Britain is facing the real risk today of a bombing campaign that targets random civilians for death – but it is being virtually ignored. When its supporters step closer every day to mass murder, nobody notices. When its perpetrators are caught, there is (at best) a little flick of information in News in Brief, before everyone goes back to talking about the Strictly Come Dancing race row. This silence suggests something dark about us – and requires us to change our behaviour, fast.
The campaign I am talking about is not being planned by jihadis or fringe Irish nationalists but by white “neo-Nazis” who want to murder Asians, black people, Jews and gays in the bizarre belief it will trigger a “race war”.
They have struck before. Exactly a decade ago, a 22-year-old member of the British National Party called David Copeland planted bombs in Brixton, Brick Lane (where I live), and a gay pub in Old Compton Street. He managed to lodge a nail deep in a baby’s skull, and to murder a pregnant woman, her gay best friend, and his partner. He bragged: “My aim was political. It was to cause a racial war in this country. There’d be a backlash from the ethnic minorities, then all the white people would go out and vote BNP.”
Last year, a 43-year-old man called Neil Lewington was arrested “on the cusp” of waging a “terror campaign”, it emerged at his trial. He had built a bomb factory in his parents’ house which he planned to use to launch attacks against people he considered to be “non-British”. He was only caught by chance: he picked a panicked fight with a train conductor, and the police who turned up found he was laden with explosives.
The list of far right-wingers who have been busted for planning violence has spiked up in the past few years. In the home of a BNP election candidate called Robert Cottage in 2008, the police discovered “the largest amount of chemical explosives ever found in this country”, they said.
The same year, a thug called Martyn Gilleard was caught with a huge stash of nail bombs, and rage-filled letters in which he declared: “I am so sick of hearing nationalists talk of killing Muslims, of blowing up mosques, of fighting back, only to see these acts of resistance fail to appear. The time has come to stop the talk and start to act.” He was only caught by fluke: the police busted him for distributing child porn.
It’s not hard to get in on this act. There are dozens of far-right websites that explain – with handy video links – how to make bombs, and then urge you to head to the nearest mosque, synagogue or gay club.
But as the New Statesman’s Mehdi Hassan has pointed out, as far as public debate goes, it’s as if these crimes never happened. While planned attacks by jihadis (rightly) dominate the news agenda for days, these remarkably similar plans pass unmentioned and unnoticed.
This disjunction exposes a rash of hypocrisy. The parts of the right that gleefully blame all Muslims for the actions of a tiny minority are mysteriously reluctant to apply the same arguments to themselves. If Martin Amis was consistent, he should now declare: “The white community will have to suffer until it gets its house in order. What sort of suffering? Not letting them travel. Deportation. Strip-searching people who look like they’re from Hampshire or from Surrey … Discriminatory stuff, until it hurts the whole community and they start getting tough with their children.”
But of course he won’t. It shows the bigotry at the core of these make-all-Muslims-pay arguments: they see brown-skinned people as a homogenous mass who can be collectively punished, while they see white people as discrete units who should only be punished individually.
But these white bomb-makers also blast holes in the arguments put by some small parts of the left, who claim “terrorism” is only a response to “legitimate grievances”. We can see that somebody like David Copeland simply had an insane hatred of black, Asian and gay people. It’s a form of soft racism to fail to see that the same lunacy can happen to non-white people. The vile Islamist gang who wanted to blow up the Ministry of Sound really did say the women there were “slags” who deserved to die for wearing miniskirts. Sometimes (but not always), the grievances that drive violence are simply deranged and have to be resisted.
While the threat of far-right violence is rising, the BNP leader, Nick Griffin, is going to appear on Question Time next week. It would be easy, and emotionally satisfying, for me to join the many well-intentioned protesters who are saying he shouldn’t be there, but I can’t do it. There are two reasons – one moral, and one pragmatic.
Freedom of speech includes the freedom to say abhorrent and repulsive things, or it isn’t worth having. Why is our Britain vastly morally superior to the fantasy island that the BNP dream of building? Because we do not silence them – even though they would silence so many of us.
Then there’s the pragmatic reason. The BNP is doing increasingly well in elections because there is a huge gap between the reality of the BNP and how their voters see them. I see this on the run-down estates where many of my relatives live: most of the BNP’s voters believe they are a patriotic party who will peacefully defend the rights of the white working class, just as other organisations peacefully defend the rights of other ethnic groups.
When they find out the BNP leaders have in fact praised Britain’s greatest enemy, Adolf Hitler, derided the Holocaust as “the Holohoax”, had violent maniacs in their senior ranks, and want to deport many of our national heroes like Ashley Cole and Trevor McDonald, they are disgusted, and withdraw their support. There is only a very, very small constituency in Britain for Holocaust denial, mass “repatriations”, and the mongering of “race wars”.
So how do we close this perception gap? Shutting the BNP out of debate hasn’t worked. They have been shut out and they have grown. In the darkness, the fungus can spread. The greatest disinfectant is sunlight, shone straight into Griffin’s face. The only people who should fear free speech are the BNP, because when the British people hear what they have to say, and their lack of answers to basic factual questions, they are repelled.
One of the areas where everyone should see Griffin being challenged is over this question of far-right violence. He claims he is “strongly” opposed to these freelance attacks – yet he has kept violent attackers in his senior team.
His chief lieutenant for years was a man called Tony Lecomber, who was jailed for three years in the 1980s for plotting to blow up the offices of a left-wing political party. After he was released, he and a gang then beat a Jewish teacher unconscious. When he was freed after another three years inside, he was swiftly promoted through the BNP ranks. He was only ditched after he approached a Liverpool hitman to discuss how they could “take out” a cabinet minister.
One of the leading figures in the BNP’s online operation, Lambertus Nieuwhof, tried to blow up a mixed-race school in South Africa in 1992. The BNP is happy to have him nonetheless. Nieuwhof says: “Everybody should be allowed to make a mistake.”
The BNP is not directly organising violence, but it has tolerated violent madmen in its midst, and its arguments have encouraged violence. Griffin has demanded “rights for whites with well-directed boots and fists”. He reacted to the Soho nail-bomb by one of his own party’s members by attacking the victims, saying they were “flaunting their perversion in front of the world’s journalists, [and had] showed just why so many ordinary people find these creatures disgusting”.
Let Griffin speak his filth to the nation, and sweat under David Dimbleby’s forensic questioning. He will only discredit himself.
But the country also needs to start acknowledging the danger of bombs thrown from the far right. David Copeland came from within the ranks of the BNP; so might the next one. The police need to monitor neo-Nazis as closely as jihadis, and the Government projects to prevent violent extremism should be working with white kids as well as Muslim children. We need to prepare ourselves now: the next person to bomb Britain might not look like Mohammed Sidiq Khan – he might look like me.
This article first appeared in the Independent newspaper.
Categorised in: Article
This post was written by Johann Hari