Paul Gale looks at the ongoing reconfigurations of the various dregs of the extremist right, their activities and ambitions, electoral and otherwise
PA chief Mark Collett (top left) is presiding over a shrinking party, pictured here with the now jailed anti-Semite James Costello (top right).
(Bottom left to right): David Clews, who heads Unity News Network, has no qualms promoting PA and both its breakaway groups, namely the Homeland Party, led by Kenny Smith (on left of photo), and the National Support Detachment, led by Alec Yerbury (bottom right)
Even by UK far-right standards, 2023 has been a chaotic year. The biggest story is still the bitter split inside Britain’s largest nazi group Patriotic Alternative (PA), detailed in previous issues of Searchlight and on our website. At the end of the year, PA remains the largest faction. But, despite its leaders putting a brave face on the split, they have been seriously weakened, and rumours continue to circulate about further planned defections. The biggest immediate problem for PA is a series of court cases. Several prominent activists have already been jailed and, while for legal reasons Searchlight cannot report the full scale of the problem, even more high-profile cases are due to be heard in 2024. The biggest recent news was the jailing of James Costello, sometimes known as James Mac, UK leader of the violently anti-Semitic Creativity Movement. For the past year, Costello has been one of PA’s main North West activists, and he chaired the recent PA national conference in Waltham on the Wolds, Leicestershire. Costello styles himself “Reverend” because his movement is a pseudo‑religion, originally known as Church of the Creator (COTC). Although its publications often break UK law, COTC has had several members among British nazi activists. This includes Walter Carr, a Midlands businessman who was involved for decades in several parties including the National Front (NF) and British National Party (BNP); Joe Gould, a Tyndallite activist and David Irving fan from Peterborough; and Jon “Benny” Hill, a violent Oldham nazi who was in the BNP from the mid-1990s to early 2000s. Hill was later convicted for involvement in Combat 18 factions, such as the Racial Volunteer Force, and he recently turned up with fellow convicts at the nazi conference in Preston organised by Heritage and Destiny (H&D). Costello was also a prominent guest at this conference.
COTC was founded by Ben Klassen, an American of German heritage who started out as a racist campaigner defending segregation in the American South and was an organiser in Florida for the George Wallace presidential campaign in 1968. The Wallace campaign also served as a training ground for the two main leaders of the late 20th century US far right who have influenced British fringe politics: William Pierce, founder of the terroristic National Alliance, and Willis Carto, head of the conspiracy‑peddling Liberty Lobby. Klassen followed a familiar path from what in the 1960s was quite mainstream racist politics, towards increasingly fanatical and violent anti-Semitism. He founded COTC in 1973. Based in North Carolina, he spread propaganda calling for a “Racial Holy War”.
Klassen committed suicide aged 75 in 1993. Following this, there were many internal splits and a trademark dispute that forced his eventual successor Matthew Hale to rename the “church” as the Creativity Movement. In 2003, Hale was arrested for a conspiracy to murder Joan Lefkow, the US district judge who presided over this trademark case. He is now serving a 40-year prison sentence, but the Creativity Movement has continued to pursue Klassen’s and Hale’s violent racist programme. Costello has led the UK branch of Hale’s movement for the past six years. He was already active with former BNP members in Merseyside and built contacts with the now-banned terrorist group National Action, as well as older nazis from the BNP, NF and British Movement circles, who gather at events such as the H&D conferences. Costello’s role is an example of how PA has functioned as a continuation of National Action. Collett’s vision was to create a movement that would be both a legal version of National Action and a much more radical version of the various Islamophobic street gangs, hoping to draw members from each of these strands.
A third strand going into PA were (like Collett himself) former members and even officials of Nick Griffin’s BNP. Many of those people assumed that PA would eventually become a political party. But more than a decade has passed since Griffin’s party collapsed, and there is still no sign of PA or anyone else creating a party that resembles either the BNP of the 2000s or even the smaller and more openly nazi, but still electorally focused Tyndallite BNP of the 1990s. That is why many of these electorally minded activists lost faith in Collett and his deputy Laura Towler, breaking away earlier this year to form what they already call the Homeland Party. Although not yet registered with the Electoral Commission (after their first application failed), Homeland expects to be registered in time to appear on ballot papers in 2024.
Homeland’s leader Kenny Smith was a colleague of Collett’s in the BNP. He is a few years older than the PA führer, so, unlike Collett, his earliest involvement was with the Tyndall-era BNP. But Smith was always slightly distanced from Tyndall’s core Scottish activists because, unlike them, he had some sympathy for the cause of Scottish independence. In this sense, Smith was the earliest example of a trend now visible across the British far right. The vast majority of British fascists aged over 50 years are fully committed to the Union, often with ties to Ulster Loyalists, as well as opponents of Scottish independence (with some exceptions in the Mosleyite tradition, notably in the League of St George). But younger activists (especially in PA and Homeland) are just as likely to be sympathetic to Scottish or Irish nationalism and view the older generation’s fanatical Unionism as a reactionary relic. Smith has tried to show his seriousness by moving to the Midlands, where he believes the party already has what by 2020s British nazi standards is a high-quality cadre of activists and electoral potential.
After a promising start, Smith’s bid to split PA soon ran out of steam, and the two sides settled into a political version of trench warfare, each with strength in certain regions but neither looking likely to win a decisive factional victory over the other. Smith must fear that his party could go the way of many earlier splinter groups, but he pins his hopes on being a repeat of Tyndall’s BNP which, after a few static years in the 1980s, eventually overtook its parent (the NF).
Smith might have hoped for a new wave of defections due to PA members getting nervous about their group’s association with criminal racists. Unluckily for him, the latest case involves one of his own recruits.
Kai Stephens, a Norwich activist who uses the name Barkley Walsh, was one of PA’s online stars who defected to Homeland. Stephens has been charged with sending indecent or offensive messages via the internet, and two charges of harassment (one against a man, the other against a woman). His bail conditions indicated that this involved alleged homophobic abuse, and he has been banned from contacting any members of PA or from attending any LGBTQ+ events.
Stephens is due to face trial next July in Great Yarmouth. One aspect that might confuse some readers is that his alleged offences pre-date the PA—Homeland split, and seem to relate to an earlier factional dispute involving people who split from PA at an earlier stage.
The two main cross-factional outlets on the British far right have each been hedging their bets. Unity News Network (UNN), run by the conspiracy theorist David Clews, now unashamedly promotes nazi groups, but although Clews was a guest speaker at this year’s PA conference, he is happy to promote Homeland, as well as Collett’s gang. H&D also maintains its usual factional fence-sitting and gives space to both PA and Homeland, but has fallen out big style with a third gang of ex-PA activists, Alek Yerbury’s National Support Detachment.
Yerbury is still trying to put a brave face on the repeated failure of his street demonstrations. He has focused what little credibility he has on protests outside the disused RAF Scampton, where the government plans to house asylum‑seekers.
But Yerbury’s main pitch is still the fantasy that he can transform national politics at a stroke. Before his big falling out with H&D, he wrote an article debating strategy with one of Britain’s few fascist intellectuals, Steve Brady, who decades ago devised what he called the “ladder strategy”. Brady argues that extremist parties need to build credibility, starting by establishing serious local branches and fighting local campaigns, ideally then winning council seats, and ascending the political ladder from there.
Yerbury (perhaps after many hours studying the Munich beer hall putsch and remembering that a decade after its failure Hitler was in power) argues that the ladder strategy lacks ambition and is a recipe for failure. He recently asserted that “the BNP was the last chance for nationalist politics to succeed without the total restructuring of the political system. Over the last fifteen years, the problems have become so completely systemic that it would take something far more radical than the BNP to have any chance of political success”.
It would be easy to mock Yerbury’s fantasies of “radical solutions”. The problem is that throughout Searchlight’s existence we have had to confront and often expose real violent plots inspired by such fantasies. Yerbury’s small group of fans are mainly active online, including Chris Mitchell of the Independent Nationalist Network. Mitchell’s main offline activities involve booze tours of Eastern Europe.
One thing we are certain to see in 2024 is Tommy Robinson continuing his attempted political comeback. He hopes the war in Gaza will inflame radical Muslims, enabling him to pose as leader of an Islamophobic backlash. His problem is that many of his old allies can now see he is an unscrupulous opportunist.
One of Robinson’s many imitators online is Alan Leggett, a 44-year-old ex-con from Cleethorpes. He set up a YouTube channel in 2018 under the name “Active Patriot”, specialising in films and livestreams from Dover about immigration. During one livestream in September 2020, he veered off-topic into a torrent of personal abuse against Jewish activist Ambrosine Chetrit.
Ms Chetrit is no stranger to controversy and is often seen as being on the extreme right of the Jewish community, having engaged in numerous online rows with Muslims as well as with nazis. But the abuse levelled at her by Leggett was beyond any acceptable standard of political “banter”.
After more than three years of court proceedings (including an episode in March 2022 when he failed to turn up at court and an arrest warrant was issued), Leggett was given a 10-month suspended sentence. He might consider himself lucky, but one problem for people like Leggett is that in order to avoid a heavier jail sentence they have to portray themselves as even sadder losers than they really are. In doing so, they give up any claim to political credibility.
Searchlight is unable to comment on two of the most important current criminal trials of leading British nazis. One involves a leading PA official. The other involves a central organiser of the nazi music scene. This trial was abandoned in December and will resume this year.
In both cases, there are rumours circulating of state agents provocateurs or informants. There might sometimes be blood on the British far right, but as usual there is little honour. We hope to report more fully on these cases, and on continuing vicious infighting, in 2024.
With some Tory politicians and mainstream journalists determined to bring racism into the mainstream, the Traditional Britain Group (TBG) is becoming more important as a bridge between the fascist and conservative sectors of far-right politics. Searchlight has reported on several similar outfits over the years, such as WISE and Tory Action, and we were not surprised to see one of the last survivors of Tory Action – every fascist’s favourite barrister Adrian Davies – attending the most recent TBG conference in October at St Ermin’s Hotel in London.
TBG has sufficient credibility and cash to attract speakers from the more mainstream European racist parties, which this year included Johannes Hübner of the Austrian Freedom Party and Stefan Korte of Alternative for Germany (AfD). Another speaker was misogynist and Islamophobe Carl Benjamin, who after his failure to start a political career in UKIP a few years ago is now busy building alliances with some of the weirdest cranks on the conspiracist fringe. On 12 December, he held a joint meeting with ex-Tory MP Andrew Bridgen, a man Reform UK turned away for being too extreme and discredited.
The saner members of TBG’s audience might again be dreaming that the Conservative Party will collapse and split during 2024, offering the chance to realign British politics and obtain a seat at the table for a “genuinely” right-wing party, as in many European countries.
Their problem is that British fascists, even those who are not committed to ultra-hardcore ideological nazism, have a fringe mentality. And the few who might be pragmatic, are too ambitious and greedy to work together.
But with anti-immigrant sentiment being cynically whipped up by mainstream politicians, there will sadly be many opportunities in 2024 for any far-right group or party that rises to the challenge.
Although still a very small party, the British Democrats still look the most likely vehicle for serious electoral activity. In particular, if Homeland’s registration is delayed, we might see increasing numbers of British fascists, including some big names from the recent past, either openly joining the BD or quietly assisting its campaigns.
Talk of a formal merger between the BD and PA seems to have stalled, mainly because PA leader Collett is unwilling to tone down his extremist rhetoric. Donors and online viewers matter more to him than possible election campaigns.
But less high-profile PA supporters are likely to tag along with BD campaigns in 2024 and, as long as they don’t have an obvious public record of anti-Semitism or other violent rhetoric, they will probably be accepted as candidates.
British Democrats leader Andrew Brons (above) has rubbed shoulders with members of France’s extremist party National Rally and Heritage and Destiny’s nazis
After all, BD president himself, Andrew Brons, is a man who wrote that synagogue bombing was “well intentioned”. This didn’t prevent the London representative of Marine Le Pen’s National Rally party, City banker Max Begon-Lours, from speaking alongside Brons at the BD AGM in November.
BD is a tiny party, but a broad church. Its officers include self-proclaimed Zionists such as Roger Robertson, who was most recently in Anne Marie Waters’ now defunct For Britain Movement, as well as Tyndall-era BNP candidate Steve Smith, who writes for the openly anti-Semitic Candour. Meanwhile, party chairman Jim Lewthwaite and president Brons are great pals of the nazis at H&D.
So it would be no surprise to see this “broad church” extend to more or less any British fascist who wishes to fight elections in 2024. BD has two big advantages. Its leaders are not out to enrich themselves – and it is already a registered political party.
Whether at the ballot box, on the streets, or in the darker corners of the internet, Searchlight will be exposing and combatting a wide spectrum of British fascism in the coming year.