practise as free and broad in range if not more so than that in the US.

In Australia with the introduction of mandatory ISP-level content filtering there have already been examples (exposed via Wikileaks) of completely innocuous sites ending up on the blacklist.

I think it's lazy to claim that Whittle and Sheppard are "neo-Nazis" (which admittedly by certain definitions they are) and then having successfully affixed that label to then assume that they advocate exterminating entire races or classes of people. Is there any actual examples of them doing this? Reading their blog it's mostly complaints about Black crime rates, alleged Jewish political influence and liberal immigration policies. Lots of bullet-points in common with Nazis for sure but it's not the same as calling for death camps is it? The fact that the prosecutors had to lean heavily on the Crumb comic to secure the prosecution shows what weak beer the rest of the content was. And to be frank I'm glad I can go and check this out for myself, otherwise I'd just have to take some bureaucrat's word for it that they were neo-Nazis calling for the extermination of minorities. David Irving is another example of a "neo-Nazi" who has views that while certainly objectionable, don't really live up to the hype and hysteria put out by his opponents when you go and actually read them for yourself. I was suprised to learn that "Holocaust denier" means "someone who claims that only 4 million Jews were murdered by Nazi Germany" for example. If this kind of minor misrepresentation of extremist views in rife as it is (when people can go and see for themselves) how much worse would it be if they couldn't?
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 7:34 PM on January 24, 2010 [6 favorites]


Better be paying taxes here if they want the right to call on our laws to protect them.

Couldn't you say the same about any asylum seekers, anywhere? Also, to split hairs, they would have paid some sales tax to the American government when they paid for the hosting of their website.
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 7:37 PM on January 24, 2010


yeloson wrote:
My point is that I don't think US law should trump other countries' laws

I really, honestly don't see how US law trumping other countries' is in any way an issue here. They came to the US and applied for political asylum. Either you think that said status should have been granted to them, or you think the decision not to grant it was correct. There is a purely emotional layer to that question, obviously, in the sense that you are entitled to your opinion as to whether their situation should be grounds for asylum or not. But ultimately it's a matter of the relevant laws and procedures and how they were interpreted in this case.

Now, I'm unfamiliar with said laws and procedures beyond that Wiki link, but nonetheless I fail to see how a decision based on those would "trump" anything, even if it had been favorable to the two jerks in question. Are you suggesting that granting political asylum to qualified applicants somehow trumps the laws of other countries. That seems like a big stretch, and even in that sense, I'd say it would be a feature, not a bug -- in fact kind of the whole point.

Or maybe you're implying that the two jerks being able to publish something that's illegal in the UK by hosting it in the US is itself an instance of US law trumping UK law? In that case, what would the alternative be? Allowing the UK to unpublish something hosted on a US server seems to be an even worse instance of that same offense.

Is it something else? Sorry, I really don't get your point.

So yeah, random assholes? Better be paying taxes here if they want the right to call on our laws to protect them.

But isn't the very point of asylum that it is a way for certain qualified applicants to become residents of a country other than the one where they hold citizenship? Presumably if their request had been granted they would have eventually been paying taxes in the US.

I get that you don't think this type of speech deserves protection, but I'm at a loss as to how your chosen arguments establish this.
posted by mindwarp at 7:39 PM on January 24, 2010 [4 favorites]


As far as imaginary social harms derived from either free speech or censorship, I think if we were to count them up, we'd find more censors slipping toward China-style absolute control, than free states slipping into genocide because they allowed hate speech.

In fact, I doubt you'd find a single genocidal state that allows free speech. The hate speech that leads to genocide has, in 100% of the cases I can think of, been state-sanctioned.

As I said, violence can be dealt with by laws against violence. If you spout hate speech as you commit your violence, then I have no problem defining it as a hate crime and boosting the penalties. If you make a speech calling for members of an ethnic minority to be attacked, I have no problem with charging you with incitement to violence, whether or not your call was answered. If you conspire to commit violence, I have no problem with charging you with conspiracy. But so far as I see, that isn't what Shepperd and Whittle are charged with. They're charged with expressing opinions that the authorities have banned.

You are comfortable with that because you don't like those opinions either. How far from your own opinions does someone have to stray before you want them thrown in prison? Nazis go now. Will it be Catholics next? Tories?
posted by Jimmy Havok at 8:51 PM on January 24, 2010 [6 favorites]


Lots of bullet-points in common with Nazis for sure but it's not the same as calling for death camps is it?

It is the right-wing mission to degrade language to the point that extremist views are repainted as reasonable, relative to more extremist views. Shame on anyone who subscribes to it.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:58 PM on January 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


I get that you don't think this type of speech deserves protection, but I'm at a loss as to how your chosen arguments establish this.

I can personally wish for them to go to hell and get waterboarded while recognizing for a sane, working rule of law system we have to protect the freedom of such people to make the statements they do.

I can also point out, under my country's current laws, people who support and encourage terrorism against Americans, have been disappeared. When we can turn away musicians like MIA and writers for their political views, it's a rather interesting double standard to start handing out asylum to two known hate mongers.

Of course, it's not like America has had any kind of real history of impartially enforcing it's laws...
posted by yeloson at 9:11 PM on January 24, 2010


I'd favor giving them asylum, since they are being prosecuted for a crime that the US system regards as a civil liberty.

Even in the USA, hate speech is not actually protected: there's no Bureau of Hate Speech that valiantly preserves obsolete racial stereotypes. Hate speech is tolerated because your founding fathers believed that you couldn't suppress bad speech without silencing good speech. But this freedom isn't open-ended: it's illegal to incite others to commit a crime, even when that incitement would otherwise be protected speech.

In this case I understand there is no incitement to violence, and the hate speech would be tolerated in the USA. But the fact that something is tolerated does not mean that it should be protected. The USA has offered asylum to advocates of human rights and freedom because it wants (in a somewhat conflicted way) to encourage these things. It might even offer asylum to someone who was imprisoned for advocating freedom of speech per se, because general freedom of speech goes together with the suppression of other human rights. But why should it encourage racial hatred, just because the hatred was expressed through speech?

Asylum is always a value judgment, not something that can be demanded as of right. It's quite sufficient to say "These guys are jerks, we don't want them here," while simultaneously saying that an Iranian protester deserves protection. If this wasn't the case then anyone could enter the USA (or any other country that offers asylum) simply by claiming to hold unpopular opinions. So I don't think anyone should have a problem with them being denied entry: they weren't human rights advocates; they are jerks who claim a right to be jerks. And although perhaps they ought to have that right, the USA has no interest in protecting it.
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:17 PM on January 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


It is the right-wing mission to degrade language to the point that extremist views are repainted as reasonable, relative to more extremist views. Shame on anyone who subscribes to it.

It's degrading to language to pretend that we can ignore all distinctions between positions on the ideological spectrum past a certain point of "extremism" and use the same labels to describe all of them. Calling for reduced (or zero) immigration is not the same as advocating extermination of minorities, even if you disagree with both. That's hardly a meaningless distinction when we are talking about which views should be subject to government censorship, and frankly it's bizarre that you would accuse me of degrading language for wishing to retain a distinction between the two viewpoints. It's not a question of what is "reasonable" versus "extremist" either it's a question of what points of view are (or should be) illegal versus legal to even state. Only "reasonable" views should be legal?
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 9:28 PM on January 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


>: Women not wanting to date me because I'm a fat, ugly, and sexist is a violation of free speech!

I once had a rather terrifying huge old guy at a bar ask me why all the young women at the college kid bar down the street were lesbians.

Gee, I wonder.
posted by dunkadunc at 9:42 PM on January 24, 2010


I was suprised to learn that "Holocaust denier" means "someone who claims that only 4 million Jews were murdered by Nazi Germany" for example.

This is well off-topic, but if you're talking about David Irving you'll find that he has varied his claims many times while still denying that there actually was a deliberate plan to exterminate the Jews. So yes, in 1995 he said that between one and four million Jews died (not "were murdered"); but in 1994 he had said the figure was 600,000. He's not the sort of person to stick to one figure.

You can find a discussion of what Holocaust denial means in the judgment delivered at the trial of Deborah Lipstadt for libel. It looks to me (although I haven't read the judgment at all carefully) that the judge accepted this definition of holocaust denial:
8.4 In the opinion of Evans, the views expressed by Holocaust deniers include the following:
* (i)that Jews were not killed in gas chambers or at least not on any significant scale;
* (ii)that the Nazis had no policy and made no systematic attempt to exterminate European Jewry and that such deaths as did occur were the consequence of individual excesses unauthorised at senior level;
* (iii)that the number of Jews murdered did not run into millions and that the true death toll was far lower;
* (iv)that the Holocaust is largely or entirely a myth invented during the war by Allied propagandists and sustained after the war by Jews in order to obtain financial support for the newly-created state of Israel.

8.5 According to Evans, whilst the expression of those views is typical, Holocaust deniers do not necessarily subscribe to all of them and the views of some deniers may be more extreme than others. Irving made the point that it would be absurd to label a person a Holocaust denier merely because he or she questions the number of Jews killed under the Nazi regime.
From the judgment it seems to me that he isn't called a denier simply because he questions the number; it's because of the character of his claims and arguments generally.

Anyway, this is well off-topic. I'd be happy to discuss this by mail or in MetaTalk if you like.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:09 PM on January 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


When people say "Hateful speech should be restricted", you really have to ask "restricted by whom"

On other words you're actually asking "Should speech be restricted if the government considers it harmful" and in a democracy it means asking "Should speech be restricted if the majority can be convinced it's harmful?"

I don't see how allowing the majority to censor speech it doesn't like is supposed to help minorities.
posted by delmoi at 10:38 PM on January 24, 2010


When we can turn away musicians like MIA and writers for their political views, it's a rather interesting double standard to start handing out asylum to two known hate mongers.

No double standard there. They're both wrong. We shouldn't be keeping MIA out for saying things the Buushists didn't like, and we shouldn't be turning the Heretical Two over to the Brits for saying things that the Brits don't like.

See, that's what I'm talking about. How can you condemn turning away MIA when you justify turning away the idiots?
posted by Jimmy Havok at 11:58 PM on January 24, 2010


All I can say, delmoi, is that the restricted implementation we have here works pretty well, and it saves us minorities from hearing unpleasant, intimidating crap from people who otherwise could organise to harm us in public.

I expect people to be busting out the Voltaire quotations any second, but it is possibly to have a functioning Western democracy where there are statutory limits on just how vilely you can talk about groups of your fellow citizens. It's been almost 40 years since we started down this path and none of the dire consequences predicted by commenters above have come to pass.

Funnily enough, in other forums I have been arguing against hate speech legislation, mostly because I think it tends to encourage persecution complexes among the consipiracy minded (see! the Jews won't let us say what we want! They control the government!) and because I share the belief that freedom of conscience is a fundamental right. My main concern here is with the chest-beating tough-shit-for-you attitude to people who are the target of vilification.

Of all the arguments put forth in this thread, the best one so far as far as addressing the concerns of people who find themselves at the pointy end of collective slander is the very sensible one that inciting violence is generally already a crime in most jurisdictions.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:01 AM on January 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


Sheppard also acts as a frontman for various other right-wing ventures such as being the registrant for Redwatch - which publishes photographs and addresses etc. of leftists and anti-fascists in a thinly-veiled incitement to violence. All a bit pathetic (and run in conjunction with Kevin Watmough who is a complete clown) - they're mostly hapless students who once turned up on a UAF demo, but unpleasant at minimum for anyone who appears there.
posted by Abiezer at 1:30 AM on January 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Vile racists are denied asylum: what delicious irony!
posted by axon at 3:54 AM on January 25, 2010


Funnily enough, in other forums I have been arguing against hate speech legislation, mostly because I think it tends to encourage persecution complexes among the consipiracy minded (see! the Jews won't let us say what we want! They control the government!) and because I share the belief that freedom of conscience is a fundamental right. My main concern here is with the chest-beating tough-shit-for-you attitude to people who are the target of vilification.
I think you put your finger on it here, i_am_joe's_spleen (the key point, not the spleen, that is :p). You can see much bleating by the BNP (who expelled Sheppard as they want to distance themselves from loony tunes such as him in their bid to appear respectable) about the 'PC brigade' who are 'as bad as the Nazis' because they anti-democratically shut down free speech and so on, and that does tend to play well, as there's obvious merit to the point even if it is advanced in loaded language by utter cynics who have of course no commitment to democratic values.
posted by Abiezer at 4:30 AM on January 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


By the way, i_am_joe's_spleen, that "we don't need free speech" thing seems to be working out really well for the UK:

The-Death-of-David-Kelly
posted by Jimmy Havok at 1:26 PM on January 25, 2010


JH: I look forward to your FPP on how 1st Amendment advocates used constitutional arguments to allow publication of US goverment classified information, national security secrets, what have you.

You're 100% muddled about this. The issue with the Kelly case is not that people who want to talk can't, but that people who ought to talk won't.

Finally, I didn't say "we don't need free speech." I argued that we may not need 100% free speech. I see this all-or-nothing insistence all through this thread and it's stupid. Even the US doesn't actually have 100% guaranteed free speech but sets limits on various forms of expression in various contexts. It would be nice if you could acknowledge that discussing where limits are set, and whether they should be set at all is two different issues.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 2:38 PM on January 25, 2010


Hate speech isn't the only restriction in the UK. Your courts are pretty extreme with their gag orders, from what I've read, and the libel laws are ridiculously restrictive.

I guess when you live in an environment of heavily restricted speech, you don't see much wrong with it, even though much of the philosophy of freedom of speech came from British thinkers.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 2:52 PM on January 25, 2010


What makes you think I live in the UK? I am a New Zealander.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 3:06 PM on January 25, 2010


I guess when you live in an environment of heavily restricted speech, you don't see much wrong with it, even though much of the philosophy of freedom of speech came from British thinkers.
Thank God we have bold truth speakers such as yourself to open our poor benighted minds! Do piss off Jimmy; what a shitty way to argue.
How's about "I guess when you live in the fantasy of a free republic of rights protected by a constitution, you don't see yourself as the willing tools of the central power in global imperialist war machine", or some such other reductionist silly bollocks. Plus IAJS isn't British himself to my recall and the location in his profile (and on preview, as the man says himself).
posted by Abiezer at 3:08 PM on January 25, 2010


you don't see yourself as the willing tools of the central power in global imperialist war machine

I hadn't noticed that I was defending the globalist war machine. If I was, perhaps your critique would have some sting.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 3:27 PM on January 25, 2010


I know; just saying that the notion that living under a certain dubious regime doesn't make you blind to its faults. Bit rich to suggest that someone could only be taking the view they do because they lack your clarity of vision.
posted by Abiezer at 3:35 PM on January 25, 2010


To break it down:
- I don't live in an environment of heavily restricted speech
- whether the UK is such an environment in comparison to the US is contentious to say the least
- but stipulating that is is, and supposing that I did live there...
- ... that has no particular bearing on the validity of my claim that the pernicious results predicted by you and others have not come to pass where I live, despite the absence of 1st Amendment rights and despite the presence of laws limiting speech in certain very restricted circumstances
- and furthermore, I have explicitly said that I don't like "heavily restricted speech", but have commented about what constitutes "heavy" and how it would be nice if advocates of zero restrictions could make a better case for allowing attacks on the vilified -- neither of which points I see you addressing here.

I believe Abiezer was attempting a parallel muddle by way of illustration. Quite effectively too.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 3:50 PM on January 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well I'm glad it made sense to someone!
I don't think your wrong for wanting the argument, Jimmy, just think it's a bit cheeky to say the least to suggest that only frog-in-a-well ignorance could be the source of disagreement with your position, or that iajs isn't making a decent case (which I've disagreed with somewhat myself in much earlier posts).
posted by Abiezer at 3:57 PM on January 25, 2010


You're right. It was ad hominem. Sorry.

I still see trends in the UK toward shutting up critics of the government. We have those trends here, too, but here we have a strong mechanism to stop them.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 10:03 PM on January 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh man, one of my favorite sites! I had no idea!
posted by ferdinand.bardamu at 10:48 PM on January 25, 2010


I don't want them prosecuted under these laws.

I don't particularly want them prosecuted under these laws either. But I'm not going to expend much (any) time and energy worrying about it.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:06 AM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


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