Dr Graham Cushway, former UKIP candidate, ex-soldier, and bassist for heavy metal “vampire warrior” band Stuka Squadron, has been accused of indulging in a “deeply inappropriate fetishisation of the Third Reich” by campaign group Hope Not Hate.
In a lengthy statement posted to their Facebook page, the band vehemently asserted that their controversial choice of costume was just that, a costume.
And speaking to the PA News Agency, a Brexit Party spokesman expressed regret that Dr Cushway was being criticised for being in Stuka Squadron.
They said: “He’s fought in two wars and he’s quite a successful metal guitarist.
“To suggest that he is in any way associated with that which people are trying to associate him with is just silly.”
Asked about the band’s Luftwaffe-inspired aesthetic, the spokesman said: “You have to draw a distinction between art and life.
“The Brexit Party is happy to stand behind Dr Cushway and his candidature – though maybe not his taste in music.”
However, a spokesperson for Hope Not Hate said: “It says a lot about Nigel Farage and the Brexit Party that they consider an individual who dresses up as a Nazi vampire a suitable candidate for political office. It’s clear they don’t take voters seriously.”
Hope Not Hate pointed out that Cushway had been photographed wearing a tie branded with SS insignia whilst performing, describing the symbolism of which as “revolting”, regardless of “the excuses Cushway might make”.
Stuka Squadron insisted in their statement that the skull insignia seen on Cushway’s tie was a reference to the logo worn by fellow metal band Slayer.
The name itself originates from dive bomber planes used by German forces during World War II.
As well as their outfit choices, which also include long leather coats and heavy boots, Stuka Squadron’s lyrics have also been scrutinised.
Hope Not Hate made reference to two songs in particular, the first of which was Tales of the Ost (named in apparent reference to the Eastern Front), which includes the lines “Flying high above them all, the saviours of the Reich, the Stuka Squadron vampires head into the fight… An Iron Cross on every chest, the Squadron dwindled fast”.
A second song, One Eyed God King, written from the perspective of the Norse god Odin, includes the lyrics: ”“Hear my words that I implant, of blood crusade and racial war, the heathens you invented, the wolves inside the door, you rinse in blood the party’s name, fly your banners high”.
The band formed more than a decade ago and have earned a modest following throughout their career, with some 1,200 followers on Facebook. There is no indication of any future tour dates currently booked, but various videos of the band performing are available online.
Their website reveals a complicated fictional back story to the creation of Stuka Squadron, in which band members refer to themselves as “vampire warriors who have fought through the ages on innumerable battlefields”, with a section explaining how the various fictional personas within the band came to meet. Cushway himself goes by the alias ‘Graham Lord Pyre’.
Hope Not Hate’s spokesperson added: “Again, and again in this election candidates in Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party are found to have awful views and awful judgement as well as awful politics.
“We urge everyone to make sure that they are registered to vote so that we can show the dangerous and divisive Brexit Party the back door on election day.”
In the comprehensive statement on their Facebook page, the band reiterated that “Stuka Squadron is – and always was – an act.”
The group added: “It was intended to be shocking and un-PC at the outset, although this desire waned as it increased in popularity.
“The band is not intended to convey any political agenda and the band members have always represented a cross-section of political opinion.
“No band member has ever been affiliated to any extreme left or right wing movement, has or had any interest in or sympathy for extreme politics.”
The statement also claims “while numerous attempts have been made to divine hidden meaning” within the band’s lyrics, prior attempts to do so have been “futile”, with the words “based on in-jokes incomprehensible to outsiders”.
The statement closes with the band stating that the supposed humour in their costumes “has always been obvious” to both their audience and critics, describing “any current attempt to misrepresent the band’s intentions” as “spurious and cynical”.
Cushway has been approached by HuffPost UK for comment.