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So to Speak Podcast Transcript: CJ Hopkins compared modern Germany to Nazi Germany. Now he's standing trial.

CJ Hopkins compared modern Germany to Nazi Germany. Now he's standing trial.

Note: This is an unedited rush transcript. Please check any quotations against the audio recording.

Nico Perrino: Welcome back. I'm your host, Nico Perrino. Early last month, Fire Senior fellow James Kirchick wrote a story for the Atlantic about a man named CJ Hopkins. CJ is an American, but in the early 2000s, he left America because of what he described as the fascistic atmosphere in the lead up to the Iraq war. Twenty years later, CJ is standing trial and is adopted home of Germany. What is his alleged crime? He criticized Germany's Coronavirus policies, comparing them to actions taken by Nazi Germany. Not to put too fine a point on it, the cover of CJ's 2022 book features a medical mask with the swastika superimposed on it. The title of his book is The Rise of the New Normal Reich.

CJ learned he was under investigation after he posted two tweets featuring the book’s cover art. One of those tweets criticized Germany's health minister. Perhaps not coincidentally, his book was also banned in Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands. German Penal Code prohibits the distribution of propaganda, the contents of which are intended to further the aims of a former nationalist socialist organization, and that's their euphemism, not mine. And CJ actually supports this law. He thinks Germany has a unique history that warrants it, but he strongly opposes the laws application to his situation as you might imagine.

He argues that his commentary does the exact opposite of what he's accused of. He says he's not intending to further the aims of the Nazi party. In fact, he's drawing comparisons between contemporary German policy and Nazi party in order to criticize both. And the law makes a clear exception for such expression. In January, CJ was acquitted by a disgruntled judge who clearly didn't like him and what he had to say and who made, I guess, a big show of putting on a COVID mask as she left the courtroom. And in the United States, that would have been the end of it. But German speech policies aren't the only policies different from those in the United States.

In Germany, they allow for double jeopardy, which is to say that in CJ's case, the prosecution could appeal the judge's verdict. And that's exactly what the prosecution did. So, in the coming months, CJ will stand trial again for a crime he claims he didn't commit and for which he has already been acquitted. James Kirchick closed his Atlantic piece by writing that a government that prosecutes a writer for calling its policies fascistic unwittingly validates the criticism. Today, we speak with CJ Hopkins to understand his background, how he sees the world, and to try and make sense of why he's being prosecuted and why he refuses to back down.

All right. CJ Hopkins, welcome to the show.

CJ Hopkins: Thanks. Thanks for having me on.

Nico Perrino: I want to start by getting to know you a little bit. In the Atlantic profile of you that was written a couple of months back, it described you as an old lefty. Or you described yourself as an old lefty. What do you mean by that?

CJ Hopkins: It's just when I'm forced, I don't really like to categorize myself politically or put myself in camps. But when I'm forced to, I usually just describe myself as an old lefty. I grew up in a working class household in Miami, Democrats, Kennedys were the heroes, Martin Luther King. And they're all Democrat voters and what have you. So, it's just basically that's where I came from. When I describe myself as an old lefty, it's as simple as that I identify with the working classes and the little guy as my Aunt Marietta used to say. That's where it comes from. It's not that complex.

Nico Perrino: What did you grow up aspiring to be? You're a playwright now, a satirist, a commentator. Had you always had an affinity for words and politics and philosophy? Or did that come later?

CJ Hopkins: I think as a kid, I didn't really know what I wanted to be. I got involved in the theater pretty early. I was an actor in high school and what have you and did a bit of modeling even and didn't like being an actor very much because everyone tells you what to do all the time. And I have this problem with authority. So, I studied film in college, film and communications.

Nico Perrino: Where’d you go?

CJ Hopkins: University of Miami. Yeah, I was not a wonderful student. So, I didn't have the grades to get into any top notch schools. But it was a good film program and didn't want to go out to Hollywood and get into the film business. So, I moved to San Francisco and wrote a lot of really bad poetry. And my ex-wife dragged me back into the theater. And that's when I really started writing for the stage. I think I've always been a writer at heart. When I was in college, I wrote for the college newspaper for a while, the junior college newspaper. I've always basically been a writer and drawn to the theater.

Nico Perrino: What brought you out to San Francisco?

CJ Hopkins: It was about as far away from Miami as I could possibly get. And also at the time, I was a big fan of The Beats. I had a head full of Jack Kerouac and Ginsberg and all those guys. And I thought San Francisco would be romantic. And yeah, so I packed my then girlfriend in a car and drove across the country.

Nico Perrino: Did you have an interest in politics or political philosophy at this time, or did that come later? Were you more focused on poetry and literature?

CJ Hopkins: It came later. I really wasn't very political in my early 20s at all. And again, I credit my ex-wife with that. She dragged me back into the theater and sort of politicized me at the same time, got me interested in politics.

Nico Perrino: If I'm not mistaken, you eventually got to New York City, correct?

CJ Hopkins: Yes, yeah. Once I hooked up with my ex-wife and got involved with the theater again. You know, San Francisco, it's not a theater town. If you want to work in the theater, you've gotta go to New York. So, we pulled up stakes and went to New York City.

Nico Perrino: And it was in New York that I read that you helped organize some of the protests to the lead up to the invasion of Iraq.

CJ Hopkins: Yep, that's true. This is we're up to 2003 now. And yeah, by that time, I had been working downtown in the off off Broadway theatre sphere for quite a while. And yeah, the run up to the invasion started. And my current wife and I helped organize basically the downtown theater community and brought Bread and Puppet down from Vermont and what have you, so yeah.

Nico Perrino: What got you concerned about that war in particular?

CJ Hopkins: Well, I had been a big critic of the first invasion of Iraq and I had been just following the political developments basically since then. And I just when – I was in New York when 9/11 happened and I just had the feeling right away that everything is going to change. And it's going to be ugly. And it was. I don't know if people remember but it was really, from my perspective, pretty ugly for a while. Americans, even in New York City, Americans were just so angry and so hurt. And the sense was we're going to get revenge on somebody, anybody, and it doesn't really matter who it is. And so, I watched the rollout of the pre-invasion propaganda.

And, of course, I watched it critically and I just couldn't take it. I couldn't take that plus the atmosphere in the states at the time.

Nico Perrino: You said you opposed to the first invasion of Iraq, but was this second invasion the first time you had ever organized political protests at this scale?

CJ Hopkins: Yeah. The first time I was ever really involved in any type of organizing like that. I was at the protests down in DC during the first invasion during, what was it called, was it the Gulf War the first one?

Nico Perrino: Yeah, the Gulf War, I believe.

CJ Hopkins: Yeah. I took part in those protests but wasn't involved in any of the organizing. No. That was 2003, February 2003. That was the first time I really got involved like that.

Nico Perrino: Yeah. The reason I ask is because it's around this time or in the wake of this that you moved to Germany, right? And I know the Atlantic kind of frames this as you moving because you were distraught with the idea of another George W. Bush term. I think you took issue with that on X, formerly known as Twitter. What led you to leave the United States? You've been in Germany now for over 20 years.

CJ Hopkins: About 20 years, yeah.

Nico Perrino: What was going through your mind at the time? I ask because for someone who, as you said, didn't organize political protest at this scale, kind of came into a political awakening it sounds like a little bit later. To uproot your life for these reasons is a drastic move, but maybe there are other reasons at play.

CJ Hopkins: Yes, there were other reasons at play. Basically, I had been bouncing around in Europe, mostly in the UK and a little bit here after one of my shows. I got lucky with one of my plays at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. It took off and toured all over the world. And I was in the UK a bit for that and exploring Europe really for the first time. And at the same time, home was a little, tiny studio in Park Slope in Brooklyn. And I was just over 40 years old, deeply in debt, no health insurance, and basically living the life of an artist in New York City, which for those who – I don't know if people can even live that life anymore.

But it was pretty tough. And so, here I was running around in Europe and sitting around in cafes in Berlin, which were still really cheap at the time. Berlin was ridiculously cheap. And people sat around in cafes and drink coffee and argued about philosophy and politics. And it reminded me a lot of San Francisco in the mid-1980s when I lived there when San Francisco was still cheap. This was before the dot com boom. All of which is to say one of the main reasons that I jumped ship and came to Europe was simply my quality of life. Just simply the lifestyle in Europe agreed with me. And I just figured that I could have a better life, better quality of life here.

At the same time, part of what was making me really miserable in the states was just the atmosphere at the time. I love the United States. I'm an American and I always will be. But just the American flags were omnipresent and people were just gung ho to invade somebody and bomb somebody and get revenge on somebody. And I was just watching people swallow the pre-invasion propaganda and then, I was watching the initial enthusiasm after the invasion. And it was a crazy idea. As you mentioned, I helped organize the big protests in New York at the time. And then, I was in London when the actual invasion started.

I was at the big protests there. And we put millions and millions of people in the street all over the world and it meant absolutely nothing. And achieved nothing and they just went ahead with the invasion. I got back to New York after one of my trips in Europe. And I said, “What am I doing here you? Why am I living this way? And so, I just took off.

Nico Perrino: Aside from the cultural difference in the cafe life, so to speak, in Europe that you so much enjoyed and reminded you of San Francisco, what was the political zeitgeist in Europe at this time? I recall going on a trip to Italy. I believe it was in 2005. Our tour guide was European and he said, “I love America, but I'm not going back until George W. Bush is no longer president.” I don't know if that was a widespread kind of belief among folks in Europe. But you make it sound like in the United States, the descent wasn't as widespread as you would have hoped.

And there was this – it's hard to believe in our increasingly polarized times, but people were pretty united in the United States and wanting to get “them”.

CJ Hopkins: Absolutely. It wasn't anywhere near as split as it is now. Those of us who were protesting, even though we did put millions of people in the street, I mean, we were called terrorist sympathizers and Saddam lovers and every other name that you could think of. It was, again, the atmosphere in Europe was extremely anti George Bush, extremely anti the invasion of Iraq. So, when I arrived here in 2004/2005, I kind of fit right in and I was in sync basically with the political culture here as well.

Nico Perrino: So, what have you been doing, we'll get to the current moment here in a second but since 2003-ish when you moved to Europe? You have a blog, Consent Factory. You're a writer. You're still a playwright, I assume.

CJ Hopkins: Which I didn't start until 2016, actually my blog.

Nico Perrino: So, have you been playwriting, doing political commentary more broadly?

CJ Hopkins: No. I started this political satirist and commentator gig in 2016. I started writing a few essays. I didn't know what to do with them. I sent them into a Counterpunch, which I used to read in New York and things took off from there. But prior to that, yeah, I was writing my plays, had another couple of plays produced. And they did well and got published. Finished what I wanted to do in the theater, didn't know exactly what to do for a while, wrote a novel, wrote a dystopian novel that took a few years. Well, it's huge. It took a few years. The first time I ever tried to write prose, write fiction. And then, what happened, basically, the background really is we're talking about the Obama years.

And the Obama years weren't very interesting politically to me. It was basically just global capitalism, just doing what it does without any real conflict or drama. What got my attention was Brexit and Trump. And what I thought I was seeing and what turned out I was seeing was this populist backlash that was rising up, that was emerging here and then, with Trump, it was emerging in the United States. And this is what got my attention and drew me into writing my political satire commentary.

Nico Perrino: Did you ever think you would be in Europe for 20 years? Did you ever think you were going to come back?

CJ Hopkins: I really didn’t know. I don't think I expected to be in Berlin for 20 years when I got here. There was definitely a time years ago when I felt like, okay, this is it. It's home now. And that has changed as well. But yeah, no, I didn't foresee any of this.

Nico Perrino: Do you love Berlin?

CJ Hopkins: I can't really say that anymore. I loved living here for quite a long time, a great city. Like I said, I felt very much at home here. That changed dramatically in 2020 and the last few years, honestly, they've broken my heart and really kind of soured me on the culture.

Nico Perrino: Well, let's use that as a segue to kind of get into the meat of it right. So, 2020, of course, the COVID year. What were you experiencing in Berlin and how were you seeing it all unfold?

CJ Hopkins: Well, it kind of all unfolded in the course of four to eight weeks, I would say. And I actually chronicled this. I documented it. I created I think it's a 257 tweet thread that I've published and that other alternative sites have published and what have you. And what it is the thread is simply just mainstream media articles that were put out during those initial four to eight weeks, March and April of 2020 is what we're talking about. And being a political satirist, I was paying attention to the headlines and I was paying attention to the message that was being pumped out by the corporate and state media.

And the message was just unbelievably clear and horrifying. Basically, they came out and they announced life as you knew it is over. This is the new normal. That's where the phrase came from. It's not my phrase. It came from the media. This is the new normal and the way it's going to work is that your constitutional rights are off, they're suspended and facts don't matter. We're going to lock you in your house and you need permission papers to go outside. And if we catch you outside without permission papers, the cops are going to throw you down and beat you up and arrest you.

And basically, if you question our authority, if you question the official narrative that we're pumping out, we're going to demonize you and and we're going to deal with you by force. Everything that happened during the so-called Corona years, COVID years, everything was announced in those first four to six weeks. The vaccinations, the lockdowns, the demonization of the unvaccinated, the masks, everything. If you go back, if people go back and look at that thread that I compiled, you will see it. And what was striking to me about it was how blatantly authoritarian it was. A lot of the first messaging was all about we're rolling the police out. We're ready to roll the army out.

I remember Macron coming out right away and saying, “I'm going to rule by decree.” It wasn't gradual at all.

Nico Perrino: So, you were never a part of – it's almost kind of doctrine in the United States now that the government went too far in the early years of the coronavirus. You see this with the school lockdowns and the learning loss associated with it. You see a counter narrative now around masks. You see a counter narrative now around vaccines. These are kind of prominent conversations. We even had cases at Fire involving college faculty members who were questioning the origins of COVID who were brought up under investigations for engaging in racist, hate speech because they posited that it came from the lab in Wuhan.

We had a famous professor, Tom Smith at the University of San Diego who said, “Anyone who doesn’t believe that this virus originated from a lab is swallowing a bunch of Chinese cock swaddle.” And he was brought up on a hate speech investigation, more or less, for doing that. I think it's hard now for a lot of Americans in 2024 to reflect on just how restrictive and some might say conformist those early weeks and months were. And even some of your most prominent COVID critics now, people like Brett Weinstein, for example, in those early weeks and months, were kind of accepting some of these narratives.

So, but when people feel a threat to their security, they're more willing to accept restrictions on their liberty. And I think a lot of folks, including myself, felt that in those early weeks. But it sounds like you had a sense of what was going on early and had never really bought into the broader mainstream narrative. You have a blog called The Consent Factory, right, which is I'm assuming a reference to Noam Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent. So, you have sort of like a political awareness of how consent is manufactured. So, can you talk a little bit about that?

CJ Hopkins: Well, yeah, I think that's part of why I never really bought into any of it is that has kind of become my job monitoring the official narrative of the day and how that narrative is produced and the official propaganda that we are all being bombarded with and theorizing why we are being bombarded with today's propaganda and today's official narrative. So, yeah, I'm attuned to that. And that's mostly what I'm paying attention to when I'm watching the culture. In a sense, I've been doing that all my life. A lot of my plays are not traditional stage plays with stories and characters and what have you.

I kind of did the same thing in the theater was trying to use the theatrical event to get in and probe how it is that reality is constructed and how we come to believe whatever it is that we come to believe. So, anyway, yeah, I was pretty attuned to the production of this abruptly shifting official narrative. And again, I think it's very hard for people to remember. But if you go back and look at that 257 tweet thread, there was nothing gradual about it. There was nothing subtle about it.

The powers that be came out and announced, “We're going authoritarian. We're going totalitarian on you. You will show us your papers. You will stay inside when we tell you to stay inside. You'll wear this on your face, even though it makes no sense and even though all of the medical experts and scientific authorities have understood for years that mask mandates don't have any effect on viruses. You'll put the mask on, or we'll punish you.” I got hauled out of a grocery store in Berlin by three heavily armed police officers for not wearing a mask.

Nico Perrino: When was that?

CJ Hopkins: This was holiday time 2020. But this was already late. I had documented just numerous, numerous cases here in Europe and New York and the states of police, literally, hauling people off trains, throwing them down in the streets and beating them for not having masks on or not having permission papers to be outside. People forget this. What I was watching very clearly and documenting at the time was the sudden, was very abrupt transformation of Western societies all around the world into a nascent totalitarian state. There's no other way to describe it.

Nico Perrino: Was Germany more restrictive than some of these other Western societies? Do you have a sense of that?

CJ Hopkins: I don't know. You know, I experienced it here. So, I'm kind of biased in that way. But if you look at what happened in Australia, in some parts of Canada, I don't know if Germany was any more fascistic than anywhere else. Things got pretty fascistic in Australia. There are many, many examples there. The police raiding synagogues and well, they did that in the states, too. Yeah.

Nico Perrino: Let's talk about your book now, The Rise of the New Normal Reich, which is your third collection, if I'm not mistaken, of essays from Consent Factory. Can you walk us through what prompted you to publish that book?

CJ Hopkins: Yeah, what it is is it's my collection. It's the essays from 2020 and 2021. So, the main part of the rollout of the new normal, all of the Corona time. I put out one of these collections pretty much every couple of years. And I just picked the best what I think are the best essays from my blog. And it's now really my Sub Stack is where most of it is happening. And I collect what I think are the best essays and I put them out. This happened to be 2020 and 2021. So, that was the obvious title because that was the focus of all my essays.

Nico Perrino: Yeah. Again, for our listeners, the title is The Rise of the New Normal Reich. And can you describe for us the cover and maybe any inspiration behind the cover which is, as we will learn, what ultimately got you in hot water?

CJ Hopkins: Yeah, I think maybe older Americans, I didn't realize this, but I'm getting older, I think older Americans will recognize it, maybe younger Americans won't. But there's the world famous, international bestseller by William Shirer, which is the history of Nazi Germany. And the title of the book is The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. And one of the covers, the most famous cover of his book, the one that I had anyway, is all black with big red lettering for the title. And under the title, there's a little white circle with a swastika. So, obviously, what I did was I basically stole his cover. I copied his cover.

We put my title in big, red letters against the black background. There's a little white swastika. Yeah, a little white circle with a swastika in it. And we covered the swastika up with one of the medical looking COVID masks that everyone was forced to wear. This was by brilliant cover artist Anthony Freda, who's done the cover for all of my Consent Factory books.

Nico Perrino: Based in the United States, right?

CJ Hopkins: Yeah, he's in New York. Yeah. So, basically we just draped a COVID mask over the swastika. And so, it's a direct reference to the to the Shirer book.

Nico Perrino: Yeah, I actually have to bring that out, the William Shirer book because he also wrote another book that I want to recommend to our listeners called the Berlin Diaries, which is, essentially, his diary notes while he was a foreign correspondent in Berlin. And the reason I recommend this because you often read about The Rise of the Third Reich after the fact, people reflecting on it later, he is writing about the rise of the Third Reich as it's happening and reflecting on the day-to-day basis on it happening. And I was a history major in college.

And our teachers always told us the people living through history don't know how it's going to end. Right. Yeah. When you’re reflecting on history later, you tend to think that the results are inevitable. But they're not. The people living through it don't know. And so, that book is probably the best example of someone living through it and not knowing how it's going to end, although he's prescient in many ways. He didn't know exactly how it was going to end. So, I want to recommend that book to our listeners, The Berlin Diaries or The Berlin Diary. I forget. But The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich is also excellent. I haven't read it all I must admit. It's like 50 hours on audiobook.

But I've been making my way through it for the course of years. I'll pick it up, I'll put it back down, pick it up, I'll put it back down. The one thing I learned from that book is just how goonish all the members of the early Third Reich were and, of course, later Third Reich, you talk about deplorables. Those folks were often like the rejects from society were making up that party. It's just incredible. And William Shirer lays that all out.

CJ Hopkins: It's a really good point. And one point that I'll make because those essays collected in my book, it's the same thing. It's month by month, basically, reporting on what was happening and documenting it. And for people who have read the book, or if people want to read the book, there are just hundreds and hundreds of citations of the type of totalitarian behavior that I'm talking about. It's so easy to forget. And I think it's our natural instincts to forget. But they're documented. It's all cited in my book. The thing that I thought of while you were talking, Nico, is Shirer – I had 20th century totalitarianism and the example of Nazi Germany to refer to as it was doing my reporting.

And of course, Shirer didn't, which is kind of a crucial difference. I wanted to make that point because it's a point that I've made in a lot of my essays, and it's in the book, of course. You know, when I talk about the new normal as a new emerging form of totalitarianism, a lot of people hear that and they think, oh, that's completely ridiculous. Nazis aren't running around with Jack boots. They're not lining people up against the wall and putting them in concentration camps.

Nico Perrino: Godwin's law, right, that's what it's referred to on the internet.

CJ Hopkins: Exactly. And I've gone to some lengths to make the point that of course it is not 20th century totalitarianism. It's not Nazism, it's not Stalinism. It is a different, new emerging form of it. And of course, when you are faced with a new emerging form of an authoritarian or totalitarian system, of course, you don't recognize it in the same way that Shirer had nothing to refer to as he was watching society be transformed. Most people going through those years, 2020 to 2022, basically, nothing to refer to. Nothing like this had ever really happened before.

Nico Perrino: Your books were banned or your book, I should say, was banned in a few countries. Germany, Austria, and Netherlands, most famously on Amazon, although you were told if I'm not mistaken, that it was also unavailable in bookstores if folks wanted their bookstores to order them. Excuse me.

CJ Hopkins: Well, it's a tricky legal point. I can't legally claim that the German authorities have banned the book for distribution in bookstores. I absolutely can. Amazon sent me the notice. This all happened at the same time. Basically, what happened was I tweeted these two tweets that got me into court. I tweeted these two tweets in August of 2022 so a few months after the book was released. An organization, I'm sure we'll get into all of this in detail, but an organization, which is an arm of the German government, somebody saw the tweets, reported them to Twitter and said, “Delete these tweets.”

So, Twitter censored the tweets at the request of the German government, reported the tweets to the [Speaking German], which is the federal police office here, and they started a criminal investigation, which led to my prosecution. And at the same time, Amazon sent me a notice and said, “Oh, we're banning book in Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands because it violates this German law.” I don't yet have proof of communication from the German authorities with Amazon. But it would be a hell of a coincidence if that's not how it happened because it all happened within the space of three or four days.

Nico Perrino: I want to just read your two tweets here for our listeners and for those watching on YouTube. I'm sure we can get them put up on screen. One says, “The masks are theological conformity symbols, that is all they are. That is all they have ever been. Stop acting like they have ever been anything else or get used to wearing them.” And then, the hashtag there reads, “The masks are not a benign measure.” And the tweet is in German. So, this is a rough translation. And then, you have another tweet that says, “The masks send a signal.” And this follow up tweet says, “This is a picture of Karl Lauterbach, the health minister of Germany, who said in an interview the masks send a signal.”

Pretty run-of-the-mill stuff here in the United States. But the thing that got you in trouble, of course, is sharing as an image associated with those tweets. The cover of your book, which has the white. Medical mask with a very kind of like – you almost have to look kind of carefully, swastika superimposed on it.

CJ Hopkins: Which of course is the point of the piece of artwork is for you to take a second and say, “Oh, what's that behind the mask?”

Nico Perrino: What were you being prosecuted – and I guess starting, what were you being investigated for?

CJ Hopkins: Yeah. Well, let's back up. The tweets were sent out, the context of the tweets. This is August of 2022. And what was happening at that time is there was a lot of discussion in Germany about should we end the mask mandates. Is it time to stop mandating that everybody wear masks all the time?

Nico Perrino: Oh, Germany saw mass mandates going into late 2022.

CJ Hopkins: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely.

Nico Perrino: Okay. They were gone in the United States at that point.

CJ Hopkins: I remember. They were not in Germany. The mask mandates were in place. You had to wear them everywhere. If I remember properly, as one of the unvaccinated, we were still being segregated. Unvaccinated people were not allowed to participate in society, basically. Anyway, they were considering ending the mask mandates. This was a discussion that was going on in the culture. And there was a huge backlash among just German society people rising up and saying, “No, no. You can't end the mask mandates and the mask mandates stay in place.” And one of the hashtags was the [Speaking German].

You know, it's the masks stay on. And another one was the masks are mild measures. Right. So, in my hashtag, I was playing with their hashtag. So, anyway, that was the context of the two tweets that were sent out. The Karl Lauterbach tweet, he's the health minister of Germany.

Nico Perrino: He's like the Anthony Fauci of the United States.

CJ Hopkins: Absolutely. And I couldn't resist because it was an article. I used his quote from an article where he came out and said, “The masks always send out a signal.” And I saw that and I was like, yes. That's exactly my point. Karl, that's what they're for. They're not to protect us from the virus. They are to send out a signal. And that signal is I conform. I'm following orders. And so, anyway, I put the tweets. This entity, and I will get into this a little bit because it's interesting, the entity that saw them and reported them, it's called the Hessen Cyber Competence Center. Hessen 3C.

Now, they are a department of a department of the Interior Ministry of the Federal State of Hessen. But they are also a part of the federal network of monitors of hate speech and so-called disinformation and what have you. They're the ones that found my tweets. And I'll reiterate this and try to make it simple so that it sinks in for people. They saw two tweets that I put out. They contacted Twitter and had my political speech censored. They contacted, I believe, they contacted Amazon. I can't prove it yet, but it looks like it. They contacted Amazon, had my book banned.

They contacted the federal police authorities and launched a criminal investigation of me that went on for months and that has culminated in a criminal prosecution of me for these two tweets. The pretext of all of this is the fact that there's a swastika on the cover of my book. It's a pretext of the law. The law in Germany is actually incredibly clear. No, Nazis are not allowed to display swastikas. If you're a Nazi, you're not allowed to go out in the street displaying swastikas. You're not allowed to publish pro-Nazi material with Nazi symbols on it. But, of course, people are allowed to use swastikas for specific purposes.

You couldn't watch a Quentin Tarantino film or read a history book if they weren't. And these exceptions to the ban on swastikas are absolutely clear. And they're clearly written into the German law. One of those exceptions is for art. Another exception, the one that applies to me, is you're allowed to use or display swastikas if you are countering, if you are fighting against or struggling against anti constitutional activity. So, all of the action that was taken because of these two tweets, yes, the pretext was the swastika on the cover, but it was a pretext. It was very clear to me from Day 1 that this is a crackdown on dissent.

And I'm just one of many, many cases where this is happening.

Nico Perrino: In the prosecutions pleading, you published this on your Sub Stack, they say, “The accused is interested in relativizing this Nazi tyranny, which is also the aim of supporters of this ideology in a different form. By specifically using the swastika, the accused,” that's you, “equates the crisis management measures of the years 2020 to 2022, which came about within constitutional procedures and were enacted and implemented by and through democratically legitimized institutions with the dictatorial methods of the Nazi regime. And thus, regardless of its intention, promotes the normalization of nationalist, socialist ideas and actions.”

You have this exception to Germans Penal Code, namely Article 86A, which prohibits the dissemination of propaganda, the contents of which are intended to further the aims of the former National Socialist Organization. But you have, as you mentioned, this list of exceptions, which includes civic education and countering anti constitutional activities, art and science. William Shirer's book, for example, can be sold in in Germany, which has an even starker swastika on the cover. But proving that you're countering anti constitutional activities can be difficult if the government says no, what we're doing is constitutional.

Of course, they're going to say that, right? So it's like if the government has the right to say that, “No, what we're doing is constitutional and because we believe what we're doing constitutional is what we believe, therefore, you don't fall into this exception.” It just seems like it's absurd for the government to be making the argument it did in that pleading.

CJ Hopkins: I actually got this in court. As you said, this was in a pleading. It wasn't an argument that the prosecutor made.

Nico Perrino: Oh, it wasn’t. Okay.

CJ Hopkins: Well, no, it was. He made it in – I don't know if it was a pleading, but it was one of his briefs to the court in the course of the investigation. It's not saying – he didn't stand up in court last Tuesday and say this. But I got it in because, I forget, the judge was questioning me something about the artwork and the comparison. And so, I was able to get it in and bring it up. And I read that quote that you just read and I read it because I found it incredibly offensive and I found it just staggeringly ignorant. And I said so in court. And I reminded the prosecutor and everybody else in court this is the argument that a lot of people are making.

It's like what happened in 2020 and 2021, it was nothing like the Nazi dictatorship because everything was done legally and democratically. And what I reminded everybody of is, yeah, so was the transformation of Germany into a Nazi dictatorship. It was all done democratically and legally. And I cited the examples. I don't have them off the top of my head.

Nico Perrino: Yeah, I got them right here. In the election of July 1932, the Nazi Party won 37.3% of the vote and became the largest party in the Reichstag. On January 30, 1933, von Hindenburg appointed Adolf Hitler Germany's chancellor. In the aftermath of the Reichstag fire, Hitler convinced von Hindenburg to pass the Reichstag fire decree, which severely curtailed the liberties and rights of German citizens. And then, there was the enabling Act of 1933, which was passed by the Reichstag on March 23. This law gave the government the power to override individual rights prescribed by the Constitution because of a so-called emergency.

CJ Hopkins: Yeah. It's one of the first essays that I wrote specifically about Germany. I mean, most of my book, most of those essays from 2020 and 2021, are not about Germany. They're about the United States and the UK and Australia and Canada and everywhere in the West. But one of the first articles that I wrote about what was happening in Germany, it was called the Germans are Back. And I referred specifically to the Enabling Act of 1933. And I did that because what was happening at that time is the Bundestag, the German parliament, was revising the [Speaking German], which is the Infection Protection Act.

And they revised that in order to suspend constitutional rights because of a state of emergency. So, they basically said, “Apocalyptic virus is everywhere. So, guess what. We can now ban protests. We can force people to wear masks.” People forget by the end of it, Germany was this close to passing legislation mandating vaccinations for the general public. Austria did it. Austria passed it. When I watched what was happening back in 2020, when I watched how constitutional rights were being suspended or cancelled based on a so-called state of emergency, knowing a little bit of my history, I immediately thought of the Enabling Act of 1933.

So, the prosecutor’s argument I found it insultingly ignorant.

Nico Perrino: Can you give our listeners in the United States a sense of the sensitivities around German history and the Nazi party that would lead to the sort of law that you're being prosecuted under? And, of course, we understand that you disagree, that you should – that you’re even caught within that law given the exceptions. But we don't have something like that in the United States. So, do you think it's a good idea in a country with the cultural history that Germany has?

CJ Hopkins: It's an interesting point and I also made this point in court and it surprises some people because I'm basically a free speech absolutist and people know me as as a free speech absolutist. And I absolutely think – I despise Nazis. I despise neo Nazis. But I think in the United States that they need to be allowed to run around with their Nazi flags and make asses of themselves. I make an exception for Germany. I said this in court. I do not have a problem with this law. I do not have a problem with Paragraph 86 at all. I think that because of Germany's unique history, it is absolutely appropriate for there to be a ban on pro-Nazi propaganda.

And the reason I don't have a problem with this law is because the law includes these specific exceptions. It's not a blanket ban on the display of swastikas or Nazi symbology. It is very clearly written to ban Neo Nazis and pro-Nazi propaganda. So, no, I don't have a problem with the law at all. And I said so in court.

Nico Perrino: So, against your lawyer's advice, you republished the tweets on your Sub Stack, which I guess sparked a second criminal investigation, this time allegedly for minimizing Nazi crimes. I have to ask you. Why not just pay the fine? Why not just go on with your life? You write in one of your Sub Stack posts that, “In Germany, the way the game works is they charge you with a misdemeanor crime and hit you with a hefty fine, but one that is significantly less than what you'll have to pay a lawyer to fight in court.” So, you can essentially like plea out and just pay the fine. But if you go to court, everything's gonna be more expensive. Oh, and you risk jail time and an even larger fine.

I think under this code, you face either a fine of €3,600.00 or about $4,000.00 or 60 days in jail. So why not just –

CJ Hopkins: That was just my fine. It could be any amount or any amount of time in jail.

Nico Perrino: Oh, under the code. So, that was just what they were threatening you with.

CJ Hopkins: Yeah, specifically, yeah. But I think the law – I think they can put you in jail for up to three years and there may be a limit on the fines. I don't know. But your question was –

Nico Perrino: You've been persnickety about this, long and the short of it. You're not willing to just go away.

CJ Hopkins: It's a principle. I was just speaking to someone about this the other day. And some principles are important enough that you have to fight for them. The only way that we preserve our democratic rights, our rights to free speech and freedom of the press, which to me is the foundation of all of our democratic rights, if we can't speak, and if we can't report on what the government is doing, if we don't have freedom of speech, if we don't have freedom of the press, none of our other democratic rights really mean anything. And what has been happening, what I've been writing about for quite a while, is dissent is it has – it is being demonized and increasingly it is being criminalized.

And the amount of censorship and visibility filtering, the manipulation of content that people see on the internet has been increasing. And most people are probably not aware of it. There's all of this new legislation that's being rolled out and taking effect. There's the, I forget what it's called in the UK, maybe you know, Nico, is the Public Safety Bill or something. It's the new anti-disinformation, anti-hate speech legislation that's being rolled out in Europe in the EU. It's the DSA, the Digital Services Act. Just really authoritarian legislation rolled out in Ireland. This is happening all over.

What's happening is our right to freedom of speech, to freedom of the press, is being, I won't say gradually, it's being rapidly stripped away from us. And so, there was never a question for me of just paying the fine and walking away. This is a fight. I didn't do anything wrong. I didn't break any laws. It was clear from the beginning to me that this is punishment for dissent. And I wasn't going to take it.

Nico Perrino: So, the case goes to trial then, right? And you're in front of the judge. This was what, January?

CJ Hopkins: It was January 23.

Nico Perrino: Paint a picture for us of what transpired during that trial or hearing, whatever you want to call it. You got your verdict very quickly, which we'll get to.

CJ Hopkins: It was a trial. It's a criminal trial. This is the thing. It still boggles my mind. It's why I emphasize it for Americans. This is a criminal trial for two tweets. What happened was we showed up in court. Beautiful courthouse, by the way, old, gothic building. We showed up. We were scheduled in one room, but the observers, the witnesses, there were so many people that came to watch the trial, they had to move us into the big room.

Nico Perrino: These were people who were just – who wanted to observe. They weren't testifying?

Nico Perrino: No, just people in the public gallery so the audience. And none of the mainstream press showed up. Of course, the German media has been functioning pretty much like a proverbial Gabelzian keyboard instrument for many years now. So, no mainstream press, but a good deal of alternative, independent press was there. So, there was a lot of hassling with the rooms and people's press credentials and so on. And finally, we all piled in. And the way the trial works here, it's different system. It's an inquisitorial system. So, we're all lined up at the table. I had an interpreter with me because I didn't want to – I speak German, but I didn't want to be at a disadvantage while I was being interrogated.

The way it opens up is the judge basically asks questions and interrogates me. And so, I answered her questions for a while. And then, the prosecutor joined in and he had some questions. And I was able to make my point about the history and make some other points about the masks. At one point, one of the most bizarre moments to me, the judge, literally, used an overhead projector like people may remember if they're old enough from elementary school in the United States. So, she put my tweets up, put the tweets up on the overhead projector. So, it blew them up to giant size.

And then, there was a whole discussion that ensued about whether Anthony Freda and I had placed the swastika on the mask, or whether the swastika was behind the mask.

Nico Perrino: Anthony Freda is the artist who created the art. This whole kind of story reminds me of the judges and prosecution during Lenny Bruce's trials for his comedy like trying to parse his art. It's always funny when art is put on trial.

CJ Hopkins: Exactly, exactly. And the prosecutor had at one point actually argued – made the argument that I was guilty because using the swastika in this artwork was unnecessary. So, apparently he's the judge of what is necessary in a work of art as well. Anyway, there was just this long period of questions and answers and interrogation back and forth. And my lawyer educated people a bit, reminded them of the actual German law, which he had already done in a pre-trial pleading. So, things went pretty quickly. And then, I read my statement. I read my statement in German. And I passed out a couple of English translations to people in the gallery. It's a long statement. It's an angry statement.

Nico Perrino: I'd like to read two paragraphs of it. I think it kind of encompasses it.

CJ Hopkins: Yeah, go ahead.

Nico Perrino: I won't do it as well as you did it, I'm sure. But you write or say, “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.”

“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 of those things.” And that's what they did. What was the response?

CJ Hopkins: the judge was not very happy. When I finished the speech, the public gallery broke out into huge applause, which infuriated the judge and she threatened to throw everybody out, of course.

Nico Perrino: I'm sure you might not like the comparison, but it kind of reminds me of the Fountainhead speech in Iran's novel.

CJ Hopkins: You know, I’ve never read it.

Nico Perrino: Just in the sense that it's like this very powerful statement of principle and kind of rejecting the framework of the trial as you do.

CJ Hopkins: Yeah. I've read it a couple of times because people are republishing it and I hate everything that I write after I finish it. I want to rewrite it all and cut it. But anyway, the public gallery broke out into huge applause, which infuriated the judge. She got them to quiet down. She very quickly announced that I was acquitted of the charges. And then, she went off on a bit of a tirade insulting me and calling me a [Speaking German], which is like an idiot, a babbling idiot and, basically, saying that I'm arrogant and that I think that I see everything and that no one sees anything else.

And so, therefore, maybe it's me who is totalitarian. And then, the amazing part was, and she actually said this in court, she says, “By acquitting you of the charge, I am proving that Germany is not the totalitarian state that you claim it is.” And then, she strapped on a COVID mask and stalked out of the courtroom.

Nico Perrino: Did you get the verdict that day?

CJ Hopkins: Oh, that was it. That was the verdict. The verdict came first and then, came the berating.

Nico Perrino: Wow. A trial and a verdict on the – just like in that quick succession. But you thought that was it, right? You write in – I’ve got to find it here in my notes. “So, my show trial for thought crimes and Criminal Court and new normal Germany went pretty well. I was acquitted. Technically, it isn't all over because the prosecutor has a week to appeal the decision. But given the circumstances, I doubt he will. He made a total fool of himself in front of a large audience yesterday. I can't imagine he will want to do that again.”

CJ Hopkins: Yeah. I made this point in the column that I just put out. I really think this case was never supposed to go to trial. We talked about the thing with the fine and the analogy with the plea bargain system in the US. This was, obviously, never supposed to go to trial. They were hoping that I would just pay the fine and take my punishment because they had no case. Of course, they had no case. There was no case from the beginning. So, the prosecutor, when I say he made a fool of himself, he had no case. So, he had to get up and mutter a bunch of ridiculous stuff and make a fool of himself. I forgot what your question was.

Nico Perrino: No. It’s just so you thought the case was over.

CJ Hopkins: I thought it was over just because it was so overwhelmingly clear in the courtroom that the state had absolutely no case, no grounds to bring this prosecution to even launch this investigation in the first place. But we knew it was a possibility that they would appeal. My lawyer told me that right from the very beginning is the prosecutor is going to have an opportunity to appeal. I just couldn't believe that they would actually do it.

Nico Perrino: Yeah. By this time, the case had been getting some international attention. I think I read some translated German coverage in which that was focused on and folks thought that because the world was watching in a sense, Germany didn't want to make a fool of itself. But here we are. They're bringing the appeal, which I don't think you could do in the United States. Wouldn't that be double jeopardy? German law is different.

CJ Hopkins: Yes. The German system is different. Yes, it's in the US, it's double jeopardy. But here in Germany, no. The prosecution can appeal the verdict, which they have done. So, unless they decide to drop their appeal at some point, I'm looking at a repeat. I'm looking at another trial, except this time in the appeals court. Probably in, I don't know, somewhere like seven to nine months from now.

Nico Perrino: So, this is going to continue to hang over your head for seven to nine months.

CJ Hopkins: Oh, yeah. And continue to cost me in legal fees, yeah.

Nico Perrino: Yeah. You write, “Apparently, their plan is to keep putting me on trial until they get a judge who is willing to convict me of something or to bankrupt me with legal costs.” Describe the impact this has all had on you, again, reminding listeners that this is two tweets that started it all.

CJ Hopkins: Yeah. Two tweets, folks. First of all, what I wanna do is thank everybody who has donated. When all of this first happened, I hate asking for money. I never wanted to be somebody that goes on the internet and says, “Send me money.” But a very wise lady urged me to do it. And so, I said, “Okay. I’ve got a legal defense fund.” And people just flooded it with money. Well, what I consider money. I've never had much money. So, people just – donations poured in and I'll start weeping if I talk about it too much. It really overwhelmed me. It's just amazing level of support from my readers and from people who are just interested in defending freedom of speech.

Nico Perrino: Where can folks find that?

CJ Hopkins: I've just got a little section on my Sub Stack now. Anthony Freda, again, the cover artist from the book, he set up one of the American services. It wasn't Venmo, it was something. But that's down now. It's finished. But people can go on my Sub Stack and I've got a little section called Legal Defense Fund. It's not a formal legal defense fund. It's me. Donations poured in. And so, I just want to thank everybody that supported me financially from the bottom of my heart. Because of that, I've paid my legal bills with those donations. So, this hasn't bankrupted me. What it has done though is just beat the hell out of me emotionally.

It’s been eight months of – I’ve been here for twenty years but I’ve never had any run ins with the German authorities. And I'm an author. I'm not a criminal. And it's eight months of police investigation, my book being banned, my speech being censored, and being hauled into Criminal Court, which it still just boggles my mind that I went to Criminal Court where thieves and murderers go. It's taken a toll on me. It's been stressful.

Nico Perrino: What are the stakes if you lose this? The sense that I have is that citizens of Germany then can't draw comparisons with Nazi Germany and, therefore, cannot warn if Germany again is heading down the road of Nazi Germany.

CJ Hopkins: Well, it’s another funny thing about the German system because it's not, essentially, a case based system the way the United States is.

Nico Perrino: Precedential.

CJ Hopkins: Yeah, exactly. It's not primarily based on precedent. It's a statute based system, and the statute won't change. And I was just acquitted of these charges. There are people who are being convicted of these charges, people who can't generate attention from the Atlantic and the [Speaking German].

Nico Perrino: And just so our listeners understand that, if the judge convicts you, future judges can't look to that judge’s decision as a guide in how to rule in a separate case with similar facts.

CJ Hopkins: They can cite it, but it doesn't become the law of the land. It doesn't change the law of land in the same way that it does in the United States. Other lawyers can – other prosecutors and other lawyers can bring precedent up in court. And my lawyers certainly did. But it doesn't have the same effect that it does in the United States.

Nico Perrino: So, I guess by way of closing, right, we started with your story of your career progression and travels within the United States and and you're organizing of the protests in New York City and the lead up to the Iraq war and you're desire to escape the United States and what you saw as increasing fascistic tendencies, but also yearning for the culture and the sort of lifestyle that Europe had. Do you have any regrets given all you've gone through in these past couple of months? Or do you really just feel as though Germany needs to live up to what's actually in the law?

CJ Hopkins: Well, I definitely feel that. No, I don't have regrets. I've never been a person that really has regrets. Maybe I'm just lucky or blessed or something. But I don't really regret anything. I've always missed a lot of the United States of America. As I said, I'm an American and I always will be. Part of the reason that I'm in the situation that I'm in is because I'm an American. This is a broad generalization and it's not fair because it doesn't apply to every single person. But generally, the culture in Germany is much more obedience and order following and much more respectful of authority.

I was just doing an event recently before the trial and someone in the German audience asked me, “What would you suggest to us?” And my suggestion was, “I would like to see Germans, generally, have a little less respect for authority figures.” And I think that's one of the things that I cherish about being an American and having grown up in the United States is my lack of respect for authority figures. Respect is earned. It doesn't come with a uniform or a badge. I forgot what your question was.

Nico Perrino: Whether you had any regrets.

CJ Hopkins: Regrets. I don’t. I have a funny perspective on life. Maybe it's because I come from the theater. I feel like in one sense, it’s all a big performance. We’re all playing our parts in the big cosmic show. And we’ve all been cast in different roles. And I feel like this is the role I got cast in as me. And so, I’m trying to play this role the best that I can. And I’m taking what comes at me and I’m trying to respond to it and meet it as best I can. Again, I'm not world famous, but a semi public person and I'm aware of that. So, how I react to things like this – if I had just paid the fine and said, “Oh, I’m so sorry. Let me pay the fine,” that sends a message out, that behavior.

And it’s not just public and semipublic people, it's all of us. Everything that we do, every decision that we make, every reaction that we have, the things that we say, they’re all sending out a message to everyone else saying, “This is how to live. The way that I’m living, the decisions that I’m making, the things that I’m doing, this is the way to live. These are the things that we should all be doing. And I'm hyper aware of that. So, I hope that I’m playing the role that I’ve been assigned well. And so far, no, I don’t have any real regrets.

Nico Perrino: CJ Hopkins, I think we'll leave it there. Thank you for coming on to So to Speak.

CJ Hopkins: Thanks so much for having me on, Nico.

Nico Perrino: That was CJ Hopkins, a playwright, novelist, and political satirist who also writes for a self-titled blog on Sub Stack, which we'll link in the show notes. Speaking of Sub Stack, this podcast, So to Speak, the Free Speech Podcast is now on Sub Stack. Check us out please consider becoming a paid subscriber today. With your subscription, you'll get a Fire membership, as well as access to exclusive, once monthly, subscriber only conversations where I'll sit down with one or more of my Fire colleagues to discuss the free speech news of the month while taking some questions from you, our listeners, live.

So, head on over to, and please consider becoming a subscriber today. This podcast is hosted by me, Nico Perrino, and produced by Sam Niederhauser and myself. It's edited by a rotating roster of my Fire colleagues, including Aaron Reese, Ella Ross, and Chris Balby. You can learn more about, So to Speak by following us on our YouTube channel, which features a video version of this conversation. We're also on X or Instagram where you can find us by searching for free speech talk. We're on Facebook as well.

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