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Meet Britain First: the UK's fastest growing far right group

A child of the BNP and the EDL, Britain First has shifted the glare of bigots from race war to faith war. Meet the man behind the fastest growing far right movement in Britain, and find out what makes him tick.

Britain First (image, Hope not Hate)

Last week, HOPE not hate released our report into the activities of the far right group Britain First (BF). It was timely; as the report was being put together - three years of margin notes and emails among colleagues detailing their growth and modus operandi, pasted together along with testimony from people close to the organisation - Britain was waking up to the news that there was a new far-right act in town, invading Mosques and running booze laden vigilante patrols in the name of Jesus in East London. The general consensus seemed to be that people viewed them as a part comedy, part evolving horror story.

A number of snap reports in the media took up the growth of this new group, the “phenomena” that is Britain First, with nearly half a million “supporters” on Facebook. It was the same old faces, mainly, with former senior figures in the diminishing British National Party (BNP) and the vanishing English Defence League (EDL), it perfectly filled the void where the panicked affliction people felt about the far right had been.

But Britain First is very, very different to the BNP and the EDL. Yes, it could be called a hybrid of the two; it’s anti-immigration and anti-Islam, it’s angry and confrontational and like the former and latter groups, a lot of what it says doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny. However, it’s leader, it’s real leader, Jim Dowson, is, as we revealed, more than just some right-wing almost comic book “crackpot”, even though he’s pint-sized and seems to be forever wearing a tweed jacket and a look that desperately begs for the lend of a monocle. He is the person we dubbed in 2008 as “the man who owns the BNP.”

Britain First is this former apprentice Calvinist Minister’s true baby. The hardline anti-abortionist had previously sat like a cuckoo in the BNP for three and a half years, amassing them enormous wealth, before attempting a crude abortion of his own by evicting the group from his office in Belfast, dumping the party with mounting and almost unfathomable debts.

Dowson was never driven by racial hatred, anti-Semitism and neo-Nazism like the BNP. He’s simply driven by fundamental extremism. We’d been inside and out of the Dowson empire for nearly seven years. We’ve traced his career through churches, courts, marching bands, tribunals, scuffles, family planning clinics, gay weddings and paramilitaries dating back some thirty years. We kept monitoring him because we knew he’d never go away.

For thirty years, the 49 year old has been attracted to anything controversial, confrontational and distasteful. As a young man in Airdrie, Scotland, in the early 1980’s he packed a bag and a bible and headed for Northern Ireland to join the protestant loyalist paramilitaries. Although not shy of violence, Dowson shied away from action in their murderous nom de plumes. Instead, he agitated and fundraised and preached the gospel from the shadows. On a fact-finding visit to Belfast in 2008, when Dowson and the BNP were just setting up shop there together, one of the most senior loyalist paramilitaries in the province politely warned us that Dowson (at the time still a relatively unconfirmed quantity to us) had “a lot of friends” in the province.

We found that his religious activities had brought Dowson considerable wealth and even a slice of “peace funding” from the European Union. He had a series of properties across Europe with various purposes and guises, from post-conflict resolution getaways for young people, to a sanctuary for young women. It was his wealth and influence that convinced the easily impressed Nick Griffin to hand over the entire running of the BNP to Dowson within a year of their meeting.

When Dowson dumped the BNP in 2010, they foolishly attempted to go to war with him. As the party was collapsing, they invented sex smears about their former fundraiser and owner. People were kidnapped, driven off the road and even went to prison as things turned bitterly nasty between the two parties. BNP leader Nick Griffin even went to court to claim, incorrectly, that the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), a murderous paramilitary group from Northern Ireland, was trying to intimidate his family over money on behalf of people linked to Dowson.

But Dowson was not after Griffin’s money, he was after his supporters. Despite all the wealth and trappings he had amassed over the years, Dowson had never had his own army. He’d flitted for years and years in search of a willing ear to listen to his prophecies, he’d nested like a cuckoo. He’d travelled to the United States to work with evangelical Christians, black and white, who shared his world view. He’d found comfort and purpose in the bitter hatred and theology of the Irish conflict, but it was in the BNP that he believed he’d realised his true potential.

One million people had voted BNP in the 2009 Euro elections and donated millions of pounds to the party and its “cause”. They weren’t neo-Nazis, they were people driven by fear and cultural insecurity, living in moral panic every time something beyond their control or comprehension broke on their television screens. Social media was in its infancy, so Dowson had driven the BNP machine forward by the use of the telephone, pressing nightly from his call centre into the homes of BNP members and supporters an evangelical message that only by donating money could the BNP save theirs and Britain’s mortal soul.

The predictable headlines our report into Britain First garnished tended to be about “race hate thugs”, though our report in reality says very little about the racism that is already obvious in Britain First. Dowson’s group is not of the simple thuggery and racism of the BNP and the EDL, though those are inherent characteristics of the organisation and they will not subside. When Dowson left the BNP he recruited a few noticeable individuals who had over time in the party, conversed with him about God. He recruited four regional organisers who had over time, converted to Christianity. He also took Paul Golding, at the time an elected councillor but a fading star in the BNP, back with him to Northern Ireland. Golding converted from a racist bigot to a religious zealot. It is no surprise to hear he attended the controversial church in Belfast of Pastor James McConnell, who two months ago sparked controversy by telling his two thousand strong congregation that Muslims were the “spawn of the devil”.

Whilst the BNP believe that a race war is imminent, Britain First believes that it is a religious war that is coming. In our report we spell this out and also expose how Dowson and Golding have upped the ante in anti-Muslim hate rhetoric, not just by invading Mosques and antagonising radical Jihadists on their doorsteps, but by building, training and drilling a uniformed mob of “Crusaders” who believe they are preparing for a civil war between Christians and Muslims of biblical proportions. Driving around in armoured cars, wearing face masks and chanting the name of “Jesus Christ”, they exhibit the very fundamentalist behaviour that they accuse sections of the Muslim community of. More than the BNP and even worse than the EDL, Britain First are likely to drive more and more people into the arms of extremists and out of the clutches of civilised society. Arrested four times this year already, Golding says nothing will stop him in his mission to “expose” Islam.

His response to our report was to issue a threat to any journalist who printed its “lies”. That, was not very Christian, at all.

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About the author

Matthew Collins is director of research at HOPE not hate and the author of 'Hate' a book about his own time in the far right.


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