Matthew Collins, Hate: My Life in the British Far Right (London: Biteback Publishing 2011). With a foreword by Billy Bragg.
This is a grim book about grim people. Extremely grim and unpleasant people. The kind of people Norman Stanley Fletcher, the balladeer of H.M. Prison Slade, used to describe as ‘charmless nerks’. Collins is a writer and researcher for the anti-Fascist magazine, Searchlight. The blurb on the back describes him as the organisation’s Northern Ireland correspondent, and states that he is noted for his work exposing the English Defence League. Before he joined Searchlight, he was a committed member of the Far Right. This is his account of his passage through the various British Fascist parties and their allies – the NF, the BNP, Combat 18 and the UDA, before disgust at their leadership and extreme brutality led him to contact Searchlight. His part in exposing a still unnamed Sun journalist as an NF member and a World In Action documentary into Combat 18, supplying arms to the UDA, eventually forced him to flee England for Australia. He spent 10 years in Oz, enjoying a life of carefree pleasure, meaningless sex, and marriage, before finally returning to Blighty to continue the struggle.
Unlike other, more academic books, which analyse the NF, BNP and related Fascist organisations from the perspective of their ideologies, electoral performance and demographic composition of their membership, Collins autobiographical account describes what life in the Far Right is actually like for the rank-and-file members. These are the storm troopers, who spend their weekends travelling across Britain to parade on marches, attend speeches and rallies, and get extremely drunk, threaten and beat up ‘Reds’, Blacks, Asians, gays, and just about anyone and everyone they don’t like. Which really could be anyone and everyone. There’s a description in the book of how the NF’s storm troopers trashed a pub during a weekend away in Brighton, simply because one of the barmaids objected to one of the skinhead thugs attempting to grab the phone from her hand and demanding that she call him a taxi. Collins makes it extremely clear that these are extremely violent, brutal men.
The ‘Political Soldier’ NF
Collins joined after the NF had split into two factions. One of these, led by Griffin, was the ‘Political Soldier’ movement, This took its inspiration from Roberto Fiore and other terrorists from the Italian Forza Nuova. They were attempting to stem the drift away from Fascism under Thatcher by developing new ideological strands, some of which were more left-wing. They took over elements from Colonel Gaddafi’s Libya and revolutionary Iran. Some aspects of these new ideologies were more left-wing than the NF’s usual stance. For example, during the Miners’ Strike one faction within the NF offered help to the strikers, which Scargill obviously declined. The rank-and-file members weren’t interested in this. Collins says they had no interest in going to a remote farmhouse to answer detailed questions on their personal political and religious convictions. They are really interested in getting drunk and beating someone to a pulp.
Fascism and Political Violence
And the violence is very, very brutal. Far more brutal than the gang fights kids get into a school. It takes no account of age or gender, and continues even when the victim is on the floor. These are people, who by and large think nothing of maiming and ultimately killing their victims. Collins describes how deeply ashamed he was at taking part in a BNP attack on an anti-Fascist meeting at Welling Library, during which 17 people were hospitalised. Nearly all of these were women. Most of them were Asians, worried about the safety of their children in an area with so much racist violence against them. One of the intended victims was pregnant, and locked herself in the ladies’ loos for safety, while the men outside tried to get in to attack her and her unborn child. On their way in, they punched Geoffrey Dixon, the Labour councillor for Greenwich and the caretaker to the floor, and then stamped on them. Collins states that the caretaker never worked again. Some of the victims were so terrified that they jumped from the windows – the meeting was held on the first floor – to escape. Collins states that he and one of the other storm troopers were the only ones to hit men during the assault, which even sickened the other Fascist. Collins himself was so shocked and disgusted that he left and rejoined the NF for a while. Later on Collins tells how the BNP and its supporting football hooligans attacked the Liberal candidate for Bermondsey, Simon Hughes, in his battle bus.
Fascist Violence and Intimidation at University Meeting
And Fascists behave no better when in an academic environment. Collins describes the atmosphere of threat, intimidation and abuse produced by the BNP when they organised an event at which David Irving, the notorious holocaust denier, spoke. Collins does not give the name of the institution, which hosted the meeting, but states that it was held – incredibly – in the International Students’ House. The BNP stewarding the event effectively take over the library, at one point stopping the terrified students from leaving, then allowing them to come and go as they wish, but under their supervision. Seeing a group from anti-Fascist Action outside the window, the Nazis immediately begin to make ape noises and shout challenges and anti-Semitic abuse. They also generally behave as drunken louts, indecently exposing themselves, tearing books off shelves, and intruding into small, private discussion groups. A few tried to pick up two African girls, while another tried to press his unwelcome attentions on a blonde woman, who shut herself in her office, leaving the offended Nazi banging on the door and loudly declaring his love and sexual intentions outside. Collins describes it as like a prison riot.
This description of the loutish antics of the BNP, even in an academic environment, is important. In the 1980s a number of branches of the Students’ Union passed rules stating that the Union was a ‘no platform for racists and Fascists’. It’s a controversial decision, as some, who are definitely not Fascists or Fascist sympathisers, feel that it’s anti-democratic. There was also obviously enormous controversy when the Oxford Union back in the 1990s invited Irving to speak. Collins description of this episode and the aggressive, threatening and generally disgusting behaviour by the BNP actually shows you how wise the Anti-Fascist groups are to try and keep them off campus, if only to protect the students themselves, regardless of any wider political issues.
Fascists Personally Sad Inadequates
There’s a danger in that describing violence, whether by Fascists or any other group of thugs, can also glamorise it, making it appear attractive, even admirable. Collins avoids this. He makes it very clear how brutal and unpleasant it actually is, how ashamed he is of his part in it, and how sad and pathetic the men involved actually are. Pathetic? Yes, really. He states that by and large, the members of the Far Right are so unattractive to the opposite gender that they have actually little chance of getting girlfriends or having any kind of sex life. Collins does seem to have had a string of extremely short-term relationships, but they mostly never called him back. He mostly solved his own problems in finding female company through amassing a collection of porn and self-abuse. When he did finally succeed in getting what looked like a long-term relationship, the girl left him because she couldn’t take his involvement in Fascism and its dangers any longer. He is particularly scathing about the sexual inadequacies of his fellow Fascists, and their lack of physical endowment. It’s low stuff, but it makes them unattractive at the level such groups aim at. You consider the way violent criminals, like East End White gangsters, and gangsta rappers, are often portrayed surrounded by attractive young women. The message of those images is that if you were similarly a vicious hard man, you too will have girls flinging themselves at you. Collins here shows that in the case of Fascism, this very definitely will not happen. The only people within the Fascist milieu that have any kind of sex life are the skinheads, and he’s not impressed with them. He sees them as quite squalid individuals, fathering children with three or four different women, who in turn have other kids by three or four different fathers. The men just seem to use them purely for sex, and he describes the skinhead girls as going from one meaningless, squalid relationship to another with a mattress tied to their backs.
NF’s Ian Anderson More Basil Fawlty than Hitler
Some of the Fascist leaders are also less than impressive up close. Collins describes Ian Anderson, the leader of the NF faction he joined, as a rather Fawlty-esque figure. Anderson had a vicious temper, flying into abusive rages whenever anything went wrong, to the point where Collins calls him ‘Angry Anderson’. An Oxford drop out, Anderson was physically scruffy and his house a mess. Collins describes him wearing worn, threadbare suits. His living room floor was covered with newspapers and other rubbish. His furniture was similarly worn and threadbare. His settee had no seat, so that if you sat on it, you were effectively sitting on the floor. At one point the house is such a mess that the other leading storm troopers don’t want to go there for meetings.
Anderson was trying to lead his faction of the NF away from anti-Semitism in an attempt to make it more electorally respectable. Collins states that some of his fellow storm troopers shared his views. One of his friends told him that while they hated non-Whites, they really didn’t understand the hatred of the Jews. This policy was not having much success, however, and Anderson’s NF were losing members fast due to competition from the much more aggressive and overtly Nazi BNP, led by Richard Edmonds and Tyndall. Collins and many of the other members were left dispirited and disillusioned by Anderson’s leadership. Turnout at parades and marches were tiny often as low as thirty. Towards the end of that section of the NF, they were reaching as low as perhaps ten or twelve. Anderson himself also seemed to regard the NF as a business, to provide him with a personal income, at one point asking the party’s governing body to give him £8,000. Even here, his management was not very business-like. Orders and correspondence went unread, and cheques weren’t cashed or paid in. Faced with this venality and incompetence, Collins and many others left to join the BNP.
BNP Nazi, Viciously Anti-Semitic
These were overtly, aggressively Nazi. Not only did their literature deny the reality of the Holocaust, but its members also looked forward to a similar policy of racial extermination. Collins states that when he was in there, although in his calmer moments he wanted a bloodless, painful removal of Jews and non-Whites from Britain, he also dreamed of sending them ‘to the East’, as the Nazis deported the Jews and their other victims to the concentration camps. The BNP also had links to surviving Nazis and members of Mosley’s BUF. He describes the chaos and violence at the Kensington Library meeting, which ultimately led to the formation of the extremely violent Combat 18. This was a meeting of the League of St. George, whose doorman was dressed in full Nazi regalia. This was gatecrashed by Searchlight’s Gerry Gable and a squad of about fifty anti-Fascists. Despite Gable’s appeal for calm, the meeting degenerated into violence and the Nazis were given a vicious beating.
Origins of Combat 18
Combat 18’s origins are murky, and there is considerable evidence of state involvement. Charlie Sargent, its founder, whom Collins describes as ‘an overweight, knife-carrying, drug-peddling lout’, was later revealed to be a police informer. Harold Covington, who was also involved in its foundation, may also have been connected to the American intelligence services. I have seen the accusation that Combat 18 was set up the FBI to act as a honey trap for the Far Right. Collins mentions him, but only to say that he was small fry compared to William Pierce, the writer of the notorious Turner Diaries, and the US National Alliance. Covington was also unpalatable to many British Nazis because of his support for the IRA and connections to American Nazi IRA supporters, like Sean Maguire.
BNP Connections to Ulster Protestant Terror Groups
Far more acceptable to British Nazis was the UDA, and Collins describes how he and another BNP member, Eddie Whicker, answered the UDA’s request for British members to provide them with support. The BNP and its members were later revealed by World In Action attempting to supply them with guns. Collins himself appears to have been less than impressed with them. He states that their magazine, Ulster, was full of tradition and history, but had very little in the way of ideology. The UDA seemed actually not to know what it is they stood for, except that they didn’t want to be governed by Ireland or indeed anybody else. They were also poorly armed and equipped compared to the IRA. And while they were desperate for British Fascist support, they were less keen on their racism. One issue of Ulster contained an order for attacks on Chinese restaurateurs in the Six Counties to stop. This, however, seems to have been rejected in recent years, as there has apparently been a rise in racist attacks by Ulster Loyalists, disenchanted with the Good Friday agreement. In addition to attacking Leftists, Blacks, Asians and gays, the NF and BNP also laid into Irish Republicans and the ‘Troops Out’ movement when they organised their marches.
Hooligans and Political Use of violence
Taking part and supporting the Fascists in their violence were an assortment of football hooligans. These include various casuals, as well as hardened hooligan ‘firms’ like the Nutty Turn Out, and, of course, Millwall. The NF and BNP journey up and down the country in their campaigns, including the northern industrial towns where they attempt to intimidate the local Black and Asian populations. Much of the campaigning and violence takes place in the East End of London and Brick Lane, which has a long tradition of racist violence and resistance to racists since Mosley and his squadristi in the 1930s. Zadie Smith describes the racist violence in the area, and a fictional Asian group, the Bengal Tigers, set up to fight back against the Nazis, in her novel, Brick Lane. Collins also goes into the various motives the NF and BNP have for campaigning. He and many other Fascists had absolute contempt for parliament and democracy, and due to their repeated electoral failures many of them saw standing in elections as a waste of time. Their real focus was on expanding Nazi power through control of the streets. Nevertheless, standing in elections acted as a recruiting tool. They also regarded it as an instrument through which they could make race relations worse, and drum up even more hatred. This should be borne in mind the next time the BNP or any other Far Right group puts forward candidates at an election. They have no intention of making things better for society, only in creating further discord and violence. As for the Derek Beackon and the other NF members, who became the first elected BNP local councillors in Tower Hamlets, Collins states that when he met him was always drunk. He is also immensely proud of the way he and Searchlight managed to have all but two of the seven storm troopers lose their seats at the next elections.
Recruitment through Racial Tensions Created by ‘Satanic Verses’ Controversy
Collins also provides insight into the way the BNP and NF exploited racial tension created by Muslim outrage at Rushdie’s Satanic Verses. He states that for the Far Right, it was simply a case of attacking Asians as usual. However, it allowed them to gain support from Whites frightened by the rise in Muslim assertiveness and aggression.
Conservatives and the Fascist Right
Also linked to the NF and the BNP were extreme Right-wing Tories, such as Western Gaols. Collins describes attending the meeting at the Sudeley Room at House of Lords, where the meeting was addressed by the South African Conservative MP, Clive Derby-Lewis. Later on, as his disenchantment with Fascism increases, another Tory, Adrian Davies, invites him to join the Conservatives and acts as his alibi when he is forced to hide out in Spain for a week, following his exposure of the Sun journalist as a Nazi.
Background of Fascist Members and Supporters
Collins book is also important in that it provides an insight into the background and type of men drawn to the NF. Collins’ father was Irish, though Collins himself didn’t realise this for much of his childhood, and it didn’t matter much to him after he found out. Unsuited to married life, his father gradually became more and more distant from his family until the marriage broke down completely and he left. His family were poor working class, and Collins was a poor, underperforming pupil at school. A remark from his father that if he was Roman Catholic, there’d be no Blacks at his school, and thinking about his family poverty and deprivation led him to conclude, as undoubtedly so many angry poor Whites did, that it was caused by Black and Asians.
His family were also Tories, who read the Daily Mail, watched Jim Davidson, and he fully supported Thatcher’s attack on the miners and Norman Tebbit’s demand that the unemployed should get on their bikes. This anger and alienation led him first to argue with the Leftist teachers at his school, and to borrow books on modern Fascism from the school library. He then moved on to actively looking for literature and trying to join the NF. A copy of British Nationalist pushed through the front door allowed him to make contact with the Richard Edmonds, the BNP’s leader. A meeting with five members of the NF in the local pub impressed him with how normal they were, and their stories about Richard Edmonds led him to join the NF. In the event, he and a number of others ended up in both organisations, with Edmonds and Anderson each asking him to spy on the other’s party. Collins joined when he was very young – only 15 – in 1987, and spent six years in the organisation before being forced to flee the country to escape them when he was 21.
Growth of Fascism and New Labour’s Abandonment of Working Class
He states in the book that part of the rise in the Far Right was due to New Labour’s turn away from the working class. There is also jealousy and resentment at the way Black and Asian culture was celebrated and encouraged, while White working class culture was given no such assistance and enjoyed no similar amenities. These are important points. Owen Jones in the chapter ‘Backlash’ in Chavs argues that New Labour’s abandonment of the White working class for the middle class, and its celebration of Black and Asian culture, although entirely right, has also led many working class Whites to feel abandoned and resentful of the supposed privileges of non-Whites.
This is now extremely important, with the victory in the European elections of extreme Right-wing, populist parties like UKIP and the French Front National. UKIP is anti-immigrant, but has a policy of weeding out Fascists, although it does seem to have an incredible amount of them. Its members are, however, mainly older, working class people, who feel that the established parties, particularly New Labour, have abandoned them.
The book does provide a fascinating insight into what life in the Far Right is actually like for the average storm trooper, as well as giving Collins account of how he became so disgusted with them that he ended up not only working for Searchlight and then Special Branch, the latter not entirely willingly. There are problems, however. As a member of Searchlight, Collins is of course biased in their favour. While they have done a great deal of good in exposing the Far Right and its activities, other anti-Fascists have complained that Gable and Searchlight have smeared them and accused of being Fascists when they have pursued their own investigations independently. They have also accused it of appropriating their work, when this has subsequently been proven to be the more correct. See, for example, Matthew Kalman and John Murray’s article about the smears directed at them and Larry O’Hara, ‘Another Searchlight Smear Job’, in Lobster 30: 26-7. O’Hara has similarly attacked the World In Action documentary on the Far Right for its inaccuracies. Nevertheless, it’s still an important, gripping book for its personal account of the British Far Right during the late ’80s and early ’90s, its connections and the personal lives and motivations of its members.