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Soldiers accused of neo-Nazi National Action membership should be given ‘freedom of speech’ – lawyer

Soldiers accused of neo-Nazi National Action membership should be given ‘freedom of speech’ – lawyer
Two serving soldiers are in court accused of being members of banned neo-Nazi terrorist group National Action. The pair, alongside one other man, are accused of joining the group, which celebrated the murder of MP Jo Cox.

Birmingham Crown Court has heard how the trio were allegedly involved with the banned organization which adopted the slogan of Cox’s killer, Thomas Mair: "Death to traitors, freedom for Britain." One of the three is said to have had an image of Cox captioned "Chat s**t. Get banged," the court heard.

Lance Corporal Mikko Vehvilainen, 33, of Powys, and Royal Anglian Regiment soldier Private Mark Barrett, 25, of Dhekalia Barracks, Cyprus, deny being members of the banned group, along with a 23-year-old male, who cannot be named for legal reasons.

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Barrister for Finnish-born Vehvilainen, Pavlos Panayi QC, told jurors on Wednesday it was “not in dispute that he is a racist.” He said: “It is not disputed that he has written and said things which the vast majority of people will find utterly repulsive, about black people, Jews, Muslims and lots of other minority groups. It is not disputed he has associated with other racists, men and women, from what might be called the far right, that might include neo-Nazis, and other different groups of people.”

National Action was banned by the government in December 2016. The barrister argued, however, that this is a question of free speech in what could turn out to be a landmark case. He said holding racist views is not inherently criminal, if not acted upon. “This case will test the limits of free speech, the freedom to say what you think and the freedom to frighten, offend and discuss,” Panayi said.

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Jurors also heard from expert Matthew Feldman, co-director of the Centre for Fascist, Anti-fascist and Post-fascist Studies at Teesside University. He said following the murder of Cox, MP for Batley and Spen on June 16, 2016, her killer spouted an infamous sentence. This is now used in NA propaganda.

Feldman said the group used the slogan on its "Google banners" and website. Prosecuting QC Duncan Atkinson asked: "Beyond adopting the words of Thomas Mair as its Google banner, did National Action – through Twitter – express support?"

Vehvilainen, is also accused of one count of possession of a terrorist manual – the Anders Breivik manifesto – and two charges of stirring up racial hatred with web forum posts. Describing National Action's operation, Feldman said it was founded in August 2013 by Benjamin Raymond and Alex Davies and was "overtly national socialist or neo-Nazi." He said it had practiced "violent rhetoric," holding demonstrations in cities and towns including Liverpool, York and Newcastle.

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