Why are American groups funding a figure on the British radical right?
Since the arrest of former English Defence League leader Tommy Robinson for breaching reporting restrictions on a trial and his subsequent imprisonment on contempt of court charges, a large movement has gathered to demand his freedom. Despite Robinson’s release from jail following an appeal — which will see him face the charges of contempt of court once again, but this time with additional time to consult his legal counsel — the “Free Tommy” movement shows no signs of dying off.
Since his release, Robinson has even been given a prime-time interview on the American network Fox, and it has emerged that the American ambassador for international religious freedom, Sam Brownback, has raised his case with the British government.
The “Free Tommy” campaign has also been revealed to have received significant funding from various groups, including five-figure funding for the “Free Tommy” protests, from the conservative US-based think tank the Middle East Forum, as well as around £20,000 in Bitcointransfers from online supporters alongside various other internet fundraisers. This has led some to question why an avowedly pro-Israeli group such as the Middle East Forum would fund protests that include deeply anti-Semitic figures, and why American groups are funding a figure on the British radical right.
IDEAS AND MONEY
The contradiction is not as large as it might first appear — the answer lies in how they view Israel. The concept of a single-race ethnostate, which is how many in the radical right view Israel, is appealing to them. There are various attempts to establish a whites-only country in the US, perhaps most famously the notion of a white state in the Pacific Northwest, championed by the recently deceased Harold Covington’s Northwest Front, among others.
Groups like this would point to Israel as a justification for their desire. If there could be a Jewish state for Jews, why not an Aryan-only state for whites? Of course, this deals with a simplified understanding of Israel’s nature, but nonetheless frames the far right as victims of oppression as they claim they are not permitted the freedom given to others.
It is also not the first time we have seen transatlantic funding cultivated by the British radical right. At the start of the early 2000s, Mark Cotterill founded the American Friends of the British National Party, making contributions and being praised by the party leadership for its support of its election campaigns. It also fostered ideological links: One of the first trips made by Nick Griffin after taking over the BNP was to America where he met with David Duke and other members of the Ku Klux Klan.
Advocating his new methods of selling nationalist and white-supremacist ideals through seemingly moderate language, Griffin clearly found fellow travellers of the right he could work with. The values he spoke of then can be seen as a blueprint for the post-2000 radical right, and mirror the way the “Free Tommy” campaign has used traditionally positive values like freedom of speech. Speaking on BBC’s Panorama in April 2000, Griffin stated: “There’s a difference between selling out your ideas and selling your ideas … that means basically to use the saleable words, as I say, freedom, security, identity, democracy. Nobody can criticise them. Nobody can come at you and attack you on those ideas. They are saleable.”
This was neither Griffin’s first nor his last visit to the United States, and these ideological links had been well established even before his leadership of the BNP. The transatlantic links have also been fruitful avenues of funding and co-operation over the years, allowing American and British groups to expand their potential readership for their magazines. Many copies of American publications from men like William Pierce came into the UK, several of which are in the Searchlight Archive and stamped with National Front and BNP branch stamps to indicate the reseller. Pierce was himself a long-term friend of the BNP, having attended their national conference in the mid 1990s at the invitation of then BNP leader John Tyndall.
Pierce, who as leader of the group National Alliance in the United States, was an avowed white supremacist and neo-Nazi, is perhaps most famous for his book The Turner Diaries. The book tells the story of a nationalist uprising in America against a restrictive government intent on punishing hate crimes and how this leads to a world war and elimination of the non-white races.
It has remained popular in radical-right circles since its publication, and many prominent extreme-right terrorists have counted the book in their collections, including Tommy Mair — the man who killed British MP Jo Cox. His group also had a small British offshoot, known variously as the National Alliance UK or the National Socialist Alliance. Primarily a publishing group, National Alliance UK held no membership of its own. Instead, it pushed all memberships and money to the US headquarters and offered reselling of its material, including audio tapes, books and magazines. Alongside this it ran its own magazine, The Oak, which often republished content from National Alliance publications. What is perhaps more interesting when discussing the finance connections is that documents within the Searchlight Archive suggest that links between its publishers and the neo-Nazi music-based Blood and Honour network were explored. A Europe-wide brand, Blood and Honour raised huge sums for nationalist movements on a transnational basis.
Of course, we can go back further and look at the World Union of National Socialists foundation that occurred in 1962 when George Lincoln Rockwell, leader of the American Nazi Party, was smuggled into Britain via Northern Ireland to meet with the British leaders of the National Socialist Movement in the Cotswolds. We can see how access to American finance and money even then would have been a huge boon — it takes only a cursory glance to see the quality of American National Socialist publications was several orders better than the cheaply reproduced material pumped out by their British counterparts.
What this does show though is that each generation of the radical right has fostered these links, that though they started within the extreme aspects such as neo-Nazis, they have spread out into the broader mainstream of the radical right. In studying these movements we also see that along with money come ideas, that those who support you financially will expect a degree of ideological alignment, and that this can help create homogenous messaging.
This messaging resonates deeply when the radical right adopts, as Nick Griffin advocated, the language of freedom, security, identity and democracy, because each group can understand these to mean something different in line with their own national context. So, in bringing US money into the British radical-right scene, “Free Tommy” is moving along a well-traveled road that has seen money flowing in both directions. What is perhaps new about “Free Tommy” is both the scale as well as the way in which the campaign acts as a bazaar to connect this money and its attached ideas and values to groups from across Europe.
Through “Free Tommy” big American funders are now rubbing shoulders with pan-European nationalist networks, including violent neo-Nazis, with the notion of values like free speech to sanitize the situation and make it acceptable to all involved. It has long been a firebreak that the anti-fascist movements have sought to maintain, trying to expose and prevent any attempt of well-funded sympathizing groups to press money into the hands of the extreme right. Now that firebreak may well be breached.
Mr Daniel Jones is a Doctoral Fellow at CARR, and a Doctoral candidate at the Department of History at the University of Northampton. See his profile here.
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