Markus Meechan, aka “Count Dankula” on YouTube, has been convicted in Scotland of a hate crime. He trained his girlfriend’s pug to raise his paw and give a Nazi salute and act excited when he said hateful statements about Jews. Now the Internet is divided over whether or not Meechan should go to jail or if his speech should be protected. However, Scotland and the U.K. do not have freedom of speech protections equivalent to the United States.
The U.K. does not protect speech to the same degree as the United States, and Scotland actually has a different legal system than the U.K. In the U.K., an expression of hatred toward someone based on their color, race, disability, nationality, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation is illegal. If a person’s speech is deemed to be threatening, abusive, or intending to alarm or distress, that person may face fines or even imprisonment. In Scotland, a hate crime is a crime motivated by prejudice based on race, religion, sexual orientation, disability, or transgender identity. The use of bigoted language alone isn’t a hate crime. But if it’s used in a way that can cause fear or alarm, then it is. Wired reported in 2014 that the Crown Office in Scotland had released a set of social media prosecution guidelines to provide clarity specifically regarding online communication. The Crown Office said it didn’t want to curb free speech or prosecute people for satirical comments, provocative statements, or offensive humor. But if online speech is illegal to say on the street, then it’s also illegal online, they clarified. To be criminal, online communication must fit in one of four categories: target an individual or group in way that constitutes a hate crime; be a credible threat relating to violence or public disorder; breach a court order; or be deemed “grossly offensive, indecent, or obscene or involve the communication of false information” in a way that brings adverse consequences to a person. The Crown Office stated: “Those who use the internet to peddle hate or abuse, to harass, to blackmail, or any other number of crimes, need to know that they cannot evade justice simply by hiding behind their computers or mobile phones.” So the question the court faced was whether Meechan’s video counted as a hate crime or if was simply offensive humor. The court decided it was a hate crime.
Here’s what you need to know about Markus Meechan.
1. Meechan’s Video of a Pug Saluting Hitler Went Viral Even Though He Only Had Eight Subscribers
On April 28, 2016, Markus Meechan (known on YouTube as Count Dankula), was arrested for a two-minute video he posted earlier in April that showed his girlfriend’s pug, Buddha, “saluting” when he said “Sieg heil” and acting excited when he said offensive language about gassing Jews. He started out the video by sharing: “My girlfriend is always ranting and raving about how cute her dog is so I thought I would turn her into the least cute thing you could think of which is a Nazi.”
The video was titled “M8 Yer Dugs a Nazi” and has received 3.3 million views (at the time he was arrested, it had received about a million views.) Its surge in popularity started after someone shared it on Reddit. Meechan always argued that he never intended for the video to go viral and only wanted to share it with his girlfriend and a few friends. In fact, Meechan’s attorney said in court that when he posted the video, he only had eight subscribers on his YouTube channel. They were all friends and he only intended for them to see it.
YouTube deemed the video so offensive that it disabled many features, including comments, sharing, or suggesting the video. The video was categorized as comedy by Meechan. Since the arrest, he posted a video with a similar theme four months ago called “The 14 Woofs,” that showed his pug interrupting him to share Nazi videos.
Meechan spent the night in jail after he was arrested, and he was released on bail the next day. Detective Inspector David Cockburn said about the arrest: “I would ask anyone who has had the misfortune to have viewed it (the video) to think about the pain and hurt the narrative has caused a minority of people in our community. The clip is deeply offensive and no reasonable person can possibly find the content acceptable in today’s society.”
The Internet has been divided over the video and Meechan’s punishment since his arrest in 2016, and up to his conviction now. In 2016, some people went online to say that the video was just humorous and funny and that Scotland was “totalitarian,” New York Daily News reported. Ephraim Borowski, director of the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities, said that regarding the holocaust as a joke “is outrageous, and for someone who does so to claim not to be racist, beggars belief.”
2. Meechan Was Convicted of a Hate Crime and Will Be Sentenced on April 23
Meechan, 30, was tried at Airdrie Sheriff’s Court in Scotland and convicted of a hate crime, Newsweek reported. He will be sentenced on April 23 and could face jail time. Before his sentencing he may have a “Restriction of Liberty Order” placed on him, which would involve being put on house arrest and wearing a GPS tracking device.
During Meechan’s trial, Borowski said that the video was “grossly offensive” and “there is a clear distinction to be made between an off-hand remark and the amount of effort that is required to train a dog like that, I actually feel sorry for the dog.” He said that parts of the Jewish community in Scotland felt threatened by the video and that the council’s website was inundated with abusive comments after the video went viral, Telegraph reported.
Meechan said that the purpose of the video was simply to annoy his girlfriend. “It was strictly made to annoy my girlfriend and give my friends something to laugh at. I am so sorry to the Jewish community for any offense I have caused them. This was never my intention and I apologize.”
3. Meechan Was Fired From His Job at a Call Center After He Made the Video
Meechan worked at a call center worker when he made the video and then lost his job after it went viral, Daily Mail reported. He went on a vacation in Iceland a few days after he posted the video, and that was where he found out he was fired. However, he later said that he had a new job and his new boss didn’t care about the video.
Whether or not he found a new job is unclear. Meechan later told the court that he had been unable to find a job because of the court case, and had received numerous death threats, the Scottish Sun reported. But according to his Facebook, he started working as a content editor for The Scottish Sun in 2017. It’s not known if the job indication is accurate or just written in jest, since it conflicts with other statements. The Mirror reported that Meechan had lost eight jobs because of the video.
4. He and His Girlfriend, Suzanne Kelly, Are Still Together
Meechan’s girlfriend, Suzanne Kelly, 29, also came under public scrutiny when Meechan’s video went viral and he was arrested. According to their Facebook accounts, they are still in a relationship. She told a court in September that it was Meechan who trained the dog and recorded Buddha on video. At the time the video was posted, they had been dating for about three years. “I was just annoyed that he had made my dog look like something evil because he is a lovely little dog,” she said in court. But she knew not to take Meechan’s joke seriously. “I know that these words were used in the context of the video but it did not make me feel anything towards Mark himself because I know what kind of person he is.”
She said her boyfriend wasn’t racist, and Buddha only responded to the commands because he knew he would get a treat. She said they’d shout random words like cheese and ham to him, and he’d raise his paw for those words too.
5. A Petition Was Started for Him on Change.org
Some people have already started a petition on Change.org to “Save Markus Meechan from Jail!” It has 1,055 signatures as of the time of publication. His defense attorney, Ross Brown, said in a closing statement that Meechan had been humiliated and subjected to a “perp walk.” He said the media had been alerted to his arrest so he could be photographed before reaching the police station. Exactly what Meechan’s punishment will be, whether it will be a fine or jail time, remains to be seen.