Amongst the many wabs, a couple of chinitos, and I'm sure more than a couple of gabachos currently in custody at the Santa Ana Jail are British nationals Simon Sheppard and Stephen Whittle. They haven't committed any crime in the United States but have nevertheless languished under the watchful eye of SanTana immigration guards for almost two years in a fascinating case involving free speech, international jurisdiction, Holocaust denial, and an American media that just doesn't give a damn about those topics.
Sheppard runs The Heretical Press, an online repository of far-right essays, photos, and just plain bizarre entries (don't they realize R. Crumb is being satirical when he publishes a comic titled "When the Niggers Take Over America"?), to which Whittle contributes. According to British reports, authorities raided Sheppard's flat in 2004 after a copy of his Tales of the Holohoax were found inside a synagogue. After discovering the contents of The Heretical, they arrested Sheppard and Whittle for distributing hate speech online.
If that's not Orwellian enough for you, refry this: Sheppard and Whittle claimed that British courts had no jurisdiction over The Heretical and its materials since its servers hum along in Torrance. But the Brits don't care.
Prosecutors didn't agree with their excuse, and convicted the two in January for publishing racist material online--the first conviction of its kind in the history of the United Kingdom. "People in this country are entitled to be racist and they are entitled to hold unpleasant points of view, but what they are not entitled to do is publish or distribute written material which is insulting, threatening or abusive and is intended to stir up racial hatred or is likely to do so,"a prosecutor told the Yorkshire Post
. "If this sort of material is made generally available on the internet or by pushing it through people's doors indiscriminately, it is likely that racial hatred will be stirred up in some people who are exposed to it - the young, the impressionable, the gullible, and so on."
British courts had to convict Sheppard and Whittle in absentia, however. In July 2007, the two skipped bail and made their way to LAX, where they promptly turned themselves over to authorities and asked for political asylum, claiming the British government was harrassing them for their "satire." Immigration officials hauled them to the Santa Ana Jail, which has a contract to help out the government with immigrant detainees. Read their case for asylum here.
"This is a test case for the US on whether the American court will protect anti-semites and those that incite the hate that leads to anti-Jewish or anti-Muslim violence, or whether it respects a British court decision and sends these people back for sentence," a Parliament member told the Post.
The fates of the Heretical Two is in the hands of Immigration Judge Rose Collantes Peters, who has a past of thumbing her nose at British courts. In 2004, she went against the wishes of the American government and ruled that la migra couldn't deport Sean O'Cealleagh, a bartender at O'Malley's in Seal Beach, for having been convicted in England for his role in the murder of two British soldiers during a 1988 Irish Republican Army funeral. This past Tuesday, Peters heard final arguments in the case of the Heretical Two, with Sheppard and Whittle acting as their own attorneys because the attorney originally recommended to them by Mark Weber of the Holocaust-denying Newport Beach-based Institute for Historical Review dropped out after not getting paid enough cash (according to The Heretical Press home page). Peters is expected to deliver her verdict within 30 days.
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The saga of Sheppard and Whittle has drawn nary a press report in the United States, even though it involves all sorts of free-speech questions. But the Heretical Two have become far-right causé célebres, earning support from the aforementioned IHR, David Duke, and other types of trash.
Then again, supporters of the Heretical Two make this interesting point:
The question is not whether you like Sheppard and Whittle, or agree with their writings, or the other material posted on the Heretical site. It is, quite simply, whether you are prepared to help ensure the effective representation of two men seeking to set a vital precedent for genuine asylum seekers from oppressive, liberticidal regimes, seeking refuge in the world's last true free speech zone.
What do YOU think?