I’m Andrew Doyle. I’m a writer and comedian and I’m in Scotland to meet a man who was convicted in a
court of law for telling a joke. In April 2016 Markus Meechan was working in a call centre just outside Glasgow and spending his free time making memes and YouTube skits. But his life was turned upside down when he made a video in
which he taught his pug Buddha to do a Nazi salute and respond to the phrase, “Gas the
Jews”. He was arrested by the police, convicted of being grossly offensive and
labelled far-right in the media. He was criminalised and shamed for telling an off-color
joke. spiked decided to find out about the man behind the meme. I’m quite excited. I’ve never met a Nazi pug before. Or any
Nazi dogs. There was a Nazi dog in World War Two.
There was a Finnish guy who had a dog and that did a little salute as well.
The Gestapo got really upset about him. They arrested him. But they didn’t take it forward.
They didn’t actually go all the way. The Scottish police on the other hand, they don’t let this stuff go. – Hello.
Alright man, how are you doing?
– How are you? How’s it going? I’m alright man. Come on in.
– Thank you. Thank you. Oh hello!
Buddha! – And who’s the new one?
That’s Bronson. You should have called him Goebbels. You see, it’s the same with the real Third Reich. They were very responsive to treats. When you made the video with Buddha you had, what, eight
subscribers? So no one was going to see it? No. My original plan was, see, me and Sue, we would have date nights where we would sit and just watch videos on YouTube on the couch together. So I made the video and I was going to put it on YouTube. And then when we were sitting watching YouTube videos I was
going to go “I’ve got a great video that we should watch” and then I
would play it in front of her. Obviously she would freak out and get reaction. I’m just gonna re-watch the video. My girlfriend is 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
that I can think of which is a Nazi. Do you want to gas the Jews? Do you want to gas the Jews? Do you want to gas the Jews? Gas the Jews? Seig Heil. Seig Heil. Seig Heil. I’m not racist by the way. I just really really wanted to
piss her off. Jews. This is absurd. It’s so clearly a joke. So clearly a joke. You might find it offensive. You might find it distasteful. A man’s been convicted. I just despair. I thought that no one’s going to just stumble across this. But just in case they do and they find a video with no
context. And it’s just me saying “Gas the Jews” at my dog. I was like – I don’t want to risk that. So I put the context in: This is what I’m doing. This is why I’m doing it. It’s just
a joke. So you would’ve thought that would protect you. Markus’s YouTube moniker is Count Dankula. A nod to the strange, subversive, and often offensive world
of internet culture in which people delight in making and sharing dank memes, jokes and skits designed to get a reaction from us so called normies. RACIST! This is what they call shitposting. “Dank” is sort of in a way where it’s made
badly but on purpose. Rubbish camera angles and all that stuff as well. It can’t look too slick, can it? So you call yourself a professional shit poster? I mostly do it to get a triggered reaction. For example, if you post something that’s not directly
racist. You’re not really attacking any kind of race or anything
like that. But you know that people will be able to easily make that
implication because a lot of people do that nowadays. How did it go viral? Someone found it somehow and posted it to Reddit. And then from there that just went off. But the problem with that was, while all that happened, I was actually on the plane to Iceland. Not realising that the entire time back
home my life’s being ruined. It was that quick? Yeah, it wasn’t until the next day. I woke
up, connected to the hotel Wi-Fi and then I got loads and loads of messages. My phone
went insane. And then Sue was like – why are the press at the door? There was people who were trying to say as well that the reason I made the video was to secretly
spread Nazi propaganda. What, with that? Yeah, that. You were spreading Nazi propaganda
with that?! So, actual Nazis wouldn’t thank you for training a dog – It’s mocking their leader, right? This is the sort of disconnect that everybody has. Joking about terrible things is not the
same as being happy those things happened. Comedy disarms horrific things. It makes them a lot less
scary. It’s a pug. It’s a pug doing a Nazi salute. And I can’t believe that a trial took place. And that grown adults actually sat in that court and took this seriously. Markus is one of thousands of people who have been caught up in the British state’s attempts to crack down on offensive
online speech. While hate speech laws have existed for decades in Britain, investigations into online speech have recently skyrocketed. According to an investigation by The Times of London in 2017 in Britain an average of nine people a day are being
arrested for things they post online. The cops came to my door. I let them in. And they said, “Why don’t you explain to us what happened?”. Which is a trap. If the police ever say that to you I basically said it was just a prank, I did it to annoy my
girlfirend, et cetera, et cetera. And they went, “Okay then, we’re here to arrest you”. and I just sort of laughed and went, “All right then”. It must feel like a joke I couldn’t believe it was happening. So then they handcuffed you? Yeah, they handcuffed me, because I’m a dangerous man. Very. Yeah, I’m nervous. As if an army of pugs are gonna come over the hill. You were handcuffed, taken out, and the press were there? The press were waiting outside the house for me. So you ended up at Coatbridge Police Station? I got processed where I got fingerprinted and all that type
of stuff. But I didn’t get interviewed. I just got pushed straight
into a cell. And then it was the next morning. As I was getting led onto the
prisoner transport van I’ve actually seen my pal through one of the windows. I was like, “How you doing, man?”, like that. “Funny meeting
you here.” What was he in for?
Teaching cats to dance? No, he slashed someone with a machete. Okay… So you’ve trained the dog?
– Yeah And he’s slashed a face with a machete.
– Yeah I would suggest those aren’t comparable. No not really, no. I was sitting in the cell. I was catching up with my pal. Eventually it got round to the whole “what are you in for?”
thing. It’s going around and this one guy violated his bail
conditions. One guy assaulted his girlfriend. One guy attacked the police with a knife. And then it got to me and I just had to sit there like, “I made a meme”. Everyone just started laughing at me. I’ll bet! Even my friend turned around to me and went, “See, if you do
go to jail, don’t tell people that.” So you weren’t really aware you were committing a crime or
potentially committing a crime? I didn’t know what I was doing was illegal at all. I didn’t
know it was against the law. He was specifically found guilty of
violating the 2003 Communications Act, section 127 which stipulates that you
are not allowed to send, by means of electronic communication, a grossly offensive message or a material that is likely to
cause gross offence. See, some of the scary things about the act itself. It says grossly offensive. That’s something that is
completely subjective. Right? Something I might find offensive you might find
completely fine. Or someone else may think it’s the most
horrible thing they’ve ever heard of. If you’re going to legislate that. If you’re going to put into law you know, grossly offensive
is against the law, but nobody can agree on what grossly offensive means, where are we at? But this is what I don’t get with your case because the video got seen three million times and there wasn’t a
single complaint. Am I right? And the police took this video to the Scottish Council of
Jewish communities and said, “Do you find this offensive?” I would assume they would. I guess that’s the point? The police went to the Scottish Council
of Jews because Ephraim Borowski, who was the guy who gave evidence
at my trial, he’s basically, when it comes to the police, he’s their guy. Every single Jewish person that I have spoken to is
extremely pissed off that basically this man was allowed to speak on their
behalf. Do you accept that a Jewish person would
find it offensive? Yeah, they’re allowed to find it offensive. The only thing I was asking for people to do was to
recognise it as a joke, not find the joke funny. When did we become so literal minded that we take jokes at face value? When did that happen? Why did the chicken cross the road? Well there was no chicken. There was no road.
That’s how a joke works. It isn’t a literal representation of the truth and a comedian doesn’t literally say what they actually
think because if they did that, it wouldn’t be funny. The court at the end of it it could have given me an even
harsher sentence because I was advocating genocide – This makes no sense at all! Particularly because the police had investigated your
background. – Everything.
Emails, everything you’ve ever said and done. Cybercrime Intelligence were on it as well which means that pretty much every single online account
that I have ever had it’s mostly likely been raked right through. So the sole evidence for your willingness to “gas the Jews” is you saying it to a dog on a comedy skit? The video was clear. The context was clear in the video. The prosecutor legitimately said – we are allowed to ignore
specific contextual parts of the evidence. But that’s the joke?! Then you’re not getting the joke! What he had to do is basically go – he said “gas the Jews”. We have no evidence whatsoever of any far-right leanings or
anything. All we can do is guess the thoughts that were in his head
when he made the video. He tried to say that I was actually advocating for violence. “Picture football stadiums full of people, full of so many
people and he wants to gas them!” That’s literally the examples he was giving. The examples were so ridiculous that people had to walk out
of the courtroom from laughing. But what gets me about that is in court the prosecutors must have said the
phrase, “gas the Jews” multiple times. The prosecutor during the trial said the phrase “gas the
Jews” more times than I ever have in my entire life. So if we’re if we’re gonna ignore context which is what the
prosecutor asked us to do, that context doesn’t matter, it’s just the phrase itself, how are they not in court right now? He’s looking at ten years at least. I think it’s important that he gets it. You can’t keep going around saying that stuff. Markus was found guilty on 19th March 2018 at Airdrie Sheriff’s Court. He managed to escape jail time but was issued an £800 fine. By then he had become a hate figure for some and a free
speech cause célèbre for others. A joke is all about context. If you remove the context from
a joke then you’re screwed. I mean, let’s think about this, that phrase, “Gas the Jews”
is a horrible phrase, obviously. It’s a horrible phrase if it’s meant literally. If it’s been taught to a pug that changes it.
That’s actually kind of funny. But few comedians seemed to think so. Whilst some stand-ups, including Ricky Gervais, David
Baddiel, and Shappi Khorsandi, defended Markus’s right to free speech. That is a funny dog to make do that. It is. And also because of the proportions it must be harder
for him to get his little leg above his head. Most were either silent or against him. They’ll even abandon their own principles if it means a chance at virtue signalling. You don’t believe them. You don’t think that these people
think you’re a Nazi. No, I don’t think they truly believe that. So a lot of comedians are saying – well he’s not a real
comedian because he’s not a professional, he’s not good enough. I mean, is that enough to convict someone? I didn’t really realise there were all these requirements. I didn’t know there was a comedians’ guild where there were
certain factors that you had to meet. Yeah, we’re very – we’re very insular If comedians say my joke was shit, they thought it was shit.
That’s completely fine. But to try and say that I shouldn’t be allowed to make the
joke – But also, defending free speech, you rarely have to defend
the free speech of people who aren’t controversial. – Yeah exactly.
There’s no point, and it’s actually hard, isn’t it? It’s harder to stand up and say, “I don’t like what that guy
said.” “I don’t find it funny, I find it offensive, but I need to
defend his right to say it.” What people are supposed to do when there are opinions out there that you don’t like or you
feel would be damaging – you’re supposed to debate them. A lot of people say that comedians can say what they want, but if you go to various comedy clubs in the country people
do make jokes about taboo subjects. People are out there saying controversial things. And I think I agree with that. I think that that is going
on. But I worry that things like your case make
people self-censor or encourage people to think again and to not experiment with things for fear of causing
offence. We keep running into people who recognise Markus and they
really like what he does. They like his YouTube videos. They liked the pug video. Was the joke funny? Hilarious. I’m sorry but it was. It was absolutely fucking
hilarious. It was funny as fuck. I thought it was funny. I know people who are Jewish who
thought it was funny But you’re laughing – oh you’re both laughing! You see now? It’s a joke and you shouldn’t be getting done for a joke. So, for all the media coverage, all of the
the negative depiction of him as a far-right agitator, ordinary people can just see through it. They don’t buy any
of that. I went to meet some of Markus’s friends and fellow YouTubers in the woods where they film some of their shitposts. What kind of videos were you doing at the time of the pug
video? As Markus would call them they are shitposts. They are shitposts Stuart. See if you put effort into something. Like writing a script.
It’s hardly a shitpost. It’s not just pissing people off. I mean, it’s just things
we find funny. It’s things that would make our friends laugh. But some of the friends Markus made in the wake of his
arrest have raised eyebrows. Tommy Robinson, former leader of the anti-Islam English
Defence League and self-styled YouTube journalist took up Markus’s cause. The attack on free speech – you are part of it. I suppose saying an edgy comedian made a joke and posted it
online wouldn’t sell enough papers though would it, aye? They shared a platform at a free-speech rally in London. And they appeared together on Alex Jones’s conspiratorial
online channel Infowars. For his detractors Markus’s association with right-wing
populists casts suspicion on his own politics and intentions. Most of the people I talk to when I’m trying to defend your
right to make your funny videos they always say, yeah but he must be a racist because he’s
mates with Tommy Robinson. See, just because you interact with someone or hang about
with them doesn’t mean you automatically share every single opinion
that they have. No one else was supporting me.
A few mainstream comedians did come out. I do still appreciate the support but the most they did was
a tweet and a couple of articles and stuff like that. But nobody else major was on my side. The only person that really came out was people like Tommy
Robinson and Alex Jones. If you’re hanging out with Alex Jones and Tommy Robinson and
they’re the only people you’re seen with, weren’t you worried that that means people are going to
think, “Oh well, he’s part of the EDL. He’s super
hyper-nationalist, nationalist, he’s anti Islam”. All that kind of stuff? Well, if people want to just believe that and not do any of
their own research, there’s nothing I can do. Is there anything you wouldn’t joke about? Publicly, aye. Privately, no. What’s the most offensive thing you’ve ever said? CUT. They’re really nice guys. They’re definitely not far-right. I think it’s really easy to demonise people if you never
interact with them. They’re young people who for whatever reason feel like
they’re on the outskirts of society. They’re just big kids messing about. Why are we criminalising that? Defending free speech usually means defending the rights of
deeply offensive people. But the curious case of the Nazi pug reminds us that, in
Britain at least, that is no longer the case. The targets of state censorship today are not just far-right agitators trying to divide us, but ordinary people like Markus trying to have a laugh. His story is one of a supposedly liberal Britain that has
gone down a dark and authoritarian road. What do you say to people who say you’re an alt-right
figurehead? I’m not even in the alt-right. The alt-right don’t even like
me. That’s not a club you want to be a member of? No. It’s not something I want to be a part of, no. They are overall very anti-freedom. You don’t support an ethno-state? – No You’re not racist? – No Come here fat boy, come here. Do you regret anything? No. No. I think it’s just what happened to me. Although it was terrible. It was quite an awful thing to go
through. It did highlight a really really important problem that our
country’s actually facing. I understand that the phrase “Gas the Jews” wasn’t exactly
the rallying cry that everyone wanted to get behind in the fight for freedom
of speech. But what has happened is a lot bigger than me. Because if it can happen to some internet shitposter it can happen to anyone. Oh! Someone’s just posted a meme.