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The tyrannical jailing of Sam Melia

Imprisoning someone for producing offensive stickers is an outrage against free expression.

Brendan O'Neill

Brendan O'Neill
chief political writer

Topics Free Speech Politics UK

Imagine a country where you could be incarcerated for two years for producing offensive stickers. Where you could be condemned to jailtime for putting up stickers that express your deeply held beliefs. Where the cops could come into your home and rifle through your things in search of ‘signs of [your] ideology’. Where even your book collection could be held up as proof of your defective ‘ideology’ and used to damn you as a thoughtcriminal. You are imagining, not China or Iran or Argentina under the junta, but Britain in 2024. These Orwellian outrages are happening right here, right now.

This is the case of Sam Melia, the far-right activist who last week was sentenced to two years in the slammer over stickers. Mr Melia is a member of Patriotic Alternative, a neo-fascist outfit. He had set up a group called the Hundred Handers on the social-media channel, Telegram. There he distributed printable stickers and encouraged his followers to download them and put them up in public places. The slogans on the stickers ranged from the mundane – ‘It’s OK to be white’ – to the unquestionably racist. For example, one asked: ‘Why are Jews censoring free speech?’ Another said ‘Small hats, big problems’, with an image of a kippah.

Think about this. In our supposedly free country there is a man in a prison cell right now in part because he said ‘It’s OK to be white’. That apparently horrifying slogan was flagged up by the BBC in its early breathless account of the Melia case. The Beeb also mentioned the sticker that said ‘Nationalism is nurture’ – it’s a crime to be a nationalist now? – and one that said: ‘Reject white guilt.’ I detest everything Mr Melia stands for, but, no doubt for very different reasons to his, I reject white guilt. I’d better never say that in public, eh? Certainly not on a sticker.

In January, at Leeds Crown Court, Melia was found guilty of distributing material intended to stir up racial hatred and encouraging racially aggravated criminal damage. Last week he received his sentence of two years’ jail. You don’t have to agree with any of his views to find this utterly chilling. The lack of self-awareness among the leftists who are crowing over this jailing of a fascist is off the charts. Imagine accusing others of fascism even as you whoop and cheer the imprisonment of a man for what he thinks and says. Pots and kettles come to mind.

That really is what happened here: a man was jailed for his beliefs. The authorities are open about it. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), in its summary of the case, says that when Melia was arrested in April 2021, the cops ‘found in his wallet’ stickers that expressed ‘views of a nationalist nature’. A nationalist? Throw away the key. The CPS also recounts that when police searched Melia’s home, they ‘discovered a book by Oswald Mosley’ and ‘a poster of Adolf Hitler’. In court, says the CPS, these artefacts were offered as ‘key signs of Melia’s ideology’.

There it is: Melia’s ideology. It wasn’t just his technical stirring up of racial hatred that landed him in the dock and later in a cell – it was also his ideological beliefs, his moral convictions. His nationalism, his rejection of white guilt, his reading material. You, like me, might hate the ideology Mr Melia subscribes to, but so what? It’s ideology, ‘a system of ideas and ideals’, to give ideology its dictionary definition. No one – not a troublemaking Leninist, not a man-hating feminist and not a Mosley-reading fascist – should ever be taken to court for what they think. That, surely, is the first principle of free speech.

The Melia case shines an unforgiving light on the hypocrisy of the censorious elites and the witless leftists who cheer them on. Consider his sticker that said, ‘Why are Jews censoring free speech?’. That is anti-Semitic, plain and simple. It is also indistinguishable from some of the placards we’ve seen on ‘pro-Palestine’ marches in recent months. ‘Zionists control the media’, protesters have noisily declared. The BBC is in the pocket of the ‘Zionist propaganda machine’, some insist. Their slippery use of the Z-word cannot disguise what it is being said here – that a nefarious Jewish entity controls the flow of information. Why do these people have free rein to say the exact same thing that landed Melia in jail?

Or consider Melia’s horrible sticker showing a kippah next to the slogan ‘Small hats, big problems’. Tell me, how does that differ from the use of Jewish symbols on hateful placards waved by the ‘pro-Palestine’ set? The Star of David entangled with the Nazi swastika, for example, or images of Jewish-coded individuals puppeteering the rulers of the West? Those placards communicate the same message as Melia’s kippah sticker – that Jews are a ‘big problem’. Yet where Melia is sent down, the hate marchers of the supposed left carry on, weekend after weekend.

Truly, we have a two-tier justice system. If you’re one of those horrible right-wing ‘nationalists’, your public slander of the Jews will be severely punished. If you’re a middle-class leftist or radical Muslim, your public slander of the Jews will be tolerated. Think about the message officialdom is sending to Britain’s Jews with these flagrant double standards. In a nutshell: ‘Sometimes racism against you is bad, and sometimes it’s fine. Suck it up.’

One thinks also of the case of the ‘paraglider girls’, the three young women who were given a slap on the wrist for wearing images of paragliders a week after the fascists of Hamas paraglided into Israel to butcher Jews. Putting up stickers accusing Jews of censorship? Evil. Glorifying the people who carried out the worst act of anti-Jewish slaughter since the Holocaust? Knock yourselves out.

It is a testament to the creeping tyranny of 21st-century Britain that Melia received a harsher sentence than others have for far more serious offences. People have been spared jail for downloading ‘disgusting child-abuse images’. An Iraqi immigrant was spared jail after groping women in public places because he was ‘desperate for sex’. Abdul Ezedi, the illegal immigrant from Afghanistan who carried out the horrific acid attack in Clapham a few weeks ago, was found guilty of sexual assault and indecent exposure in 2018. He served not a minute in jail. He was sentenced to 36 weeks of imprisonment but it was suspended for two years. Welcome to Britain, where putting up stickers is punished more harshly than assaulting women.

The scandalous Melia case sums up the double calumny of censorship. Censorship doesn’t only prevent people from saying what they believe, which is always bad, even when what they believe is repugnant. It also infantilises the rest of us by seeking to protect us from the offensive, the hurtful, the vile. The good citizen, upon seeing a sticker saying ‘Why are Jews censoring free speech?’, does not phone the police – he takes it down. We need to trust ourselves more to confront hateful thinking and to ensure our communities are safe for everyone, rather than inviting officialdom to restrict and punish ideas we don’t like. Censorship both expands the state’s jurisdiction over the individual’s mind and weakens social solidarity by discouraging the public from directly confronting bigotry in preference for asking the government to cover our eyes and ears. The impact this has on the free society is devastating.

Even some liberal campaigners might feel uncomfortable defending the free-speech rights of a bigot like Melia. They need to get over themselves. As the American essayist HL Mencken said: ‘The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one’s time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all.’

Brendan O’Neill is spiked’s chief political writer and host of the spiked podcast, The Brendan O’Neill Show. Subscribe to the podcast here. His new book – A Heretic’s Manifesto: Essays on the Unsayable – is available to order on Amazon UK and Amazon US now. And find Brendan on Instagram: @burntoakboy

Picture by: Counter Terrorism Policing North East.

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Topics Free Speech Politics UK

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