Britain’s far right is widely misunderstood and often underestimated.
It is not led purely by ageing pub thugs whose hate is limited to politically-incorrect slogans and eyebrow-raising tattoos. More often, senior white supremacists are internet warriors who have mastered the art of encrypted smartphone apps and online recruitment, who hold an intellectual commitment to a race war, who entice the young by quoting from history and philosophy.
It is against this new wave of fascists that Europe’s “other war on terror” is being fought.
National Action is at the most extreme end of the movement. An ITV News investigation has revealed how some of its former members have been meeting in secret - despite the Government’s decision to ban the group last December. It is now a criminal offence to become a member or supporter of the organisation, which has been classified as a proscribed terrorist group.
Earlier this month, at least two activists linked to the organisation met at a weekend-long “survival camp” in the Peak District. They were trained in boxing and were taught how to defend themselves during a knife attack.
Within an hour of arriving, Garron Helm, a former National Action activist, was secretly filmed by ITV News discussing the killing of Jo Cox. Helm, 23, said: “It’s not our fault she was killed. I mean she did have it coming...I do think if you're committing an act of treason against, you know, your own ethnic group then by right you should be put to death.”
Helm was jailed in 2014 for sending antisemitic tweets to the Labour MP Luciana Berger. Another activist linked to National Action, who calls himself “James Mac” condemned the response to his prosecution within the Jewish community. He told Helm: “They carry on like somebody’s died. You know, like if a family member died and somebody got off...That’s the way these Jews carry on.”
The exchanges appear to demonstrate the limits to the Home Secretary’s ability to ban terrorist groups like National Action.
During a conversation filmed by ITV News, Helm suggested that he did not believe the camp meeting was in breach of the terms of the group’s ban. But he told a campmate that police officers had previously told him: “If we see three or four of you meeting up and we deem it to be an NA meeting, rather than friends meeting, then we will just come after you with everything we’ve got.”
National Action’s former high-command of young white supremacists won’t appreciate the comparison with radical Islam, but its tactics appear to mirror those of Anjem Choudary’s group Al-Muhajiroun, which was banned in 2005. Its members continued to operate under alternative names for years afterwards.
But the parallels between the rise of the far right and the growth of Islamist extremism run far deeper.
Jihadist training camps were a hallmark of Islamist extremism in Britain pre-7/7 - with sessions in physical fitness as well as political discussion.
And from its birth in 2013, National Action has learned from its unlikely bedfellows – the likes of so-called Islamic State - by using glossy videos and social media to entice young supporters. Last week YouTube revealed it had removed a propaganda film posted by the group after it was highlighted by Parliament’s Home Affairs Select Committee.
National Action is part of a pan-continental trend. In a report released last year, Europol investigators said they were concerned by the “increasing quantities and reach of right-wing propaganda, and the intensive use of social media”.
“Right-wing extremists continued to receive self-defence and weapons training,” it added, noting that Polish nationalists had travelled to a military-style camp in Russia.
It said that white supremacists were working harder to avoid prosecution: “Many of them aim to incite people to adopt right-wing extremist view, while being careful not to cross the legal boundaries of free speech.”
When measured by their threat to our national security, far-right organisations are dwarfed by some Islamist groups like IS. But consider this: for all the talk of the jihadist threat in the UK, the single death from terrorism in Britain last year was the killing of Jo Cox MP by the neo-Nazi Thomas Mair.
When Mair appeared in court he uttered the National Action slogan: “Death to traitors, freedom for Britain.”
No wonder Whitehall officials have tried so hard to suppress the organisation. They have failed to silence its former members.