I was a teenager and struggling with a difficult home life when I was groomed into joining the far-right.
It began when I was handed an anti-IRA leaflet back in the 1980s outside my school gate when I was 15. At the time, images of the violence and chaos created by the IRA were a daily occurrence on the TV. I felt angry and motivated to do something about it.
The leaflet was from a local group, Birmingham Against the IRA. Their leaflet made it seem like they were defending our country from a destructive and damaging terrorist group, and that by joining them I could help put an end to the horror I was witnessing. In that leaflet, there was nothing that gave me idea of the group’s racist motivations.
At the time, my mother was very ill with cancer and my father was away a lot due to work. As an only child I didn’t have many people to turn to, growing up was a scary and isolating time. After becoming involved in BAtI, members of the far-right often looked after me, doing our food shopping and taking my mum to chemotherapy. But they also told me that if we stopped letting in immigrants then my mum would have access to better treatments.
Far-right groups often tap into individual’s genuine concerns and issues at first and it is not until later that they reveal their full ideology of hate. By then, many people like myself are already too far into the group, or too reliant on the social support they provide, to walk away easily. They became like family, and when both my parents died soon after each other, they became my lifeline.
The far-right and the people in it became my world and I was slipping away from normal society. I didn’t understand when I first got involved what these groups truly represented...
I had begun going to meetings, then to gatherings, and then larger, more violent rallies. Before long I had been fully sucked into a hostile, poisonous environment. The far-right and the people in it became my world and I was slipping away from normal society. I didn’t understand when I first got involved what these groups truly represented, or how dangerous they were. What I originally saw as a group of people who were fighting for our country turned out to be racist and cruel, and I had become one of them.
Over the next twenty years I ended up being part of some of the most notorious and dangerous neo-Nazi organisations in the country. I went from being a foot soldier to organising and leading groups – I had been completely brainwashed by this toxic ideology and also took part in some acts of violence.
That was decades ago. And while the rhetoric used by the far-right may be similar today, how groups communicate, recruit and mobilise has changed significantly. In my day, local pubs, football grounds or even outside schools were breeding grounds. These days, the far-right has evolved their tactics so they are capable of targeting anyone using online spaces, such as social media, to radicalise individuals.
So how do they do it? Tapping into global instability and genuine concerns over Islamist extremism, these groups then promote anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic hatred, backed by fake news and distorted facts. There’s also a real trend for exploiting ‘meme culture’ – many far right groups are using memes, graphics and symbols that are often very violent in nature or utilise dark humour. Visual content such as memes can spread like wildfire across the globe; now, people don’t even need to speak the same language in order to communicate their ideas.
This kind of content, shared on social media, can then lead people to corners of the internet that are dark and dangerous. It’s in these spaces that extremists pose as a vulnerable individual’s friend, and exploit their target’s weaknesses to reel them in – whether that’s family issues like me, isolation, or low self-esteem.
The groomer may even latch onto an issue their victim cares about and combine it with the far-right’s belief system so individuals begin to see the far-right as a space they can voice their concerns free from judgement. These issues can usually be genuine concerns a lot of us struggle with, such as child sexual exploitation by horrific gangs around the country. Stories of victims suffering abuse demands a response of anger and action. However, what the far-right do is exploit these issues for their own gain, and convince people they are truly concerned, rather than spinning it into a racial issue.
After a long time, I began to realise my life had slowly been destroyed by the far-right. Then, when I witnessed other far-right members be violent towards a black man in a racist attack in front of his wife and children, their cries and tears went straight through me. I realised just how wrong my actions for all these years had been.
My involvement in these groups had also led to the breakdown of my marriage. I had been numb to the destruction the far-right had on my personal life but I slowly realised I’d lost everyone I loved. It was a wake-up call for me. I left my home town, cut all ties with the far-right, and started my life again.
I had been numb to the destruction the far-right had on my personal life but I slowly realised I’d lost everyone I loved
In 2015, I founded Small Steps to raise awareness of the far-right problem and to help people understand what leads to radicalisation. We’ve delivered hundreds of workshops and mentoring sessions across the UK to raise awareness of the dangers of far-right extremism, racism and violence with the hope that we can stop people being drawn into this dangerous movement in the same way I was. Our team, made up of former far-right activists who each have stories like mine, provide training and advice on how to tackle the issues that draw people to far-right narratives, and how to spot the signs that someone might be radicalised by the far-right.
Recently Prevent, which aims to protect young people from violent radicalisers, has seen more referrals of suspected right-wing extremists. The figures rose from 968 people in 2016-17 to 1,312 in 2017-18. This means it’s essential we are all aware of the symbols and techniques of the far-right – not to mention the signs that someone may be at risk of getting involved – so we can spot it early on and stop it by getting people the help they need.
My life was destroyed by the far right, and I know I hurt many people in the process. I don’t want to see anyone else go down the same path. Now, after spending so many years being part of the problem, I hope to be part of the solution.
Nigel Bromage is director of Small Steps. For more information on their work, visit their website
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