With the rapid decline in the British National Party’s (BNP) electoral fortunes, and with the English Defence League now counting their demonstrators in the hundreds as supposed to the thousands (did you see our survey?), it may look as though Britain’s far-right has gone quiet. The failure of the far right to capitalise on the economic crisis has marked it out from many of its European counterparts. As is often the case when Britain’s far right enters into a period of decline, the ideological and tactical differences that are marginalised during periods of perceived success suddenly come into stark focus. The result has been a process of fragmentation, with a plethora of new groups, parties and ideas emerging. But who are these groups, and what are their ideas?
The National Culturists and British Freedom Party (BFP)
In recent years, a symbiotic relationship between American counter-jihad thinkers and campaigners, such as Pam Geller and Robert Spencer, and the far right in Britain has been strengthening. The interchange of ideas and tactics has made the counter-jihad movement truly transnational in nature. The latest American ideologue to garner support among parts of Britain’s far right is John Kenneth Press, the creator of Culturism. In short, culturism is the diametric opposite of multiculturalism and the promotion of independent monocultures. Hence, a culturist is, “one who engages in the art or science of managing and protecting majority cultures.” It claims to reject overt racism, with the emphasis being shifted to identity and cultural preservation rather than racial preservation.
Among the plethora of marginal far right groups to emerge in Britain in recent years are the National Culturalists (NC). They place the ideas of John Kenneth Press at the centre of their ideological outlook and are Britain’s first and only solely culturist organisation. Led by 19 year old Jack Buckby, a recent BNP member, the NC remain tiny in terms of membership but have begun to gain a foothold on the margins of the British far right.
Despite the youthful nature of their membership, earlier this year representatives from the NC spoke at a meeting of the Alliance of European National Movements, which includes many of Europe’s major far right parties such as the Front National from France, and Jobbik from Hungary. John Press, their ideological guru, has blessed the tentative early steps of NC and is believed to be offering the fledgling group some guidance.
The clearest sign yet that John Press is emerging as a potentially serious influence on the far right is the new public link with the British Freedom Party (BFP). Led by a former candidate for the UK Independence Party (UKIP), Paul Weston, and officially linked to the English Defence League, the BFP have just published a series of blogs by John Press written especially for their website. By calling for an ideological paradigm shift that frames the debate over multiculturalism in terms of culture rather than race, the BFP have obviously seen the potential to detoxify their rhetoric. As Press says, “When they call you racist, tell them you are ‘culturist’.” The BFP believe the potential advantage of this new lexicon is the ability to attract those who, “are afraid to speak up because they do not wish to be called racist.” In other words, they believe culturism could help garner support among the ‘silent majority’.
Whether culturism is a genuinely new strain of ideological thinking or a cynical euphemism for race remains unclear. However, Britain’s far right have long understood that openly racial language serves to alienate much of their core demographic. Hence, it is no surprise that an ideology that replaces racial preservation with cultural preservation may well be seen as an easier sell. Whether the language of culturism becomes more widely disseminated among Britain’s far right, or whether it proves to be an ideological cul-de-sac, is yet to be seen.
However, as the BFP scramble to jettison their far-right image in advance of their electoral endeavors, the language of culturism could perhaps prove useful in their pursuit of respectability and the ‘silent majority’. Further to this, the EDL’s leader, Tommy Robinson, yesterday resigned as deputy leader of the BFP. The motivation behind his surprise departure remains unclear, but it is possible that with several impending court cases Robinson is attempting to detoxify the BFP/EDL link and put distance between his criminal reputation and Kevin Carrolls attempt to become a Police and Crime Commissioner. Following his surprise departure from the BFP Robinson has indicated that he intends to develop the English Defence League as an independent political party, possibly targeting the 2014 European elections. Where this leaves the fledgling alliance between the BFP and the EDL remains unclear but the consensual belief that the BFP was now the political wing of the EDL is likely no longer the case.
The Infidels and the English Volunteer Force (EVF)
Despite the remaining skepticism around the EDL’s recent attempts to modify and pacify its more bellicose elements, it is clear that some within the movement have grown frustrated at the EDL’s quest for respectability. While the EDL regularly drew numbers in the thousands to their earlier demos, the recent trend has been one of declining attendance.
While this is due to a plethora of reasons, it is fair to surmise that part of the decline in numbers is due to the leadership’s desire -cynical or otherwise- to court mainstream support. The rhetoric at demonstrations has been significantly toned down, culminating in Kevin Carroll’s peculiar speech about Christian values at the recent demonstration in Luton. While much of the rank and file remain volatile and often cause trouble, the leadership have done all they can to make the demo’s as reserved and peaceful as possible, going as far as to ban alcohol. The result of the growing influence of the British Freedom Party and their counter-jihad ideology has unquestionably alienated some of the EDL’s earliest supporters.
The first major breakaway group was the ‘Infidels’ that took with them a portion of the EDL’s support in the North West and North East. Emerging out of a bitter internal squabble about money and the centralised nature of the EDL leadership, the Infidels are led by Yorkshire based John “Snowy” Shaw. Under his leadership, Shaw has encouraged the Infidels to drop any anti-racist pretence and engage in a more confrontational approach. Having never engaged in politics before the EDL, John Shaw has been radicalized by the counter-jihad movement and has since progressed beyond islamophobia to embrace traditional far-right beliefs such as conspiratorial anti-Semitism and militant Loyalism in Northern Ireland. As such, the Infidels have no problem being called “far-right” and have become closely linked with the National Front, British Peoples Party and have attempted to form links with the Ulster Defence Association. The Infidels may have come out of the EDL but they are more violent, more extreme, and more openly racist.
Another organisation that has splintered away from the EDL is the English Volunteer Force (EVF). As with the Infidels, the EVF have been created by a former high ranking EDL leader who failed to be convinced by the supposed shift in tactics. Formed in July 2012 by John Sheridan, the EVF echo many of the beliefs that are held by their counter-jihad predecessors in the EDL. Several years ago Sheridan was revealed to be an alias for Chris Renton who had been a ‘Gold Member’ of the British National Party. Renton was one of the founding members, primary leaders and de facto commanders of the early EDL and was deeply involved in one of the early schisms that saw the departure of the self-styled “spiritual” leader of the EDL, Paul Ray. Unsurprisingly, the EDL’s desperate attempt to distance itself from their more radical and ‘toxic’ members led to the marginalization of Renton/Sheridan following his exposure as a BNP activist.
On the surface, the EVF are strikingly similar to the EDL and also vehemently contest any assertion that they are racist or Nazi. Their core beliefs are in many ways a mirror image of the EDL’s, with calls to halt all Muslim immigration, prohibit the construction of new Mosques, ban Halal meat, end what they believe is the ‘Islamification’ of Britain, and reject multiculturalism. However, there are a few stark differences in both ideology and tactics that warrant mentioning.
The EVF explicitly state that, unlike the EDL, they will not ‘falsely pander’ to Jews, homosexuals, or women, and will not carry the Israeli flag. While they state this is to avoid the segregation of their organisation it does mark them apart from many of their colleagues in the counter-jihad movement who are overtly pro-Israel. There is no doubt that supposed support for the Jews and Israel alienated much of the traditional far right and with a former active member of the BNP as their leader it is perhaps no surprise that the EVF have jettisoned such beliefs. In addition, the EVF are more overtly and vocally anti-left wing and are far more loyalist in terms of Northern Ireland, displaying the red hand of Ulster on their web page.
Determining the tactical direction of the EVF at present is problematic as they are yet to undertake any major public activity. However, early evidence seems to indicate that they plan to wholly reject the EDL’s recent more sober demonstrations in favor of flash demos and open confrontation. They claim to have adopted a policy where they will, “demonstrate anywhere [they] see fit with no exclusions” and have made snipes about not demonstrating in ‘back street car parks’, clearly in reference to recent EDL demonstrations.
Both the tactical and ideological differences between the English Volunteer Force and the English Defence League seems to indicate that the EVF are a far more conventional far-right organisation than the EDL and BFP. While still in their infancy as a group the EVF claim to have already developed 20 regional ‘units’ and national and international links. In addition to their ties with British groups on the radical fringe of the domestic counter-jihad movement such as Casuals United and the Welsh Infidels, they also claim to be affiliated with Freedom Fighter Radio USA and Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Centre, who shot to fame in 2010 following his high profile plan to burn the Quran.
As with all of the groups mentioned here, whether it’s the Infidels, National Culturists, or BFP the English Volunteer Force remain tiny in size and relatively insignificant when compared to the British National Party. However, whether driven by a desire to fill the growing power vacuum on the far-right that has been left by the decline of the BNP, or simply the traditional sectarian nature of marginal party politics, it is clear that the emergence of these numerous congruent groups does underscore the continued fragmentation of Britain’s far right.