The powers of white privilege achieved new levels this week when a Nazi sympathiser, who had downloaded bomb-making instructions, was sentenced to reading some books instead of time behind bars. Yep, you read that right.

On August 11 this year, 21-year-old Ben John was found guilty by a jury of possessing information likely to be useful for preparing an act of terror.

Such a conviction has a maximum jail sentence of 15 years, but Judge Timothy Spencer QC told John he could avoid a prison sentence if he steered clear of white-supremacy literature and read the works of Jane Austen, William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy. 

The former De Montfort University student will have to return to court every four months to prove that he’s read the books in a series of tests. 

Judge Spencer concluded John’s crime was probably “an act of teenage folly” and an isolated incident. However, John had first been identified as a terror risk shortly after his 18th birthday and was referred to the Prevent programme, a body that acts as part of the government’s CONTEST counter-terrorism strategy. Even after being referred, it was found that John had continued downloading “repellant” right-wing documents as well as a bomb-making manual.

On top of reading about Nazis, he also produced his own material, writing a letter condemning LGBTQ+ people, immigrants and liberals. 

Judge Spencer also said that even though John was “highly susceptible” to recruitment by far right terror groups, “I am not of the view that harm was likely to have been caused,” adding that, “you are a lonely individual with few if any true friends.”

On top of his reading list, John was also handed a two-year suspended prison sentence plus a further year on license while he is monitored by the probation service. He was also given a five-year Serious Crime Prevention Order, which requires him to stay in touch with police, let them monitor his online activity, and take part in a 30-day Healthy Identity Intervention programme.

De Montfort University have since confirmed that John had been studying criminology at the university, but had been suspended with immediate effect once arrested.

Commenting on the sentence, Counter Terrorism Policing East Midlands Detective Inspector James Manning, who led the investigation, said: “This was a young man who could be anyone’s son, studying at university, and living one life in public, while conducting another in private. He possessed a wealth of National Socialist and anti-Semitic material which indicated a fascination and belief in a white supremacist ideology along with support for an extreme satanic group which is increasingly of concern for law enforcement agencies.”

Mr Manning added: “It was not light reading, or material most would concern themselves with for legitimate reasons. This has been a long and complex investigation over the course of 11 months.”