The British far right will find themselves under media and political scrutiny after the Finsbury Park terror attack. This will bring to more light the fact that, though relatively small in numbers, they are, sadly, growing in influence.
Compared to their peak of 2010-11, street fighting groups like the EDL are comparatively weak. Their recent 1,000 strong Manchester demonstration should however remind anti-fascists that when mobilising around an issue like the Manchester bombing they can still turn out large numbers. The far right’s involvement in electoral politics has been all but wiped out — UKIP took away much of the BNP’s vote. The BNP are still struggling in the face of a resurgent, right wing and anti-migrant Tory Party. The BNP managed to only field 10 candidates in the 2017 election, getting a total of just over 4,000 votes. Although up on their 2015 vote, they were prioritising areas where UKIP were not standing, yet still failed to get anything like the votes they got at their height. At one point, we should recall, they were tipped to win control of Barking and Dagenham Council.
The BNP is riven by infighting, financial corruption and incompetence. Its current leader, Adam Walker, is fairly anonymous compared to Nick Griffin. Griffin had convictions for Holocaust denial. Walker is banned from teaching after he threatened a group of children with a knife when they played near his house.
The National Front fielded no one in this election. Two rival factions continue to run rival websites and hold poorly-attended demonstrations. They do however have members and sympathisers who work with other organisations.
The fascists have more influence in street-based movements, predominantly in north-east and north-west England. These “infidel” groups, along with the South East Alliance, have come out of the English Defence League, which since Tommy Robinson left as leader has been unstable. Some come from the BNP and NF. Many of the most prominent “infidel” members are serving prison sentences for the violent disorder they caused during protests in Dover in 2015. Their leading lights are mostly former members of the BNP, NF and the EDL. These groups have a more football hooligan attitude, and links to petty criminality. They do not have “developed” political platforms.
Their main activity has been small provocative protests, often alongside more openly avowed neo-Nazis. Increasingly their time is spent making threats to Muslims and immigrants online. Those who work alongside the far right include the virulently antisemitic National Rebirth of Poland, who have a small but active group among Polish emigres in Britain. The NOP are fascists with a long history of violence against minorities and Jews. Until recently, they were closely associated with the now proscribed Neo-Nazi National Action.
When NA were banned by the Home Secretary Amber Rudd in 2016, it was the first time a right-wing group had been proscribed since the Second World War. They were a nasty bunch of people. NA, which had one of the youngest profiles on the far right, originated with disgruntled and mostly expelled members of the BNP youth wing. With skill in creating online content and a tactic of making provocative stunts — for example, they filmed themselves putting stickers and banners across university campuses and defacing a Nelson Mandela statue — they produced some of the most virulently neo-Nazi propaganda. When they turned up for small flash demos they unfurled a banner stating, “Hitler was right”.
While NA’s ability to mobilise was quite small — they were laughed out of Liverpool after they were kettled by protestors in the left luggage area of Liverpool Lime Street — their reach extended beyond their membership. Zack Davies, who was jailed for attempting to behead a Sikh dentist in a supermarket, certainly had contact with the group. Their member Garron Helm was jailed for organising the international online harassment of Jewish Labour MP Luciana Berger. Their calls to violence and their open celebration of Thomas Mair, who killed Jo Cox MP, put NA on the wrong side of the law.
Whether the group can be viewed as a terrorist organisation is not irrelevant, but the state ban on it has not stopped its members from organising informally or finding new identities for themselves in the murkier depths of the internet. Given this was where most of their activity took place, the ban is unlikely to stop them. These organisations can “radicalise” people to act in ways that the groups’ leaders wouldn’t. The leaders are often quick to disown actions such as that of Zack Davies. They also know that their calls for action for “British people to stand up” will often be translated into violence by people like Davies. That is what they want.
On the “softer”, but in some ways more effective side of the far right, are groups like Britain First and the “alternative media” of Rebel News and their main anchor, Tommy Robinson, formerly of the EDL and Pegida. Robinson now presents himself as a serious journalist, but he is a racist rabble rouser who can be found at most far right protests “reporting” on what is happening and asking what action will be taken by the government to deal with the “Islamic threat” in Britain.
Britain First, run by former BNP member Paul Golding and his partner Jayda Fransen, consider themselves on a Christian crusade against Islam. They have held a series of relatively small demonstrations and have a fairly low active membership. Their tactic of undertaking small stunts which they film and circulate on social media has been effective. These stunts range from entering mosques to harass worshippers and hand out bibles, to arguing with restaurants about whether halal meat funds terrorism, and filming themselves outside of court arguing about their victimisation at the hands of the courts.
Golding received more publicity when he ran for London Mayor and turned his back during Sadiq Khan’s victory speech, an incident which was both widely condemned and mocked. Golding was briefly jailed in December for breaching an order not to enter mosques . On his release made a bizarre video statement in which he promised to use “every fibre of my being” to confront “every traitor in this country”. He said, “I can promise you, from the very depths of my being, you will all meet your miserable ends at the hands of the Britain First movement. Every last one of you.”
Britain First are one of the most successful groups on the far right in having their views shared widely online. Although people have become wiser to the provenance of memes about animal cruelty or corrupt politicians, the group still get content which is peppered with racist imagery and ideas shared well beyond the circles of the far right.
The organised far right is not on the increase but, as Hope Not Hate argue, there has been, “the mainstreaming of some of the more “palatable” views of the extreme far-right, with prejudicial views on Muslims, immigration and other minorities ignited by issues such as Brexit and absorbed into more mainstream political discourse.”
The Tories, UKIP, tabloid columnists or Donald Trump have not of course called for the wiping out of immigrants, Muslims or indeed their political opponents. But much of the more “moderate” language and invective originates in and is amplified by the more extreme parts of the right.