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What I Learned From Spending A Year Infiltrating Britain's Far-Right

09/11/2017 15:58 GMT | Updated 09/11/2017 20:48 GMT

"We thought you were police."

I'm frozen just for a moment - my palms clammy, while my mind quickly tries think of a convincing response.

Martin Sellner, the Austrian leader of Generation Identity, a European far right group, is sitting on a tatty sofa and has fixed me with a steely stare. It feels like he's about to find me out.

I manage to stammer, 'Did you?', before regaining my composure.

I've been undercover in the new British far right for a year, and this is the first time my status as an infiltrator has really been tested.

Luckily, the conversation, held in someone's living room, moves on.

I'd set out with two other women to infiltrate groups in the British far right for an ITV documentary, Undercover - Inside Britain's New Far Right, aiming to discover how these groups operate in the internet age.

What I discovered was that far from being the old image of skinheads with jackboots and swastika tattoos, those who identify with the far right now are much more likely to be wearing Barbour or North Face clothes, and have sharp haircuts.

They use Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, blogs and podcasts to get their views across, which connects with young people. This image change is actually drawing women in.

The fact they seemed so ordinary - and welcoming - was a surprise. Yet underneath the gloss and the friendliness, it became clear that some of the same old attitudes remain.

I first met Anne Marie Waters - one of the far right's leading figures who came second in UKIP's leadership election - at the launch of her campaign manifesto in Rotherham. She struck me as being petite, visibly anxious with an air of inoffensiveness.

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Yet I'd already seen her describing Islam as a 'killing machine', at a rally organised by the ex-EDL leader Tommy Robinson. It became clear she has a gift for public speaking which draws people in.

I gave her a lift in my car to her party conference after working my way into her inner circle - and her views in private were even more blunt than her public statements.

Relaxed in a pink T-shirt, she spelled out her take on life inside her head.

She said: "The idea that these f***ers can just come and take it all. Stop all Muslim immigration now."

It sounded like a phrase from some obscene lectern speech - and in a way, it was. This woman was hoping to become leader of the fifth-biggest political party in the UK.

She went further - intimating she'd let Robinson join her version of UKIP and climb the ranks: "Regardless he can't stand for election because of his record. But I'll certainly open up the party for him to join. If he makes his way up, then there will be no objections from me."

Getting to this point wasn't easy. I'd managed to get close to Anne Marie by deliberately posting messages sympathising with her views on Facebook, and turning up to events where she would be speaking, to get close to her. My aim was to work my way into her inner circle.

I was in a unique position where I had to keep my own views firmly to myself because I was immersed in another world. Anne Marie's non-confrontational nature could make her extreme views seductive. I had to be careful to not let her ideology creep over me. Yet I most definitely became desensitised.

On the campaign trail, I discovered that not only was Anne Marie a close associate of Tommy Robinson, she was using ex-BNP activist Jack Buckby to run her bid for UKIP leadership.

Buckby seemed edgy when I met him, and explained why: "I'm basically the campaign manager. But I don't make it too public. Because she's already gained shit because she's 'friends' with me."

As I infiltrated Anne Marie's world, I was recruited by one of her associates into an organisation called Generation identity - a pan-European far right movement which uses slick videos to spread its message on the internet.

I signed up to the Generation Identity Facebook group - but first I needed to be vetted. A Norwegian man called Tore set up a video call with me. I told him I was 27 and a carer. He revealed that groups like GI have fairly innocuous aims on the surface. But as I held the phone in my hand, what he told me had a sinister undertone.

He said: "We think that if you stop the immigration to England that's good. But you still have a problem with the birth rates. And what we call the Great Replacement."

Having passed the test, I went along to meet some activists at a pub in North London. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up as I walked into the pub to see the group sitting around an old wooden table.

I knew activists for these groups tend to be paranoid, and spend a lot of time trying to weed out moles like me. I knew I had to be careful. But what struck me was that those I met were largely well-dressed, middle-class, educated people. One, called Liam, supped on a pint of lager as he revealed his views in what sounded like a public school accent.

"I'm like the only white man on my road basically... We have fit guys, fit girls, who read, who are intelligent. Like you can pick and choose what team you wanna play for. Do you wanna play for the degenerates or the patriots?"

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What shocked me most was his claim to have been on a GI training camp in France.

He told me: "There was a good ratio of boys and girls as well, it was really, really good, we'd be training for two hours in the morning. At the end of the week it was really good, we had like a mock demonstration. It was like really realistic because they had like pepper spray everything, it was really organised."

This led to the meeting with Sellner, where he nearly called me out. He reveals that someone else in the group has been exposed as an undercover reporter. It was at that point I left - and I didn't go back.

I've already received abuse on the back of my involvement - and it's good to know that my going undercover has struck a nerve.

But the hipster rebranding of the far right by individuals like Tommy Robinson, Jack Buckby, Waters, and Martin Sellner shows that the haircuts might have changed, but some of the old views remain the same.

When the programme makers asked Generation Identity for their response, they claimed this programme is a 'hit piece', with remarks and speeches taken out of context. They say they don't have a hidden agenda, want to preserve European ethno-cultural identity, and would not work with American groups.

The man in the pub told the programme makers he had only received self-defence training in France.

Anne Marie Waters said she opposes racism, anti-Semitism, misogyny, and oppression usually associated with the far-right. She has clearly and consistently said she does not blame all Muslims, but is criticising the Koran, and it is her fundamental right to do so. What others say at events is not her responsibility, and she does not agree with every view at events she speaks at. She did not try to conceal her involvement with Jack Buckby. She says much of what we recorded on covert camera she has said in public. She doesn't believe the UKIP election was a fix.

Jack Buckby said he explained to our reporter how dangerous neo-Nazis are and he left the BNP partly because of anti-Semitic abuse. He has never condoned violent activity or terrorism and deleted his tweet because it was not clear. He says he abhors the far right and is not a racist. He says he talks about Islam but does not demonise the Muslim community.

Undercover - Inside Britain's New Far Right is on ITV at 10.40pm on Thursday. You can catch up here.