This article was originally published in German.
Jack Renshaw’s plan is concrete and brutal. He buys a nearly 50-centimetre-long machete, googles how to kill a person as slowly and painfully as possible, and scouts out two women as his victims: a policewoman investigating him for racist agitation and cyber grooming, and the Labour MP Rosie Cooper. The fact that he, a violent neo-Nazi, will likely be remembered for sex crimes against underage boys and have to go to prison, is something the 23-year-old from Lancashire apparently wants to prevent. So Renshaw plans a terrorist attack. After all, incriminating evidence was only found on his mobile phone because it was hacked by anti-fascists as part of a “Jewish conspiracy” against him. Renshaw disputes being either a paedophile or a homosexual (see Independent).
The plan: Renshaw will first murder MP Rosie Cooper. This he announces at a meeting of far-right terror group National Action in a pub in Warrington in northern England, of which he is spokesman. After killing Cooper, he plans to lure the policewoman and kill her as well. When the special forces arrive, he intends to wear a fake suicide vest to ensure he is shot. This way, he will go down as a “saint” – a better fate than a child molester. It’s the 1 June 2017 and the plan fails.
Instead, an informant within the group present at the pub meeting informs the anti-fascist organisation Hope not Hate of the plan. They, in turn, tell the police. This comes as an embarrassment to the authorities: National Action was banned in December 2016 – the first far-right organisation in Britain to be outlawed since Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists in 1939. The authorities are apparently unaware that National Action is still active after the ban and is planning a terrorist attack. They threaten employees of Hope not Hate with arrest as they, through their informant, have links to a banned organisation. Thankfully, Hope not Hate’s staff remain free and Renshaw is instead arrested. On May 17, 2019, he is sentenced to life imprisonment at the Crown Court at the Old Bailey.
From the BNP to Brexit
Jack Renshaw’s political career is in many ways emblematic of the transformation of the far right in Britain over the past decade. The far-right British National Party (BNP) was once a reservoir of the far-right with parliamentary ambitions. Its peak came in 2009, when the party secured two seats in the European elections – but their big break failed to materialise. Today, the British Nationalists do not have a single seat, be it on a local level, in Westminster or Brussels. Jack Renshaw was once active in the party’s youth organisation, the BNP Youth. In 2014, he stood in a local council election in Blackpool. He received just 17 votes.
Brexit zapped a considerable amount of political energy. From 2016 onwards, leaving the EU dominated the political landscape and the populist-right party UKIP set the agenda, even temporarily putting the ruling Tories on the defensive – at the expense of the BNP, which faded into irrelevance. “Brexit was like a black hole”, explains Joe Mulhall, a researcher of the far right at Hope not Hate. “Across the spectrum, it was the main political focus.” Policy successes of the Eurosceptic right failed however to translate into parliamentary seats due to an antiquated first-past-the-post voting system. But Brexit has nevertheless left its mark: by shifting social discourse to the right, poisoning the political climate – and strengthening the far right.
Since the referendum, there has been a spike in racism in Britain. In the 38 days following the vote, the Metropolitan Police recorded 2,300 racist incidents in the capital. Across the country, the number of hate crimes rose by 42 percent in the two weeks following the ballot compared with the same period the previous year. According to a study by the polling firm Opinium, 71 percent from Black and Asian minority groups experienced racial or ethnic discrimination in 2019, compared to 58 percent before the Brexit vote – which was already an alarming statistic.
Even before Brexit, right-wing extremists had increasingly turned their back on their erstwhile parliamentary ambitions. Britain First for example, a successor organisation to the British National Party, is no longer registered as a political party and does not contest elections. Its ex-vice president, Jayda Fransen, stood in Glasgow in May 2021 in the Scottish regional election. She received a mere 46 votes. The far-right party For Britain also suffered a disastrous result in the local elections held on the same day, gaining less than 50 votes in most constituencies – and no seats (see Guardian). This dismal support is in part down to the rightward shift in Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s rhetoric, which provides a more mainstream outlet for the right. At the same time, others like Jack Renshaw are drifting instead towards right-wing terrorism.
This is an alarming trend, as the ideology of National Action poses a very real danger. The group pursues a form of revolutionary nationalism and radical accelerationism to speed up societal collapse and establish a “white ethnostate”. Amber Rudd, the UK’s Home Secretary until 2018, described the group as a “racist, antisemitic and homophobic organisation which stirs up hatred, glorifies violence and promotes a vile ideology”. Their rhetoric is explicit and inhumane: the group calls for a “white Jihad” to “cleanse Britain of parasites”.
21 of National Action’s estimated 100 members have since been put behind bars for their membership in the banned organisation, among other crimes. In March 2018, Mikko Vehvilainen, a non-commissioned officer in the British army, was sentenced to eight years in prison. Vehvilainen was formerly active in the Finnish offshoot of the Nordic Resistance Movement, and allegedly acted as a recruiter in the armed forces for National Action (Belltower.News previously reported on the Nordic Resistance Movement). In April 2021, Benjamin Hannam, an active Metropolitan Police officer in London, was convicted of being a member of National Action and of possessing terrorist materials. Investigators found terrorist manuals, the “manifesto” of Norwegian far-right terrorist Anders Breivik and child pornography on his devices.
National Action was banned because of its explicit support for the far-right terrorist Thomas Mair, who murdered the Labour MP Jo Cox in 2016 – an assassination that shook the country. Although Mair had no direct contact with National Action, the group repeatedly glorified him as a hero and martyr. Yet despite the ban, the network is still active under new names: Scottish Dawn, NS131, System Resistance Network and TripleK Mafia are considered successor organisations by researchers. The internationally connected groups British Hand and National Partisan Movement, which primarily recruit minors on Telegram and Instagram, have also offered a new home to some former National Action members and share their propaganda. One user of the British Hand chat group sports the pseudonym “Free Renshaw”.
Snowball of radicalisation
“Since the ban, the far-right scene has realised that logos, names and fixed structures are much easier to ban”, explains Joe Mulhall from Hope not Hate. “Similar to Europe and the US, we are seeing an increasing number of decentralised and clandestine groups in the UK. They tend to organise themselves in closed Telegram groups where they share Nazi memes and spread their far-right hate.” Mulhall terms this the “post-organisational far right”.
This tactic is recruiting increasingly younger Brits to fight for the supposed “white race”. The leading figure of the far-right terrorist group British Hand is 15 years old, the head of the British Feuerkrieg Division offshoot was only 13 when he started downloading manuals for building bombs and making homemade assault rifles (he has since been convicted of preparing terrorist attacks). “Many of these neo-Nazi groups are exclusively youth-oriented”, according to Mulhall. While in the past people earned respect in far-right street gangs through violence and physical strength, today in the digital age young people often prove themselves through increasingly extreme statements in closed online groups. “We’re seeing a snowball effect when it comes to radicalisation”, Mulhall continues.
Sonnenkrieg Division, Feuerkrieg Division and System Resistance Network have since been banned in the UK. Atomwaffen Division, which is responsible for at least five murders in the USA, as well as its successor group, National Socialist Order were also banned by the Home Office in April 2021. In Britain, anyone who is a member of a proscribed organisation can be jailed for up to ten years. But observers of the extreme right believe that such bans come too late. By the time one group is outlawed, the next one is already long active.
Satanic Nazi cult
At the same time, there are many dual memberships on the far right. And one particularly dangerous group, whose members are also said to have been active in National Action, Sonnenkrieg Division and Atomwaffen Division, still hasn’t been proscribed: Order of Nine Angles (O9A) (see Hope not Hate). National Action member Ryan Fleming, for example, has also been an important figure in O9A and the leader of the group’s Yorkshire branch. Fleming has a criminal record with child abuse and rape convictions.
The O9A is far from new: according to the group, the far-right order was founded in the 1960s by “Anton Long”, likely a pseudonym of David Myatt. The group combines Satanic rituals with National Socialist ideology, practices magic and is said to perform human sacrifices. Hitler worship also plays an important role: the order’s annual calendar begins on the “Führer’s” birthday. Transgressing “moral boundaries” also has a key function within the O9A: members pose for photos at crime scenes of famous murders and rapes, which they then share on social media. According to authorities, there are also numerous paedophiles in their ranks.
The biography of the alleged founder of the order, David Myatt, reads like a CV of extremity. Myatt was a leading figure of the British neo-Nazi network Combat 18 in the 1990s, was head of the National Socialist Movement and is said to have influenced the British far-right terrorist David Copeland with a pamphlet on the “Aryan revolution”. In 1998, he converted to Islam, went by the name Abdul-Aziz Ibn Myatt and propagated the idea of a Jihad against “infidels” and Jews. Osama bin Laden served as his role model. In 2010, he abandoned Jihad and Islam. Today, he pursues a Hellenistic worldview, which he calls the “Way of Pathei-Mathos” or “The Numinous Way” and which is supposedly based on empathy and love.
The Order of Nine Angles is a dangerous organisation. In 2020 alone, at least six neo-Nazis were convicted of terrorist offences with links to O9A in the UK, according to Hope not Hate. “Their worldview is very extreme”, explains Joe Mulhall. “You can’t get more extreme than that: they mix Satanism with child abuse and Nazism.” A Telegram group within the scene calls itself “RapeWaffen” (RapeWeapon) and propagates “esoteric rapistism”. For this very reason, Hope not Hate has called on the British government to ban the group as well – so far unsuccessfully.
However, some observers of the scene are sceptical about the real significance of O9A for the far right. Red Flare, an investigative research collective in the UK with a focus on right-wing extremism, sees the group’s importance for and influence on the scene as exaggerated. A spokesperson for the collective explains in an interview with Belltower.News: “Neo-Nazi Satanism is good clickbait, but we do not consider O9A to pose a credible threat” – even if certain texts of the order are indeed popular in some neo-Nazi circles.
In fact, it is difficult to prove how influential the O9A actually is: estimates of membership vary from a handful to up to 2,000 Satanist neo-Nazis worldwide. The group also deliberately operates clandestinely and pursues a tactic of infiltrating other organisations. The Satanic cult also has its share of critics in the neo-Nazi scene. However, the fact that an increasing number of people with connections to O9A are being arrested speaks for the growing influence of the group in the neo-Nazi scene
The Great Fascist Bake Off
The far right in Britain also has a friendlier face: Patriotic Alternative. Instead of satanic paedophile rituals, the group relies on a strategy more suitable for mobilising masses: gone are the bomber jackets and combat boots, in their place are ties and summer dresses. Deputy leader Laura Tyrie, a far-right YouTuber active under the pseudonym Laura Towler, launched her own tea company, Grandma Towler’s Tea, in November 2020. The move came after her favourite brand, Yorkshire Tea, announced its support for the Black Lives Matter movement on Twitter. Grandma Towler’s Tea will never support “anti-British organisations”, the website reads, and instead stresses its pride regarding Britain’s history. The profits from the tea business flow directly into the coffers of Patriotic Alternative, this Towler openly admits.
Baking competitions like The Great British Bake Off are among the most successful television programmes in the UK – and Patriotic Alternative also seeks to capitalise on this pop-cultural phenomenon. In January 2021, the group launched a “Baking Competition” in cooperation with Grandma Towler’s Tea. In reality, the competition serves more as a fundraising campaign for Patriotic Alternative and a PR stunt for Grandma Towler: participants have to bake something (only “British recipes” are allowed, of course) and photograph the result together with a packet of Grandma Towler’s Tea. Towler will then use the photos for advertising purposes, and the recipes will be printed in a recipe book. The proceeds from the book will in turn fund the work of Patriotic Alternative. Fascism has never been so unashamedly British.
But that doesn’t make Patriotic Alternative any less dangerous. On the contrary: the group pursues a far-right, white-nationalist ideology, spreads hate against the LGBTQ community and migrants, and even denies the Holocaust. Its founder and leader, Mark Collett, is an antisemitic conspiracy ideologue and neo-Nazi. He was previously leader of the Youth BNP, and later director of publicity of the British National Party. He was even expelled from the BNP twice, most recently in 2010. Collett only founded Patriot Alternative in September 2019, but the movement is growing fast.
Despite a tea business and baking competition, their hatred remains unchanged. The group’s core message is that “non-whites” should leave Britain. In concrete terms, this means that people with a family history of migration, even if they were born in Britain, should be deported. “People who would have previously joined National Action are now joining Patriotic Alternative”, explains a spokesperson from the investigative group Red Flare. “Their politics are just as extreme, but their optics are more savvy – and in many ways pose a greater threat.” Red Flare considers Patriotic Alternative to be the most dangerous far-right group in Britain today.
Metapolitical media guerrilla
To spread their hateful messages attacking migrants, Patriotic Alternative opts for media-savvy solutions. In August 2020, they projected their logo and the words “White Lives Matter” and “Migrants Not Welcome” onto the otherwise picturesque chalk cliffs of Dover. The sea route from Calais to Dover is a busy passage for refugees: in 2020, 8,400 migrants crossed the route, compared to 1,844 the previous year. Since 1999, 300 refugees have died in the Channel.
Like other organisations on the far-right, Patriotic Alternative is also trying to recruit the younger generation on social media. With livestream events on YouTube, the group aims to indoctrinate children and teenagers, some as young as 12 (see The Times). Patriotic Alternative also attempts to reach young people through gaming, organising for example Call of Duty tournaments for their supporters (see Guardian). Community events instead of street fights seems to be the motto.
At the same time, there are many overlaps with National Action: Laura Towler is married to an ex-member of the far-right terrorist group, the neo-Nazi Sam Melia. Melia is a regional organiser for Patriotic Alternative in the northern English county of Yorkshire. In April 2021, Towler and Melia were arrested on charges including sedition and because of Melia’s membership in National Action. The two since been released but their hard drives and computers are being analysed by authorities. “There are a significant number of ex-National Action members who are now active in Patriotic Alternative”, says Joe Mulhall of Hope not Hate. Steven Stone (also known as “Sven Longshanks”) and Kris Kearns (aka “Charlie Big Potatoes”), previously supporters of National Action, are now members of Patriotic Alternative.
In its short lifetime, National Action remained a radical fringe group with a limited number of members. But important figures are still active in other far-right groups – such as Patriotic Alternative. “Despite the headlines, National Action was never able to build a mass movement”, a spokesperson for Red Flare concludes. “But the danger is that the next fascist group will learn from its mistakes.” There is much to suggest that Patriotic Alternative has already come to this realisation: during the overthrow of society, tea and scones will likely be served. A very British revolution indeed.
Translated by W.F. Thomas and Nicholas Potter.