Two British teenagers who reportedly posted an image of Prince Harry and accused him of being a “race traitor” last year were convicted Tuesday of promoting terrorism and neo-Nazi propaganda online, according to news reports.
The outcome of the trial comes after the United Kingdom strengthened its laws to prosecute terrorism activity online, and the judge called the picture “abhorrent” and “criminal.”
Authorities said Michael Szewczuk, 19, and Oskar Dunn-Koczorowski, 18, used pseudonyms for personal accounts on Gab, a social media site primarily used by far-right activists. They also shared control of the official page for the Sonnenkrieg Division, a British neo-Nazi organization, where they frequently created and shared racist and violent propaganda online. On the site, the two teens posted an image of Prince Harry with a gun to his head and the caption “See Ya Later Race Traitor” months after his marriage to Meghan Markle in May 2018, according to U.K. news reports.
When detectives arrested Szewczuk after a BBC report last year exposed his online activity, they discovered in his residence bombmaking instructions, a “white-resistance” manual and instructional propaganda on conducting Islamist terrorist attacks.
Dunn-Koczorowski and Szewczuk, both Polish nationals, pleaded guilty to encouraging terrorism. Dunn-Koczorowski was sentenced to an 18-month detention and training order, while Szewczuk, the older, was given a sentence of over four years.
During the court hearing, Dunn-Koczorowski’s lawyer, David Kitson, said his client’s mind-set had not changed and he had a “lack of remorse” for his views and a “deeply entrenched ideology,” according to news reports.
Detective Chief Superintendent Martin Snowden, head of a counter terrorism unit, said Dunn-Koczorowski and Szewczuk saw themselves as superior to others and represented a “significant risk.” He told the BBC that it “only takes one individual to be encouraged or be inspired by that propaganda to take that further step.”
The U.K. has a much stricter legal framework than the United States for prosecuting individuals for acts of terrorism propaganda. For example, under the U.K.'s updated 2019 Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act, it is illegal to click on terrorist propaganda and recklessly express support for banned groups. Interest in updating the U.K.’s treason and terror law increased after two alleged members of an Islamic State cell were not prosecuted, according to the Independent.
Judge Rebecca Poulet said the pair were responsible for promoting a violent ideology from right-wing and neo-Nazi groups, according to the Guardian. “The posts I have seen and read are abhorrent as well as criminal by reason of their clear intention to encourage terrorist acts,” she said.
In the United States, their actions might not rise to a criminal prosecution partly because there is no statutory crime of domestic terrorism and because of strong First Amendment speech protections, according to Simon Clark, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, who has written on the domestic right-wing terrorism threat.
Clark, who has lived in the United Kingdom and United States, said he has seen an increase in a similar rise in far-right extremism throughout Europe and America. “When I moved over here, I was concerned to see the same types of patterns emerge here,” he said. But in the past few years, he has also seen an increased interest in tackling the rise of far-right groups from the House of Representatives, numerous nonprofits and the online community.
According to Snowden, the amount of material the police uncovered on the British teens’ social media channels “not only reflects their extremist beliefs but was intended to encourage others to carry out despicable acts.”