White Supremacist in UK Sentenced to Read Jane Austen, Avoids Prison

  • A Nazi sympathizer found with bomb-making instructions was sentenced to read classic literature to avoid going to prison.
  • Ben John had 68,000 documents in his hard drives containing “a wealth of white supremacist and antisemitic material,” police said.
  • UK campaign Hope Not Hate has called for a review of the sentence, saying it was too lenient.

A white supremacist in the UK found with bomb-making instructions has been sentenced to read Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” and other classics to avoid going to prison, reported The Telegraph

Ben John, 21, was sentenced to a two-year suspended jail sentence at the Leicester Crown Court on Tuesday. During the hearing, Judge Timothy Spencer told John he could stay out of prison as long as he reads classic books and plays by Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare, and Tom Hardy, the Telegraph reported.

“Have you read Dickens? Austen? Start with ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and Dickens’ ‘A Tale of Two Cities.’ Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night,'” said Judge Spencer, reported The Telegraph. 

John was found guilty in August of possession of terrorist materials, according to Lincolnshire Police. Investigators found an electronic publication called “Anarchy Cookbook Version 2000” in his hard drive, which contains bomb-making instructions. Police said they also found almost 68,000 documents in his hard drives containing “a wealth of white supremacist and antisemitic material.” Per the BBC, the Lincolnshire Police described John as a “white supremacist with neo-Nazi ideology.”

John was identified as a terror risk at 18 after writing a letter to his school in which he attacked gays and immigrants and claimed to be part of “The Lincoln Fascist Underground,” per Newsweek. He was referred to the UK’s Prevent program, which seeks to stop people from becoming terrorists, but continued downloading right-wing material. Police also identified him as part of the Extreme Right Wing online. 

Judge Spencer called John’s crime “an act of teenage folly” and an isolated incident, reported iTV. The judge added that John had escaped prison only by “the skin of his teeth.”

John will be tested on his knowledge of the assigned reading every four months, per The Telegraph. The judge also made John promise not to research radical materials online.

Activists have called for the sentence to be reviewed. UK campaign group Hope Not Hate’s chief executive, Nick Lowles, sent a letter to the Attorney General’s office, calling the punishment too lenient. The organization shared a copy of the letter on Twitter.

“A suspended sentence and a suggested reading list of English classics for a terror conviction is unduly lenient for a crime of this nature,” Lowles wrote, adding the sentence sends a message that “violent right-wing extremists may be treated leniently by the courts.”

“These sorts of lenient sentences risk encouraging other young people to access and share terrorist and extremist content because they will not fear the repercussions of their actions,” Lowles wrote in the letter.

The attorney general’s office said Thursday it had received the request for the sentence to be considered under the unduly lenient sentence scheme, which covers terrorism-related offences, reported The Guardian. “The law officers have 28 days from sentencing to consider the case and make a decision,” a spokesperson for the attorney general told the Guardian.

John’s lawyer did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment for this story.

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