Into a world of hate
Review by Corinna Lotz
Homeland* is an uncomfortable read. In depicting the leaders and contours of far-right movements across many countries of Europe it is a serious bell-ringer about how they are cashing in on the discontents of globalisation.
The product of six year's work, Nick Ryan's odyssey took him across Europe, the United States and - almost - to the Middle East as he searched out shadowy figures and links between organisations. In particular, the book provides a sweeping look at the nature and global connections of the British ultra-right.
His story reveals, that despite varying histories, there are shared aims amongst the many different groupings he investigates. They include the Vlams (Flemish) Blok in Belgium, the Front National in France, Germany's NPD, Haidar's Austrian FPO Freedom Party and a variety of bizarre religious right outfits in the USA.
Commended by the International Federation of Journalists, Ryan gives first-hand accounts of his risky personal encounters with leaders of these groups.
The story begins in 1996 with a close look at Combat 18 (C18) which gained notoriety at that time, "promising a race war against 'invading' immigrants and a system they believed had abandoned working class white people." Its name is drawn from the numerical position of Hitler's initials in the alphabet.
C18 was active in recruiting street-hooligans in places like Essex, focusing on Europe's largest housing estate, Harold Hill, in Romford and the commuter town Chelmsford which has predominantly white working-class estates with discontented youth. In C18's scenario, Chelmsford would be part of a white "Homeland". The "vision" is close to the American far right paramilitaries, who believe "The System" is fixed against them and that they need to withdraw as much as possible from society to create a base from which to attack the state and its organs.
In the 21st century, Ryan shows, the rising electoral fortunes of the British National Party saw British fascism adopt a new "acceptable" image. From its thuggish, tattooed, skinhead look of the last century, it now has Cambridge-educated Nick Griffin as its leader.
The BNP has close ties with a variety of far-right organisations, including in the United States. Mark Cotterill, head of the American Friends of the BNP (AFBNP), for instance, has been building a network of white supremacist organisations in the US. His contacts stretch from the Identity movement, through to Holocaust deniers, and in the US KKK leader David Duke's network, Pierce's National Alliance and Pat Buchanon's Reform Party.
Ryan describes the "new" right's strategy as follows: "Get the media whipped into hysteria and they'll do the job for you. They love scare stories. The broadsheets more than most, preaching to their flocks of already converted."
The BNP have successfully followed this strategy, chalking up a big two-page spread in The Guardian and coverage by the mainstream media.
Ryan is excellent at describing the slithery Griffin, who is an anti-Semitic Holocaust denier and an admirer of the historian David Irving, but at the same time masquerades as an "anti-Zionist".
Under Griffin "the party has already begun to look for new voters among Britain's disenchanted communities". Farmers are a special target for recruitment and Griffin has also tried to create his own roads protest movement.
A picture emerges of how today's new formations have roots in older groupings based on racist, ultra-nationalist and fascist ideas. Over the last few years, they evolved in response to economic and political changes of globalisation, in particular the loss of credibility of traditional political parties.
Dissaffection and disillusionment with the decline of today's capitalist democracies is a common theme, running from "Old Europe" to the United States and Australia.
In particular, much of the ultra-right's appeal lies in its rejection of governments which they identify as "warped elected dictatorships", combined with the decline of local and national cultures under the impact of globalisation.
One of the most revealing chapters in Homeland is set in May 2001, in Belgium, the very heart of the European Union. The Vlaams Blok (Flemish Block) saw a sudden electoral success when one in three people in Antwerp, Belgium's second largest city, voted for it. The VB held 10% of Belgium's parliamentary seats as well as members in the Upper House (Senate).
After speaking to "suit-and-tie-fascist" Francis Van den Eynde, vice-president of the VF parliamentary party and MP for the town of Ghent, Ryan discovers that he is a former leader of Voorpost, an infamous, militant movement with links to groups in South Africa and other European extremist networks. "Some call it neo-Nazi", Ryan notes.
Van den Eynde tells Ryan: "Our first aim is to save our own identity. And that's the reason why we have problems with the immigration. We have no home rule, at all. …. In this time of globalisation and mongrelisation, we try to save our own identity. Everybody in the world, even when he is black or yellow, who is struggling to save his own identity, is our ally.
"This is the world of McDonald's and Coca-Cola. It is very important to be against globalisation. It's one of the major problems. Van den Eynde then goes on to say that "the 'One World philosophy' serves international capitalism."
There is a chilling similarity (and continuity) between the Belgian "fascists-in-suits", the German NPD and the "left wing" of Hitler's National Socialist Party, who denounced the world conspiracy of big finance.
Another VB leader is Dr Hermann Pol, a councillor in an Antwerp suburb. Pol is a former lifelong Conservative, who voted for the Christian Democrats. In the district he represents, 50% of the electorate voted for the VB.
So what's the main problem, Ryan asks. "Immigration. Uncontrolled immigration…," comes the reply.
Closer to home, Ryan highlights the political maelstrom in Britain under the impact of globalisation. On June 18, 1999 anti-capitalist protesters took the City of London police by surprise.
He notes that amongst the email-lists that expressed support for J18 was an organisation called "Final Conflict", whose parent organisation was the International Third Position, the BNP-leader-to-be's old affiliation.
In a thought-provoking account, Ryan outlines how the Reclaim The Streets protest group became extremely successful early in the 1990s, campaigning against the Tory government's roadbuilding programmes.
By the end of the decade, Ryan claims, "the old liberals and 'Greenies' were being shouted down, gradually pushed out at these meetings…. Since the hard left [including the Socialist Workers Party] and anarchists began taking over, the violence had increased and millions of everyday Britons - who should have been allies in battle against the excesses of big business, climate change, genetically modified crops and so on were excluded".
Thus political mis-leadership - and no doubt state infiltration - successfully isolated the J18 movement from possible future allies. Although Ryan does not touch upon this - a sequel to this book could be a study of links between the far right and the secret arms of the state such as MI5 and MI6, and what their role has been in the anti-capitalist movement. The decline of the May Day anti-capitalist movement continued beyond the Ryan's account. This year's May Day 2004 anti-capitalist protest was called off due to "lack of support" in a televised statement from the organisers.
The same bad fortune has not afflicted the BNP, however, as Ryan observes. Despite the Mirror's exposure of links between the London nail-bomber, David Copeland and former BNP leader John Tyndall, electoral successes in areas like Burnley, Oldham and Bradford have given the party increasing credibility. The forthcoming EU elections will be an indication of its progress.
Ryan deserves credit for going where few have gone before and giving an honest account of his experiences - courage under fire. He has done an undoubted service to all those opposed to fascism and racism in exposing the real nature of people and organisations who have chameleon-like qualities and hardly ever give a truthful account of themselves.
In seeking to make the book popular, Ryan has constructed it around thumb-nail sketches of people, places and events. But sometimes the very anecdotal quality misses the wood for the trees and it's hard to see the big picture. Undoubtedly this is connected with the rapidly-shifting and shifty nature of his subjects, but also a weakness in his approach.
Ryan tries to draw some conclusions from his long journey: "After my travels, I've seen how mean, twisted and introverted we can be. Can we offer no better than these puerile extremes of religion, ethnicity and political beliefs? Why do fear and hate rule so much of our lives - not just in the war zones I've seen, but here too?"
Racism and nationalism, based on fear and hatred of "outsiders" are not inherent traits of human nature. On the contrary, they are the legacy of Britain's Empire and the deliberate stoking up of racism under the new conditions of globalisation.
Traditional working class and Labour voting communities have seen jobs and conditions disappear and are abandoned by successive governments. New Labour's response is to deepen prejudice by stoking up anti-asylum sentiment. It was, after all, Home Secretary David Blunkett who used the infamous term "swamping" to describe the consequences of migration. New Labour has actually stimulated support for the BNP with its own racist policies.
2 June 2004
* Homeland, Nick Ryan. Mainstream Publishing £15.99