Image: Police separating National Action and anti-fascist demonstrators, Liverpool 2015. Credit: Peter Byrne/PA Images, all rights reserved.
Shortly after National Action were proscribed in December 2012, I questioned whether banning the group would be effective. Given the number of arrests and convictions made over the past year or so – the most recent being earlier last month when West Midlands Police arrested five people on suspicion of terrorism offences over their suspected membership of the banned group - it would seem that it has.
National Action were proscribed under the Terrorism Act 2000. At the time, Amber Rudd – the then Home Secretary - described National Action as “a racist, Antisemitic and homophobic organisation which stirs up hatred, glorifies violence and promotes a vile ideology”. Rudd added that “it has absolutely no place in a Britain that works for everyone…” and that it was “…concerned in terrorism”. The ban was the first time in British history that membership of a radical-right group had been outlawed, and meant that it wold become a crime to be a member of National Action, to invite support for the group, to be involved in the organisation of group activities, to wear clothing or insignia linked to it, or to carry its symbols.
Prior to its proscription, there was little information about National Action. While groups those such as Britain First and the English Defence League had been courting public and media attention, National Action were mobilising largely under the radar. Hope Not Hate reported that the group’s members were becoming increasingly provocative, erratic and unpredictable. Expressing a penchant for violence and direct action was also evident, none more so than in its statement on its now defunct website that National Action was “not afraid to swing the bat at the enemy”.
Known to be targeting a youth audience – apparent from the ages of those recently arrested – National Action was unequivocally traditionalist in its ideology, which included overt expressions of ultra-nationalism, racism, Antisemitism, disablism, homophobia, anti-liberalism and anti-capitalism. Prone to admiring and glorifying Hitler and what it believed were the great achievements of the Third Reich, the group advocated a similar approach here as being necessary to ‘save’ Britain, ‘our’ race and ‘our’ generation. Its ultimate goal was the establishment of a ‘white homeland’ in Britain.
Somewhat unsurprisingly, National Action denied being an extremist group. Citing the legislation, it argued that to be extremist it would need to use or encourage illegal violence or terrorism to achieve its goals. Arguing that it was radical rather than extreme, it countered by arguing that to achieve its ultimate goal it would need to do so through state power and was thereby committed to working with the state’s institutions, including the police, army and intelligence services. In contrast to these denunciations, earlier this year National Action’s former spokesperson Jack Renshaw pleaded guilty to preparing an act of terrorism by purchasing a machete to kill the Labour Member of Parliament Rosie Cooper. He also admitted making threats to kill Detective Constable Victoria Henderson, who had been investigating him for child grooming and racial hatred offences.
One concern is that proscribing such organisations does not stop members from regrouping under a different alias. National Action members have since done so using the aliases of Scottish Dawn, NS131 (National Socialist Anti-Capitalist Action), System Resistance Network (SRN) and Vanguard Britannia. The same weakness ss of proscription as a solution can be seen with Al-Muhajiroun. Banned in 2005, its members continued to regroup and used various aliases including the Saved Sect, Call to Submission, Islam4UK, Islamic Path, London School of Sharia and Need4Khilafah up until 2014. Subsequently Al-Muhajiroun’s members were shown to be linked to more than half of all Islamist-inspired terror in the UK.
In response, however the police and intelligence services appear to have been somewhat more proactive in their pursuance of those members of National Action that have continued to be active. Given some were known to be increasingly erratic, unpredictable and prone to violence, the successful arrest and conviction of members may be evidence that necessary lessons have been learned. It’s also likely that National Action’s members underestimated the willingness of the police and intelligence services to act on the ban .
The result has been a far more effective outcome than I and indeed others anticipated two years ago. My concerns that banning National Action – especially if perceived to be unfair, gerrymandering to the left or appeasing Muslims – might have the potential to either strengthen the radical right or make it more appealing, do not seem to have materialised – not least because there appears to be as little agreement and consensus within the British radical right as ever. In truth, there has been very little public sympathy shown towards National Action from either inside or outside the radical right milieu. Importantly, it could be argued that proscription has sent a very clear message to radical right extremists. Maybe this is why Britain’s radical right is increasingly moving towards more populist ideologies or mobilising behind distractionary and normalising fronts such as defending free speech.
So while banning National Action has been far more effective than expected, proscription is only one part of the armoury needed in the fight against the radical right and its divisive ideologies.