Neo-Nazis on the march as up to 10 extremists infiltrate army
A key activist is helping to plant members of highly organised far-right groups in the military, sparking calls for tighter vetting.
A senior neo-Nazi activist has helped up to 10 members of far-right organisations infiltrate the British Army, it was claimed this weekend, amid plans to overhaul the security vetting of new recruits.
Hope Not Hate, an anti-extremist group, claims that a former student who is a leading member of National Action, a banned far-right organisation, has encouraged and helped other young activists apply to become soldiers.
“He is National Action’s link man to the army,” said Matthew Collins, head of research at Hope Not Hate. “National Action trust him to help people get into the army. We think that maybe 10 attempted to join the army in the last two years.”
The revelation will fuel fears that cells of far-right extremists are operating in the army’s ranks. It comes after four British soldiers and a civilian were arrested last week on suspicion of being members of National Action, which was banned in December for promoting acts of terrorism after the murder of the Labour MP Jo Cox last year.
Three of the servicemen arrested were from the Royal Anglian Regiment and the fourth was from the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers. Two of the five people arrested, both aged 24 and from Northampton and Ipswich, have been released without charge, police said today.
The arrests have shone a light on the army’s vetting procedures, amid claims that not enough attention is being paid to the background of recruits. The arrests also raise fears that the army’s urgent need to recruit more soldiers could make it easier for extremists to join up.
“We take quite a broad church in the army,” one former commander said this weekend. “In my regiment we had all sorts of people, with all sorts of views.”
Military sources say most army recruits are subjected to less intrusive vetting than their counterparts joining the RAF and Royal Navy, who are more likely to undergo a regime of detailed background checks called “developed vetting”. This is because sailors, submariners and airmen are more likely to handle classified information or use sensitive military kit.
Last week’s arrests will become a “catalyst” for adopting more stringent vetting procedures in the army, one military intelligence source said.
“Until now, the most basic clearances are done for most of the people in the army and those joining. It’s been on the army’s agenda for a while . . . but it all comes down to resourcing.”
The source said more soldiers and recruits were likely to undergo the second-highest level of four clearances, known as a security check, in which their background is vetted by MI5.
The Sunday Times has learnt the identity of one far-right extremist, who is believed to have infiltrated the army in 2015.
Researchers at Hope Not Hate found a far-right activist claiming on Facebook in October 2015 to be undergoing “phase one” army training. In March 2016, he told friends that Gibraltar barracks in Camberley, Surrey, where soldiers from the Royal Engineers are trained, would be his home for a “few months” and that he was “definitely up for some activism [in] London or down south”. Another far-right activist, apparently concerned that he was giving away too much information, urged him to remove the post.
The individual’s Facebook profile, which has since been taken down, showed that he was friends with Alex Davies and Benjamin Raymond, the two founders of National Action, and Garron Helm, a neo-Nazi from Liverpool. Helm was jailed for four weeks in 2014 for sending anti-semitic tweets to the Labour MP Luciana Berger.
The Facebook page included photos of far-right extremists giving Nazi salutes, and one of his posts, written in November 2015, stated: “Guess I can still smile seeing the uniforms ripped from the dead at Auschwitz.”
The soldier also appeared to have a profile on VK, a Russian social media site popular with neo-Nazis, which included pictures of a National Action demonstration in York in May last year. In April last year, a picture of Adolf Hitler was posted on the VK page to mark his 127th birthday. “Once the leading figure and now the foundation for our people to step up and fight back. Adolf Hitler, the greatest man in history,” he wrote.
The army declined to comment on the individual this weekend.
His online activity exposes a level of organisation that will alarm army officers attempting to weed out far-right extremists from their ranks. Western white supremacists and far-right extremist groups have increasingly gravitated to VK, also known as VKontakte, to escape a crackdown by Facebook on racial hatred.
Like Islamist extremists, far-right activists are also increasingly using encrypted apps, such as Telegram, to communicate with each other. The soldier’s Facebook page shows him discussing sending messages via Tutanota, an encrypted email service in Germany.
“This group [National Action] is far more sophisticated than the police understand,” said Collins, a former member of Combat 18, a far-right group that operated in the 1990s. “They dump Facebook profiles and they start again under new names, which they communicate to each other offline. They also religiously dump their telephones.”
As well as their vetting of recruits, the armed forces face questions about their ability to identify serving personnel who either become radicalised or espouse extremist ideologies.
Last week’s arrests follow the conviction in July of Ciaran Maxwell, a 31-year-old Royal Marine who made bombs for dissident republicans.
Maxwell, who was brought up as a Catholic in the mainly loyalist town of Larne, Northern Ireland, was jailed for 18 years after stashing anti-personnel mines, mortars, ammunition and pipe bombs in 43 caches in England and Northern Ireland.
In 2014, Ryan McGee, 20, a soldier who was obsessed with far-right politics, was jailed for two years for making a nail bomb at his family’s home in Greater Manchester.
Matthew Feldman, a professor of contemporary history who has advised the police and prosecutors on far-right terrorism, warned about the spread of extremist ideology within the army.
“It’s learning the ability to fight, train with lethal weapons and even IEDs [improvised explosive devices] — things no one should want in the hands of potentially violent extremists.”
The Ministry of Defence said: “The armed forces have robust measures in place to ensure those exhibiting extremist views are neither tolerated nor permitted to serve. For security reasons we cannot comment on our vetting process.”
A WHO’S WHO OF THE FAR RIGHT
MI5 and police believe the threat posed by the far-right in Britain is greater now than at any other time in recent years, writes Dipesh Gadher.
The first neo-Nazi group to be proscribed by the Home Office as a terrorist organisation last December. Formed by two university students in 2014, it championed Thomas Mair, who killed the Labour MP Jo Cox in June last year, and adopted his rallying cry in court — “Death to traitors, freedom for Britain” — as its slogan.
Only believed to have 80 to 100 members, it has disproportionate reach and influence on social media, using hashtags such as #hitlerwasright.
Supporter Zack Davies, 28, was jailed for life for the attempted murder of a dentist of Asian descent in north Wales in September 2015.
Set up by Paul Golding, a former BNP activist. Members have targeted mosques and Muslim areas in a series of publicity stunts , including so-called “Christian patrols” in Luton and east London.
English Defence League
Once the biggest far-right grouping, the EDL splintered into bickering factions after Tommy Robinson, its founder, stepped down as leader and quit the group.