Acquittal for US author CJ Hopkins
The US-American author CJ Hopkins was acquitted today by the Tiergarten District Court. Why the case is bigger than Hopkins - and unfortunately not an isolated case.
The case of the internationally renowned American author and satirist Christopher James Hopkins was heard today at 12 noon in the Berlin-Tiergarten district court. Hopkins was acquitted of the charge of "disseminating unconstitutional symbols". The defence lawyer was Friedemann Däblitz. So many people attended the trial that it had to be moved to a larger hall. Although major international media outlets such as The Atlantic and the NZZ had reported on the case, representatives of public media outlets were not present. Only the Epoch Times and a few freelance journalists, including myself, were present to cover the event.
After the personal details had been clarified, the order was read out. The offence Hopkins was accused of was two posts on X, in which Hopkins had included images of his book title "The Rise of the New Normal Reich", on which a mask with a swastika shining through can be seen. Hopkins was accused of "disseminating the emblems of a National Socialist organisation" in this regard. As a result, the visual image was "perceived by a larger group of people not connected by personal relationships".
In his opening statement, Hopkins confirmed: "I posted these tweets". He explained the reasons for posting them in English: He had wanted to warn against a new form of totalitarianism, to expose the government's lies and the true intentions behind the mask ordinances.
The judge wanted to know whether she had correctly understood Hopkins' statements to mean that he had used the swastika to "point out an aberration in society".
Hopkins replied that he had compared what he perceived today as a form of 20th century totalitarianism with the beginning of the developments that led to Nazi Germany - and that he felt he was entitled to do so. In this context, he presented evidence to the court - such as a cover of German Stern magazine showing Trump with a Hitler salute.
He also referred to the example of British journalist Douglas Murray, who had recently compared Hamas to the Nazis, claiming that "Hamas are worse than the Nazis" because the latter were at least ashamed of their actions and had to "collectively get drunk" in the evening after their deeds, whereas Hamas were proud of their actions.
In response to the judge's objection as to what a British journalist had to do with Germany, Hopkins replied that the German Federal Minister of Health, Karl Lauterbach, had enthusiastically shared the interview with Murray, as had the German journalist Jan Fleischhauer, who had commented on the article with the words "great". Comparing today's phenomena with the historical Nazis is therefore very much the norm in Germany - but it is not prosecuted when figures from the political mainstream make these comparisons. In his case, however, he was.
The judge then objected that today it was only about the use of a symbol that was relevant under criminal law, otherwise we would just get endlessly tangled up here. Hopkins replied that it was very much about the admissibility of a settlement that had been reached, because in the public prosecutor's order from the investigation file, which had led to the case being opened in the first place, he had been accused of the same thing: Among other things, by pictorially linking the mask and the swastika, he would relativise the Holocaust. He was thus promoting a "normalisation" of the symbol. Hopkins' lawyer Friedemann Däblitz emphasised that it was a matter of 86a of the German Criminal Code, and the public prosecutor's order from the investigation file, which had led to the investigation being opened in the first place, contained precisely this charge. The judge again emphasised that the admissibility of this comparison was not part of the indictment. This was only about the admissibility of the symbol in the context in which it was used.
Hopkins went on to say that the history of the transformation of Germany in 1933 into the Nazi regime was extremely well documented. With the help of emergency laws such as the Reichstag Fire Decree, which was implemented by democratic institutions, the government was given the power to override fundamental rights.
"I therefore think it is my right to compare measures that have passed through the Bundestag and are totalitarian with measures that took place in the same way in the 20th century."
The public prosecutor asked Hopkins whether he had familiarised himself with German history and German criminal law. He asked whether he had been aware that the use of the swastika was a criminal offence in Germany. Hopkins replied that he had known for years that the use of the swastika was a criminal offence, but also in which contexts it was NOT a criminal offence. As an example, he cited a Rammstein video in which the singers dressed up as SS officers. Cases such as this are covered by the art exception. The situation is similar with satire or historical reporting on the Third Reich.
He actually describes himself as a "free speech absolutist" - but in the case of Germany, he respects the law that the symbol cannot be used by people in an everyday or glorifying context because of German history. He was very happy that a law ensured that neo-Nazis were not allowed to patrol the streets with swastikas on their upper arms, and he respected this law.
The discussion then turned to the question of whether the swastika depicted in Hopkins' book "The Rise of the New Normal Reich" was emblazoned "on" the mask or, as Hopkins said, transparently shining through from behind. Hopkins replied that he would not create a work of art with a swastika 'on top'. He would not have allowed his graphic designer to do the same when designing the cover.
This was followed by a statement from the public prosecutor. For him, it was not so much a question of whether Mr Hopkins had criticised the measures. It was about the use of the symbol and whether in these two cases the opposition to Nazi ideology emerged in a clear and obvious way. Hopkin's personal opposing attitude to Nazi ideology had been stated here and as a public prosecutor he believed him. However, the illustration in the two X-Posts in question "does not readily indicate to uninvolved third parties" that Mr Hopkins was opposed to the ideology of National Socialism. Whether the research that Mr Hopkins had carried out in advance on the punishability of the symbol might have resulted in a "prohibition error"? The defendant would then be acting within the scope of an "avoidable error of prohibition".
At this point, an objection was raised by defence lawyer Friedemann Däblitz. Däblitz stated that he would rather assume such a "prohibition error" "in favour" of the public prosecutor's office, because in the present case, due to Hopkins' recognisable distance from National Socialism - he could not have criticised the mask requirement by means of the swastika if he somehow "found the swastika okay" - freedom of art and freedom of expression would prevail.
In the following closing statement by the public prosecutor's office, it stated that the defendant should be found guilty for the two posts on X, in which a mouth-nose covering can be seen, in which a swastika is applied or shines through in an artistic design, depending on how you want to look at it. In the view of the public prosecutor, the defendant's clear opposition to Nazi ideology was not immediately apparent and it would first be necessary to think "more deeply" about the author's background. Furthermore, it was not absolutely necessary for Hopkins' intended statement to include the swastika here. A "description in text form" would have sufficed. Hopkins' "prohibition error" was avoidable, precisely because he had previously familiarised himself with German case law with regard to the swastika. The public prosecutor therefore considered it appropriate to punish the defendant in accordance with Section 86a of the German Criminal Code. It could be argued in his favour that his aim was not to spread Nazi ideology, but to denounce social grievances, and the fact that Hopkins had no criminal record. In his defence, Hopkins had used the symbol twice. Originally, two 30-day sentences of 60 euros each had been envisaged for the two posts - they would now be reduced to two 20-day sentences of 60 euros each.
The defendant's defence lawyer, Friedemann Däblitz, then made his plea: there is no total ban on the swastika in Germany, various exceptions apply. It is presumptuous to say that "it would have been enough if Mr Hopkins had written about the swastika", because this would constitute a violation of artistic freedom. It is also a misconception that everyone who posts something publicly has to hire a lawyer in advance at great expense - it is precisely such misunderstandings for laypeople that the legislator wants to avoid. Citizens should not be deterred from campaigning for the preservation of the free and democratic basic order. Mr Hopkins' intention to use the symbol in a warning manner was clearly recognisable. The public prosecutor's interpretation that the swastika may only be posted in connection with clear verbal rejection of National Socialism is incorrect. The exception in section 86 paragraph 4 of the German Criminal Code, the "defence against anti-constitutional endeavours", applies. Freedom of art also applies. Although the swastika appears behind the mask in the image, the post was accompanied by an accompanying text that clearly clarified the context and in which Mr Hopkins clearly spoke out against the "uniformisation of the face". There had been a recognisable critical distance to National Socialism. He therefore pleaded for acquittal.
I would like to reproduce CJ Hopkins' summation in full at this point - he sent it to me by email on request. He prefaced in court it by saying that he has "spent thousands of euros on lawyers over the last few months and is angry", which he asks to be taken into account in his closing statement. He had deliberately set up a new home in Germany because he had assumed that Germany was the last place in the world where totalitarianism could ever regain a foothold. German authorities had damaged his reputation and his book had been banned by the German Amazon as a result of the indictment. It is humiliating for him, as someone who is married to a Jew and has fought against totalitarianism and fascism of all kinds throughout his life, to have to reaffirm his opposition to fascism here.
CJ Hopkins Court Statement, Berlin District Court, January 23, 2024
My name is CJ Hopkins. I am an American playwright, author, and political satirist. My plays have been produced and received critical acclaim internationally. My political satire and commentary is read by hundreds of thousands of people all over the world. 20 years ago, I left my own country because of the fascistic atmosphere that had taken hold of the USA at that time, the time of the US invasion of Iraq, a war of aggression based on my government's lies. I emigrated to Germany and made a new life here in Berlin, because I believed that Germany, given its history, would be the last place on earth to ever have anything to do with any form of totalitarianism again.
The gods have a strange sense of humor. This past week, thousands of people have been out in the streets all over Germany protesting against fascism, chanting "never again is now." Many of these people spent the past three years, 2020 to 2023, unquestioningly obeying orders, parroting official propaganda, and demonizing anyone who dared to question the government's unconstitutional and authoritarian actions during the so-called Covid pandemic. Many of these same people, those who support Palestinian rights, are now shocked that the new form of totalitarianism they helped usher into existence is being turned against them. And here I am, in criminal court in Berlin, accused of disseminating pro-Nazi propaganda in two Tweets about mask mandates. The German authorities have had my speech censored on the Internet, and have damaged my reputation and income as an author. One of my books has been banned by Amazon in Germany. All this because I criticized the German authorities, because I mocked one of their decrees, because I pointed out one of their lies.
This turn of events would be absurdly comical if it were not so infuriating. I cannot adequately express how insulting it is to be forced to sit here and affirm my opposition to fascism. For over thirty years, I have written and spoken out against fascism, authoritarianism, totalitarianism etc. Anyone can do an Internet search, find my books, read the reviews of my plays, read my essays, and discover who I am and what my political views are in two or three minutes. And yet I am accused by the German authorities of disseminating pro-Nazi propaganda. I am accused of doing this because I posted two Tweets challenging the official Covid narrative and comparing the new, nascent form of totalitarianism it has brought into being -- i.e., the so-called "New Normal" -- to Nazi Germany.
Let me be very clear. In those two Tweets, and in my essays throughout 2020 to 2022, and in my current essays, I have indeed compared the rise of this new form of totalitarianism to the rise of the best-known 20th-Century form of totalitarianism, i.e., Nazi Germany. I have made this comparison, and analysed the similiarities and differences between these two forms of totalitarianism, over and over again. And I will continue to do so. I will continue to analyze and attempt to explain this new, emerging form of totalitarianism, and to oppose it, and warn my readers about it.
The two Tweets at issue here feature a swastika covered by one of the medical masks that everyone was forced to wear in public during 2020 to 2022. That is the cover art of my book. The message conveyed by this artwork is clear. In Nazi Germany, the swastika was the symbol of conformity to the official ideology. During 2020 to 2022, the masks functioned as the symbol of conformity to a new official ideology. That was their purpose. Their purpose was to enforce people's compliance with government decrees and conformity to the official Covid-pandemic narrative, most of which has now been proven to have been propaganda and lies.
Mask mandates do not work against airborne viruses. This had been understood and acknowledged by medical experts for decades prior to the Spring of 2020. It has now been proven to everyone and acknowledged by medical experts again. The science of mask mandates did not suddenly change in March of 2020 and change back again in 2023. The official narrative changed. The official ideology changed. The official "reality" changed. Karl Lauterbach was absolutely correct when he said, "The masks always send out a signal." They signal they sent out from 2020 to 2022 was, "I conform. I do not ask questions. I obey orders."
That is not how democratic societies function. That is how totalitarian systems function.
Not every form of totalitarianism is the same, but they share common hallmarks. Forcing people to display symbols of conformity to official ideology is a hallmark of totalitarian systems. Declaring a "state of emergency" and revoking constitutional rights for no justifiable reason is a hallmark of totalitarian systems. Banning protests against government decrees is a hallmark of totalitarian systems. Inundating the public with lies and propaganda designed to terrify people into mindless obedience is a hallmark of totalitarian systems. Segregating societies is a hallmark of totalitarian systems. Censoring dissent is a hallmark of totalitarianism. Stripping people of their jobs because they refuse to conform to official ideology is a hallmark of totalitarianism. Fomenting mass hatred of a "scapegoat" class of people is a classic hallmark of totalitarianism. Demonizing critics of the official ideology is a hallmark of totalitarianism. Instrumentalizing the law to punish dissidents and make examples of critics of the authorities is a hallmark of totalitarian systems.
I have documented the emergence of all of these hallmarks of totalitarianism in societies throughout the West, including but not limited to Germany, since March of 2020. I will continue to do so. I will continue to warn readers about this new, emerging form of totalitarianism and attempt to understand it, and oppose it. I will compare this new form of totalitarianism to earlier forms of totalitarianism, and specifically to Nazi Germany, whenever it is appropriate and contributes to our understanding of current events. That is my job as a political satirist and commentator, and as an author, and my responsibility as a human being.
The German authorities can punish me for doing that. You have the power to do that. You can make an example of me. You can fine me. You can imprison me. You can ban my books.You can censor my content on the Internet, which you have done. You can defame me, and damage my income and reputation as an author, as you have done. You can demonize me as a "conspiracy theorist," as an "anti-vaxxer," a "Covid denier," an "idiot," and an "extremist," which you have done. You can haul me into criminal court and make me sit here, in Germany, in front of my wife, who is Jewish, and deny that I am an anti-Semite who wants to relativize the Holocaust. You have the power to do all these things.
However, I hope that you will at least have the integrity to call this what it is, and not hide behind false accusations that I am somehow supporting the Nazis by comparing the rise of a new form of totalitarianism to the rise of an earlier totalitarian system, one that took hold of and ultimately destroyed this country in the 20th Century, and murdered millions in the process, because too few Germans had the courage to stand up and oppose it when it first began. I hope that you will at least have the integrity to not pretend that you actually believe I am disseminating pro-Nazi propaganda, when you know very well that is not what I am doing.
No one with any integrity believes that is what I am doing. No one with any integrity believes that is what my Tweets in 2022 were doing. Every journalist that has covered my case, everyone in this courtroom, understands what this prosecution is actually about. It has nothing to do with punishing people who actually disseminate pro-Nazi propaganda. It is about punishing dissent, and making an example of dissidents in order to intimidate others into silence.
That is not how democratic nations function. That is how totalitarian systems function.
What I hope even more is that this court will put an end to this prosecution, and apply the law fairly, and not allow it to be used as a pretext to punish people like me who criticize government dictates, people who expose the lies of government officials, people who refuse to deny facts, who refuse to perform asburd rituals of obedience on command, who refuse to unquestioningly follow orders.
Because the issue here is much larger and much more important than my little "Tweet" case.
We are, once again, at a crossroads. Not just here in Germany, but throughout the West. People went a little crazy, a little fascist, during the so-called Covid pandemic. And now, here we are. There are two roads ahead. We have to choose ... you, me, all of us. One road leads back to the rule of law, to democratic principles. The other road leads to authoritarianism, to societies where authorities rule by decree, and force, and twist the law into anything they want, and dictate what is and isn't reality, and abuse their power to silence anyone who disagrees with them.
That is the road to totalitarianism. We have been down that road before. Please, let's not do it again.
After Hopkins' closing statement, there was clapping from the packed courtroom, which the judge acknowledged with the visibly displeased warning that she would "send everyone out" if such expressions of opinion did not cease.
The defendant was acquitted in the judgement. In her reasons for the judgement, the judge stated that the "acquittal counteracts your (Mr Hopkins) statements that you live here in a totalitarian state". She sensed "a certain arrogance in his statement", along the lines of "only he would have understood it, everyone else is stupid sheep". The others may have been convinced by scientists. After all, it was a completely new situation. The "subjective feeling that you see the new Nazi Germany emerging... you may already have something totalitarian about you." She herself was the granddaughter of Nazi victims, so he didn't need to put on airs here. In her opinion, Hopkins' statements were - she said verbatim - "ideological drivel", but that was "not punishable by law".
At the end of the hearing, the judge left the courtroom wearing an FFP2 mask.
A personal comment on the Hopkins case
The acquittal of CJ Hopkins is initially pleasing and very welcome. The criminalisation of unwelcome opinions that are critical of the government in Germany is a worrying trend that urgently needs to be stopped, especially legally.
Unfortunately, the Hopkins case is not an isolated incident in Germany. Numerous judgements are currently being handed down against opposition journalists in Germany for allegedly spreading anti-constitutional symbols. I, the author, am one of these cases. At the beginning of September, I was sentenced for the alleged "dissemination of anti-constitutional symbols" by the same court, the Tiergarten district court, where the judge claimed that no political judgements were passed against members of the opposition.
I was accused of a Telegram post from 2022 that was critical of the statement by political scientist Ulrike Guérot that George Soros was "the only left-wing billionaire". I refuted the statement that Soros is a "left-wing" billionaire with six counter-examples, including his financing of so-called "color revolutions", with the help of which he deliberately turns the economies of developing countries into objects of speculation and "drives them against the wall". Such behavior is fundamentally at odds with "left-wing values".
As a further example, I cited a 3-minute sequence from a 60 Minutes interview with George Soros from 1998. In the video, Soros was asked about his experiences during the German occupation of Hungary by the National Socialists and how he had survived this time. At the time, Soros' father had passed his son off as a Christian and had him placed in a Christian Hungarian family. As a 14-year-old boy under Nazi rule, he then made "inventory lists" of the assets of his Jewish compatriots to be deported for the Nazis and thus survived the Holocaust under the mask of a "Christian". The moderator of the interview at the time did not, of course, blame Soros for this way of surviving the Holocaust - but wanted to know how he would have coped psychologically with such an experience of having to hand over his own countrymen. Whether he would not have had sleepless nights - because any other person would have spent decades in psychotherapy for such an experience. Soros responded with an almost iconic answer, which prompted me to include this video snippet in my critical Telegram post to Ulrike Guérot as evidence that Mr Soros is not "left-wing". Soros replied verbatim:
“No, actually no problem with that at all. You know, it’s like in markets - if I would not have been there, someone else would have done it.”
According to this statement, Mr Soros compared his current activities in "markets" with the task assigned to him under National Socialism. It is not a question of reproaching Mr Soros for his role as a 14-year-old - he was indeed still a child. But an "ethic" according to which you can always do something when someone else would have done it anyway - and he still behaves in exactly the same way in "markets" today - that is anything but a left-wing ethic.
English translation of the post I was charged for, including a YT thumbnail including a swastika:
Ulrike Guérot calls George Soros "the only left-wing billionaire". She knows him personally, was at his wedding, worked for him at the European Democracy Lab for seven years and wishes "there were more billionaires like him".
Does Ms Guérot know that many so-called developing and emerging countries consider George Soros to be an unscrupulous economic terrorist who has destroyed their economies and financed violent "regime changes" for his personal benefit ("Colour Revolutions")?
That he played a key role in the violent Maidan coup in 2014 with his "Open Society Foundation", which led to "regime change" (and thus indirectly to today's war in Ukraine) - as he himself admitted in an interview with CNN?
That as a teenager during the Second World War he helped to compile inventory lists of the assets of his Jewish compatriots, who were subsequently expropriated and deported to concentration camps - and according to his own statements still feels "no sense of guilt" about this to this day?
Apparently Mrs Guérot doesn't know all this, otherwise she might have a more nuanced view of this oh-so-left-wing, oh-so-sympathetic figure.
Then followed the 6 sources.
Of the six sources I cited, the first video was the biographically earliest piece of evidence from Soros' life, so I put it right at the beginning. In accordance with this integration, the first thing to appear on Telegram was the thumbnail of the YouTube excerpt of three minutes from the longer interview, with the corresponding YouTube thumbnail showing a likeness of George Soros, as well as a swastika and a Star of David next to him - which was intended to express in a striking and abbreviated way within the framework of a YouTube thumbnail, that this video is about "Soros" and the topic of "National Socialism" and "Jews" in a historical context - an interview excerpt with a look back at the year 1944, the German Nazi occupation of Hungary. The image of the swastika appeared in a historical context that problematised the Holocaust. This was also expressed in the title of the video: "George Soros felt no guilt when Nazis took Jews in his homeland". The crimes of the Nazis are clearly described here with the term guilt. The corresponding YouTube video, which was distributed on my Telegram channel, has since been deleted by YouTube - I had no influence on this, as I am not the author of the video.
For that very post, a public debate with the political scientist Ulrike Guérot on the question of whether George Soros is a left-wing billionaire or not, I was convicted of "disseminating anti-constitutional symbols" by the very district court where the Hopkins trial took place today. I was acquitted due to the "insignificance" of my offence - the public prosecutor's office had previously estimated 30 daily sentences of €100 each. However, my appeal was rejected by the regional court on the grounds that I had been acquitted and that this was a "minor offence" and that I could not take any further action against this judgement. My lawyer has lodged an appeal against this. Rejections of appeals by regional courts are actually no longer contestable, but an appeal against the rejection can be lodged again. According to my lawyer, there are different interpretations of the law in this regard.
Next week, another man will be on trial in Bavaria because he disseminated my post, my substantive dispute with Ulrike Guérot, on his channel. Like me, he is also accused of "disseminating anti-constitutional symbols in violation of criminal law". The man, who wishes to remain anonymous, had previously organised demonstrations critical of the coronavirus measures in Bavaria and is therefore, like me, part of the oppositional, anti-government spectrum.
I am also aware of other cases of persecution of members of the opposition under the "pretext" of disseminating anti-constitutional organisations, which appear similarly questionable to the Hopkins case, my case, and the case of the opposition member in Bavaria who is now standing trial for disseminating my post - but I will not make these public unless the people concerned wish to do so themselves. However, I can personally testify at this point with crystal clarity that the Hopkins case is not an isolated incident.
The judge's statement that no members of the opposition in Germany are systematically persecuted under the "pretext" of the criminal "dissemination of anti-constitutional symbols" is therefore a lie. Her own court (sic!) had convicted me in early September 2023 for an almost identical case, even though I was purely a journalist. In my case, freedom of the press is at stake - because of course it is also allowed to use images of swastikas in the context of historical reporting on National Socialism - a picture in relevant YouTube thumbnails of public service formats on YouTube proves this. I can't even insert my post INCLUDING the YouTube thumbnail from back then here again as an illustration - because then I would have to expect to be prosecuted again.
It can be assumed that the current judge in the Hopkins case feared the international press coverage that can be expected from an internationally well-connected American author whose case had already been reported on by The Atlantic, the NZZ and major journalists such as Matt Taibbi. A conviction would have vindicated Hopkins' statements and Germany might have fallen into international disrepute for state-orchestrated attacks on members of the opposition. The acquittal is to be welcomed, but it may only be due to international pressure.
Opposition figures without an international background do not enjoy Hopkins' "protection by international publicity" and have been routinely convicted in Germany since 2020 for the alleged criminal offence of "disseminating unconstitutional symbols" if they publish historical reports about the "Third Reich" and a swastika appears somewhere in this context - which does not actually fall under the criminal offence of dissemination. German comedian Jan Böhmermann and the public media, on the other hand, are allowed to throw swastikas around - satirically, journalistically reporting, in any context - and they are neither ever on trial for it, nor are they ever convicted for it. Equality before the law has become porous in Germany - even if the judge today seemed to be very concerned that this fact should not make it into the international media.
Finally, a few examples of swastikas in German public media, mainstream media and German comedian Jan Böhmermann. Let's hope that I don't get into any more trouble under criminal law for including these publicly viewable YouTube screenshots in my article - just because it's me.