Countering the Radical Right

The many faces of neo-Nazism in the UK

The number of trials against neo-Nazi individuals in the UK show why racial nationalism is still alive in the country.

Cristina Ariza
6 February 2020
English Defence League And Britain First March on April 1, 2017 in London.
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Picture by Jay Shaw Baker/NurPhoto/PA Images. All rights reserved.

Despite the shift in the radical right’s discourse to issues of culture, racial nationalism is far from a dying threat.

Newer radical right movements have distanced themselves from the overtly neo-Nazi groups of the past in an attempt to confer themselves legitimacy, with members avoiding using racially-charged slurs or dehumanising language. Yet neo-Nazism is far from dormant.

In the United Kingdom, the biggest threat from neo-Nazi groups has come from the remnants of National Action, which was the first radical right group to be proscribed as a terror organisation in December 2016. Since then, there have been at least 14 trials involving more than 30 individuals formerly involved in the group. These cases deal with membership charges, hate crimes, and terror plots by individuals affiliated with neo-Nazi groups, including the youngest person ever to be convicted of planning a terror attack in the country.

But how homogeneous is this threat? And which are the groups and influences driving these individuals?

The genesis: National Action

National Action emerged in 2013 with the purported purpose of reviving Nazi activism in the UK. In terms of tactics, the group avoided any flirtation with the ballot box (à la British National Party) and focused instead on “militant street action”, such as leafletting, banner drops, and demonstrations. Ideology-wise, the group was overtly anti-Semitic and anti-LGBT, in an attempt to distance itself from newer radical right movements that were targeting Muslims instead — think, for instance, the English Defence League, Britain First and Democratic Football Lads Alliance.

Ideologies that appear “old” and understood continue to evolve over time

Beyond Nazi ideology, National Action took inspiration from the extreme violence enacted by others in the radical right, like Anders Breivik; but also from movements from seemingly opposing ideological strands, such as the genocidal Khmer Rouge in Cambodia led by Marxist dictator Pol Pot and even the Islamic State. In fact, Jack Renshaw (acquitted of being a member of National Action but associated with its ideology) referred to his plot to kill Labour MP Rosie Cooper in 2017 as an act of “white jihad”.

After National Action glorified extremist Thomas Mair’s killing of Labour MP Jo Cox in 2016, police grew increasingly concerned of the group, culminating in the arrest of 22 activists. In December 2016, National Action became the first radical right group to be proscribed as a terrorist organisation.

The splinters: Scottish Dawn, NS131 and System Resistance Network

After National Action was proscribed, members scrambled to regroup under new names, in a similar vein to how its Islamist counterpart Al Muhajiroun has tried to evade the law. Two main splinters quickly emerged: Scottish Dawn and National Socialist Anti-Capitalist Action (NS131). Scottish Dawn was heavily linked to National Rebirth of Poland, a violent offshoot of the Polish radical right with presence in the UK. NS131 bore extreme resemblance to the aesthetics of National Action. Both were swiftly proscribed by the government as splinters of National Action in September 2017.

Another more significant splinter was System Resistance Network (SRN), which emerged in the summer of 2017. Geographically, it started having a footprint in Scotland but quickly moved to target other regions of the UK, particularly Welsh communities. SRN is mainly linked to acts of racist vandalism — available evidence shows that they have been active in 10 UK cities. For example, a student who was recently jailed after filming himself spraying right-wing graffiti and swastikas around Cardiff had several SRN posters at home.

SRN’s ideology follows National Action’s blueprint: no tolerance to non-whites, Jewish or Muslim communities, and a belief that homosexuality is a disease. Yet SRN would mark the first time that international influences, including cultist elements and anti-system rhetoric, would blend with UK-born Nazism. This would become even more evident with the next permutation: Sonnenkrieg Division.

The hybrid: Sonnenkrieg Division – the US Atomwaffen

Sonnenkrieg Division is the latest iteration of National Action, although it takes inspiration from the US-based violent neo-Nazi cell Atomwaffen Division (in fact, they describe themselves as “Atomwaffen with less guns”). Atomwaffen (atomic bomb in German) grew from neo-Nazi website Iron March after some members started fantasising about infiltrating the US military and launching a fascist paramilitary insurgency to replace liberal democracy.

Atomwaffen is considered as part of a global accelerationist movement, whose main ideological doctrine is to bring about civilizational collapse through acts of violence. The group is linked to several murders in the US, including Nicholas Giampa’s assassination of his girlfriend’s parents after they convinced her to break up with him for being a neo-Nazi.

Sonnenkrieg Division has been linked to several recent trials in the UK, with many former National Action and SRN members becoming part of this new movement.

“Hitler is not enough for them anymore”

Last year, two teenagers who were members of the group were jailed for posting neo-Nazi propaganda, including one poster that showed a gun pointing to Prince Harry with the caption “see ya later, race traitor”. One of them was previously a member of National Action. Andrew Dymock, who is accused of 12 terror offences for urging people to “rape the cops” and “join your local Nazis”, possessed material linked to System Resistance Network and Atomwaffen.

While Sonnenkrieg Division has kept many of the core elements of National Action, it has also produced extremely violent material touching on issues of Satanism, paedophilia, rape and sodomy, which had led anti-racist group Hope Not Hate to claim that “Hitler is not enough for them anymore”.

The cultist element seems to stem both from Atomwaffen Division and a group called Order of Nine Angles, which mixes Satanist rituals with devotion to Hitler. British courts have described The Order of the Nine Angles as the “most prominent and recognisable link between Satanism and the extreme right” – a demonstrable link between non-violent ideology and violent action.

Neo-Nazism: an ever-evolving threat?

Perhaps the most shocking case is that of a 17-year-old from Durham who was jailed earlier this month for planning an attack against synagogues. The court heard how the child traversed the full spectrum of radical right extremism before he had even left school,from taking pictures with ex-English Defence League Tommy Robinson, to telling a forum that his Satanic beliefs deprived him of feeling guilty of becoming part of “the living dead”.

Cases such as this show that the ideology of National Action has morphed in reaction to a domestic and international stimulus, potentially complicating the task of counter-terror police in reacting accordingly. At a time when terrorism from the radical right is increasing, policymakers need to pay attention to how ideologies that appear “old” and understood continue to evolve over time, and have the ability to inspire new cadres of violent adherents.

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