White Supremacist Ordered to Read Dickens, Shakespeare, to Avoid Jail

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times for a man who has been told he can avoid prison as long as he reads A Tale of Two Cities and other great works of literature after he was convicted of downloading bomb-making instructions.

The opening line of the book by Charles Dickens could equally apply to Ben John, 21, from the English city of Lincoln, whose conviction on August 11 of possessing information likely to be useful for preparing an act of terror, carried a maximum jail term of 15 years.

But Judge Timothy Spencer QC preferred literary sentences to jail sentences as he handed John a suspended term as well as a reading list of the leading lights of English writers.

"Have you read Dickens? [Jane] Austen? Start with Pride and Prejudice and Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities. [William] Shakespeare's Twelfth Night," Spencer said.

"Think about Hardy. Think about Trollope," he added, referring to novelist and poet Thomas Hardy, author of Far from the Madding Crowd, and Anthony Trollope, who penned the Chronicles of Barsetshire.

A right-wing extremist student was caught with terrorist instructional material following an 11 month police Special Branch investigation.
Ben John, 21, was convicted of one count of possessing a document that could be useful to terrorists at Leicester... https://t.co/LSD7SxOwrr

— antifascist45 (@antifascist45) August 13, 2021

"On January 4, you will tell me what you have read and I will test you on it," the judge said according to The Leicester Mercury, "I will test you and if I think you are [lying to] me you will suffer.

"If you let me down you know what will happen," the judge added.

John was identified by law enforcement as a terror risk at the age of 18 after he wrote a letter to his school in which he claimed to be part of "The Lincoln Fascist Underground" and criticized gay people and immigrants.

Police raided his student accommodation in January 2020 and found he had a copy of The Anarchist Cookbook on his hard drive and had amassed 67,788 documents which included white supremacist and anti-Semitic material.

He was charged with offenses under the Terrorism Act, including possessing documents on combat, homemade weapons and explosives, the BBC reported.

Counter Terrorism Policing East Midlands Detective Inspector James Manning said in a statement that the material he had was "extremely dangerous, and he acquired this to further his ideology."

However, John's barrister, Harry Bentley, had argued his client was "not likely to cause harm" and had demonstrated a fascination with right-wing views and that he had been working well with officers from Prevent, the scheme aimed at safeguarding those prone to radicalization.

"Violence is the necessary ingredient of terrorism. It is not the prosecution case he was planning a terrorist attack," Bentley said, "He is by no means a lost cause and is capable of living a normal, pro-social life."

But the judge described the material as "repellent" and mostly relating to "Nazi, fascist and Adolf Hitler-inspired ideology," and made John promise not to read any more right-wing documents.

"He has by the skin of his teeth avoided imprisonment," Spencer said in announcing received a 24-month sentence, suspended for two years.

Newsweek has contacted the U.K.'s National Counter Terrorism Security Office for comment.

British novelist Charles Dickens
British novelist Charles Dickens (1812-1870) sat in his study in Gads Hill near Rochester, Kent, circa 1860. A British judge has ordered a man convicted of downloading right-wing documents to read the Dickens novel "A Tale of Two Cities." Getty