An American playwright faces jail for two vanished tweets. Q&A with the author about his ugly present, and our probable future.
It’s become axiomatic that the United States “lags far behind” Europe when it comes to hate speech law. Everyone from Joe Biden to would-be disinformation Czarina Nina Jankowicz to New York Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger have suggested the United States needs to move more in Europe’s direction, toward stricter rules and “illegal hate speech,” which “you will have soon also in the U.S.,” as European Commission Vice President for Values Vera Jourova put it at the Davos conference this year.
It makes sense. After all, who’s for hate speech? What possible downside can there be to disallowing expressions of racism, antisemitism, xenophobia, transphobia?
C.J. Hopkins can answer that. Following a similar case involving Roger Waters, the American playwright, Substack contributor, and editor of Consent Factory has been placed under investigation by a Berlin prosecutor for tweeting an image of his book, The Rise of the New Normal Reich. A scathing criticism of global pandemic policy, his cover features a white mask with a white swastika you have to squint to see:
According to German authorities, the author through this image is “disseminating propaganda, the contents of which are intended to further the aims of a former National Socialist organization.”
Here are some other books legally on sale in Germany:
As was the case with Waters, the Nazi imagery in C.J.’s book is used to make a satirical point. Unlike the Waters case, there’s absolutely nothing in C.J.’s outside-of-text history that even theoretically could be used to argue hidden/dangerous subtext.
“It would take all of about 20 seconds of anyone looking at my actual work to see how absolutely opposed I am to anything resembling, totalitarianism, fascism, authoritarianism, anything,” he says.
I first read C.J. at the outset of the Russiagate scandal, when from the amusing Statler-and-Waldorf remove of expat life he wrote witty columns about how far off the rocker America had fallen. A terrific comic prose stylist, he ripped our culture for obsessing over “Putin-Nazis,” noting the new Russophobia was just “a minor variation on the original War on Terror narrative we’ve been indoctrinated with since 2001.” These columns are worth a re-read. C.J. was ahead of me, Glenn Greenwald, Aaron Maté, and others in seeing how Trump-era propaganda campaigns deranged the population.
We had uncomfortable correspondence after Covid-19 hit, when I wasn’t so sure we were dealing with the same kinds of official lies this time, and worried about the wisdom, say, of writing “pandemic” in quotation marks. I rolled my eyes when I saw him cite an old quote from Hermann Goering, saying, “All you have to do is tell [people] they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger.” But he placed it astride this real quote from California State Senator Richard Pan, about “anti-vaxxers”:
These extremists have not yet been held accountable, so they continue to escalate violence against the body public… We must now summon the political will to demand that domestic terrorists face consequences for their words and actions.
In hindsight it’s incredible how many of us swallowed the notion that people who didn’t take the shot were “terrorists,” and needed the incentive of ever-harsher “consequences” to repent of their “violence.” That this was more religious movement than science was hard for some to see at the time. The tell eventually was that none of the messaging relented when details about the inefficacies of the vaccines came to light. Only a few were willing to say anything about this. C.J. was one, and even if you don’t agree with all he says — style-wise he often conducts literary operations miles behind hyperbolic lines — he said a great many things that were true and needed hearing. Now, he’s looking at charges for doing so.
One thing The New Normal Reich is not is a celebration of Nazi imagery. Hopkins is taking current governments around the world that used the pandemic to assert sweeping power and comparing them to Nazi rule. Here’s an example, from a column called “The Germans are Back!” in November 2020:
On November 18, the German parliament passed a new law, revising the so-called “Infection Protection Act” (“Das Infektionsschutzgesetz” in German), that formally granted the government the authority to issue whatever edicts it wants under the guise of protecting the public health…
Now, this revised “Infection Protection Act…” is not in any way comparable to the “Enabling Act of 1933,” which formally granted the Nazi government the authority to issue whatever edicts it wanted under the guise of remedying the distress of the people. Yes, I realize that sounds quite similar, but, according to the government and the German media, there is absolutely no equivalence whatsoever, and anyone who even suggests there is… “a neo-Nazi conspiracy theorist” … or whatever.
In no way does this kind of passage “further the aims of a former National Socialist organization.” It compares the current German government to Nazi Germany. The current German government in turn is openly validating that comparison by criminally investigating C.J. for the critique.
What’s more dangerous than outlawing hate speech? Giving someone the authority to define hate speech. Germany has already jailed one lockdown critic (Michael Ballweg, arrested in a dubious fraud case), while microbiologist Sucharit Bhakdi was taken to trial — acquitted, but still — for describing Israel as worse than Nazi Germany. The Roger Waters case investigates clearly satirical imagery. Set all those cases aside, however. C.J.’s situation is, openly, a case of a government seeking to criminalize criticism of itself, the dumbest and least defensible version of censorship possible. At the very least, other writers should be taking his side, and journalists should bring this case up anytime anyone even thinks about claming the United States is “lagging” behind Europe on the speech-law front. I spoke with Hopkins about his situation:
Categories: Culture Wars/Current Controversies