Despite being the first far-right group banned as a terrorist organisation since the Second Would War, neo-Nazi outfit National Action has inspired more ridicule than fear since forming some four years ago amidst the demise of the British National Party.
The group, estimated to be less than 100-strong at its peak, is infamous for publicity stunts - like holding a Miss Hitler contest and performing Nazi salutes at Germany’s Buchenwald Camp - but their attempts at inspiring fear and social change, have, until now led to nothing but humiliation. (Read: What is National Action? 7 Terrifyingly Incompetent Things About The Neo-Nazi Group.)
In August 2015, having earlier declared only “bullets will stop us”, the troupe of black-clad twenty-something Third Reich-fetishists, were left cowering in a Liverpool train station lockup after being pelted with rubbish during their much-publicised White Man March.
But on Tuesday it became clear that the group, often dismissed as silly-kids, had to be taken seriously, not only because police arrested four suspected members on suspicion of preparing acts of terror, but the Ministry of Defence subsequently confirmed that serving members of the army were among those apprehended.
The men − a 22-year-old from Birmingham, a 32-year-old from Powys, a 24-year-old from Ipswich and a 24-year-old from Northampton - are being held at a police station in the West Midlands as police search several properties in connection with the arrests, made with the support of counter-terror units from the West Midlands, Wales and the East Midlands.
Last month, in the wake of unrest in Charlottesville, Virginia, that led to the death of 32-year-old Heather Hayer, anti-extremism charity Hope not Hate (HnH) renewed its warnings about the far-right in Britain, specifically National Action, who it told HuffPost UK were “extremely dangerous”.
The warnings gained little traction.
Today HnH reiterated that it had “consistently said that group continues to organise, recruit and train” and “we maintain that in spite of any police action against individuals carried out today, the group still continues under a number of different names and guises”.
HnH has previously claimed that despite Home Secretary Amber Rudd banning National Action, some eight months earlier, in December, its members had remained active.
In February it told HuffPost that National Action still operated “in all but name and poses a serious terrorist threat”, then, last month, it claimed the group was actively recruiting and training from a converted warehouse in Warrington. Cheshire Police confirmed it was investigating the claim.
HnH senior researcher Joe Mulhall couldn’t have been any clearer about the risk National Action posed, telling this reporter in August:
“This is a group that has tried to kill people. This is a group that has a number of people in prison, leaders in prison. This is a group that is training. This has to be taken extremely seriously. This is an extremely dangerous organisation that fetishes violence.
“It is not just that they just talk about it, this is a group that venerates people that engage in violence, they train for violence... there is no question.”
Masters Of Marketing And Social Media
National Action were masters of marketing, often seizing on tragedy to super-charge the repugnance of their rhetoric.
In the wake of the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox, a week before the EU Referendum, National Action championed the man sentenced to life for her murder, Thomas Mair, a move that arguably won them the notoriety they craved, and ultimately, terror group status.
The group adopted, as a slogan, the only statement he made in court,“Death to traitors, freedom for Britain” and on a post including his picture wrote “only 649 MPs to go”. In another post they celebrated the terror-related attack on a LGBT-friendly nightclub in Florida.
Another example of the sickness of their social media savvy was a campaign they launched against Liverpool MP Luciana Berger, called “Operation Jew Bitch” which resulted in her being bombarded with thousands of offensive tweets. Garron Helm was sentenced to four weeks in prison at the end of 2014 for his part in harassing Berger.
In HnH’s State of Hate 2016 report it warned National Action was the “most organisationally sophisticated neo-nazi group” and said it had its own internal internet forum and regularly used the Dark Web.
In announcing the ban, under the Terrorism Act 2000, Rudd said: “I am clear that the safety and security of our families, communities and country comes first. So today I am taking action to proscribe the neo-Nazi group National Action. This will mean that being a member of, or inviting support for, this organisation will be a criminal offence.
“National Action is a racist, antisemitic and homophobic organisation which stirs up hatred, glorifies violence and promotes a vile ideology, and I will not stand for it. It has absolutely no place in a Britain that works for everyone.”
Before then, and since, little attention has been paid to National Action despite them regularly marching on city centres with signs saying “Hitler was right”. Videos has also emerged of them talking about “the disease of international Jewry” and “when the time comes they’ll be in the chambers”.
The most recent member to make headlines is Jack Renshaw who is currently before the courts for allegedly using threatening, abusive and insulting words likely to stir up racial hatred. The 22-year-old’s charges relate to comments made at an event in Yorkshire in February 2016 and Blackpool in March 2016 and comments made on social media.
2016: The Year National Action Feel Apart
Renshaw is thought to be one of the first members of National Action, which according to HnH, was formed by Ben Raymond, Alex Davies, Wayne Bell, Ashley Bell, Mark James and Kevin Layzell. Davies, like Renshaw, was in the Young BNP (Renshaw stood as a candidate for the British National Party at a Blackpool Council by-election in 2014).
The months leading up to National Action’s ban was riddled with events that saw the group make headlines for all the wrong reasons, which overshadowed stark warnings about the far-right’s potential for terrorism that year.
Early in the year National Action launched a paedophile hunting initiative which was branded “laughable” after it was revealed that one of its members, Ryan Fleming, was himself a convicted sex offender. Fleming has a conviction for the false imprisonment and sexual assault of a teenager dating back to 2011.
National Action adopted the hashtag - #occupypaedophillia - for its series in what it said was a “tribute” to the Russian vigilante group of the same name, members of which were jailed for six years for torturing gay men.
In May, a video went viral of its deputy leader, Alex Davies, being mocked by a mixed-race teenager in Bath who confronted him while out leafleting.
The group also hosted a ‘Miss Hitler 2016’ competition and caused outrage in Germany after posting pictures online of members performing Nazi salutes at the Buchenwald camp where nearly 50,000 people were killed.
In another happening, which has some relevance after Tuesday’s arrest, is an attempt by a former member to join the Army and Territorial Army. The Ministry of Defence refused to discuss this claim with HuffPost UK when it first surfaced.
Britain’s Nazi Threat
Police have said they arrested 22 suspected members or associations of National Action during 2016. The figures for 2017 are not known, but a report last month suggested officers were currently investigating about 40 neo-Nazis amid fears they are plotting terrorist attacks against Muslims.
According to Home Office figures 48 people were arrested for domestic terrorism, which covers far-right extremism, in the year to March - a fivefold increase for the same offences in the previous 12 months.
In the aftermath of June’s Finsbury Park mosque attack it was revealed that far-right extremists account for a third of all referrals to the government’s anti-terror unit.
HnH’s Joe Mulhall told HuffPost last month that the threat posed by group’s like National Action should not be dismissed because of their size or appearance.
“The far-right fluctuates in size, but at its core there’s only a small handful, in the low hundreds, of hardcore activists, and of course the problem is you can’t necessary judge the risk of the far-right by its scale.
“It only takes one of these people. I think it is wrong that we attempt to try and understand the threat of the far-right by either looking how it is doing in elections or how many people are signed up to Facebook pages etc. It only takes one of them, or a small group acting as a cell, to do something like Jo Cox. So they’re always a threat, they’re always a danger.”