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Madness: American Satirist C.J. Hopkins Sentenced in German Speech Case
As previously detailed in Racket, the American playwright has been sent a "punishment order" and a choice: 60 days or 3,600 Euros for two tweets and a book cover
Just when you may have thought things couldn’t get any crazier: American playwright and humorist C.J. Hopkins, profiled in this space on numerous occasions, has been sent a “punishment order” by a German judge, offering him a Sophie’s Choice of 60 days in jail or 3,600 euros.
His crime? Essentially, insulting the German health minister in a tweet, and using a scarcely-visible image of a Swastika on a mask in a book critical of the global pandemic response, The Rise of the New Normal Reich. He was first accused of this “crime” in June, shortly after Roger Waters was placed under investigation for wearing his clearly satirical “Pink” costume in a stage performance in Berlin. As I wrote when C.J. was charged weeks later, authorities claim that through the use of the mask image, C.J. was “disseminating propaganda, the contents of which are intended to further the aims of a former National Socialist organization.”
The judge in C.J.’s case has already heard free-speech argumentation from his lawyer, and this technically being a non-jury misdemeanor offense, has already ruled against those arguments. C.J. will apparently have a chance to argue for mitigation, but the decree has already been handed down:
Here is the would-be offending image:
As noted previously, here are some images currently on sale in Germany that have not been made the subjects of hate speech prosecutions:
No amount of drugs exist that if consumed would allow a rational person to conclude that the writing of C.J. Hopkins furthers “the aims of a former National Socialist Organization.” Agree with him or not, and I increasingly do, he used his imagery to compare the sweeping declarations of emergency power that were common around the world during the pandemic (and were particularly authoritarian in Germany) to Nazi tactics. He compared, for instance, the 2020 “Infection Protection Act” to the “Enabling Act of 1933,” which announced that to “remedy the distress of the people,” the “laws enacted by the government of the Reich may deviate from the constitution.”
C.J.’s real offense seems to be a response to a tweet by Die Welt, quoting German health minister Karl Lauterbach. Portrayed in full Sprockets-style smart-glasses glory, Lauterbach is shown saying, “The masks always send out a signal”:
C.J. retweeted the quote, adding the image from his book cover. That’s it, that’s the offense. No matter how you feel about that exchange, that is not “intended to further the aims of a former National Socialist organization.” That is using the negative connotations of Nazism to criticize a currently serving government official.
I defy any American reporter to justify incarceration for this type of criticism of a still-serving politician. We’d have to build a separate Supermax just for people who used Hitler analogies during the Trump years, or published gleeful headlines like, “Lawsuit Reveals Trump Can’t Stand Being Compared to Hitler.”
The use of speech laws in this way recalls the way drug laws are applied in the U.S. We let stockbrokers blow as much coke as they want, out of the navels of exotic dancers if they like, but make possession a real crime in other contexts, effectively giving authorities a way to use an “offense” committed by many to selectively criminalize membership in certain groups, residency in certain neighborhoods, etc. As C.J. points out, the real problem is not so much with his case (although he’s certainly worried), but the now-open way in which such laws are being applied, from the prosecution of Julian Assange to the suppression of Covid speech and even the extra counts addressing “false statements” in tweets by Donald Trump.
We’ve already decided that Racket will help with C.J.’s fine if and when this matter is finally adjudicated, and we’ll keep you updated on the progress of the case, and on the progress of the many laws being considered to allow more prosecutions of this type in more parts of the world. Until then, some words from C.J., whom I reached this morning:
Matt Taibbi: What the fuck?
C.J. Hopkins: I’m relatively okay in that I just got the latest update from my lawyer yesterday, I guess.
Matt Taibbi: This is the same case? I’m not confusing this with something else?
C.J. Hopkins: You’re not. It’s the same case. It’s the weirdest thing. I’m just drafting a new thing about it. I think I wrote you, described the process a little bit, but yeah, this is just the next stage of the same case.
Matt Taibbi: So this essentially is about the use of the image on the cover, right?
C.J. Hopkins: It’s about the tweet… It’s the cover art from the book and it’s me going after the mask thing, like the one tweet I think, not exactly verbatim but pretty close, says the masks are nothing but ideological conformity symbols, and that’s all they’ve ever been. Stop pretending like they’re anything else or get used to wearing them. That’s one tweet. Then the other tweet was going after Karl Lauterbach, our health minister here. He tweeted his own tweet and his quote was, “The masks always send out a signal,” and so I just quoted it back to him and stuck the image from the book on the front as well.
That’s it. It’s basically, I insulted the health minister of Germany and put a picture of a barely visible swastika online.
Matt Taibbi: You need an electron microscope to see it!
C.J. Hopkins: I’ve said it, I don’t know how many fucking times, it’s not illegal. Yes, if you’re a Nazi, it’s illegal to spread swastikas around in Germany. But if you’re doing art, if you’re commenting on history, if you’re selling a book, there are a whole slew of reasons for exceptions where people can and do use swastikas, which you put in your piece, you put examples of the book covers. My lawyer has made all these arguments to the prosecutor.
Matt Taibbi: And those arguments were rejected?
C.J. Hopkins: Not even addressed, really. It’s just we had a chance to respond first and then we asked them for the tweets. That’s when we got the tweets. Then my lawyer wrote an even longer and more detailed response citing the terms of law and explaining who I am and my whole history of published work that anybody could fucking look at and figure out who I am, and what my intentions are. And nothing. The next thing we got was called an Order of Punishment.
Matt Taibbi: Oh, my goodness.
C.J. Hopkins: We got it yesterday. Basically, the story is this judge has already decided what my punishment is, which is either 3,600 euros or 60 days in jail.
It’s so fucking Kafka-esque. So now the next step is that we go to “trial.” We go to trial where my lawyer will argue the exact same stuff that he’s already argued in written pleadings. He’ll argue that before the same judge that has already found me guilty and handed down this Order of Punishment.
Matt Taibbi: So this is sort of analogous to the process of being sentenced in the United States and asking for mitigation in sentencing?
C.J. Hopkins: I guess. I mean, I’m used to a trial where you go and you argue first and then they find you guilty. I guess the written argument was that was sufficient and so now I’m guilty. And yeah, I think that’s it. Because my lawyer is also talking about just getting the fine reduced.
Matt Taibbi: Is it going to affect your immigration status or your ability to live there?
C.J. Hopkins: I’m going to be a convicted fucking criminal, a hate criminal. I don’t think it can affect my ability to live here. I’ve got a permanent residence visa. Not that I want to stay. I spent the better part of yesterday standing on a bridge with my wife, talking about when and how I’m going to get the hell out of here. I don’t know, Matt, I don’t think that it can affect my residency status. I’ve got permanent residency.
Who knows? Who knows at this point?
Matt Taibbi: Has there been any interest from media there or here?
C.J. Hopkins: Not major media… There’s a German journalist, Dirk Pohlmann, who was in the mainstream media here for many, many years. He runs his own independent thing now, and wrote up a piece on it. There’s another independent German journalist who writes for a mainstream Swiss paper. He lives in Switzerland. He wrote up something just on his Substack. It didn’t appear in his paper. I was grateful as hell for Europeans, because I didn’t expect a ton of stuff from the US. I thought that I might get some action here in Germany and it’s killing me. This country is fucking breaking my heart.
Matt Taibbi: Absent some kind of mitigation, you’re going to have to make a decision about paying or serving. Are you thinking about doing the time?
C.J. Hopkins: No. I thought about it originally and I thought, okay, I’ll make a statement. I’m going to be 62 years old in a couple of days. Life is too short to spend two months in an extremely overcrowded jail in Berlin.
Let me say one more thing before you go. My case is my case, but really the story here is this is happening all over. This is just this naked crushing of dissent and opposition. Look at what they’re doing to Trump in the States. Look at what they’re doing to Assange, to people much bigger than me. I think that’s the real story here, just this naked crushing of dissent and opposition.
Matt Taibbi: We’ll obviously want to keep tabs on your situation. Good luck and sorry you’re going through this. Hang in there.
C.J. Hopkins: Thanks.