The convictions of a food packer and a builder on charges of inciting racial hatred brings to 16 the convictions connected to far-right extremism in the past two years, as Simon Israel investigates.
Trevor Hannington, from South Wales, and Michael Heaton, from Lancashire, ran their own far right organisation which promised street action to help rid the country of minority communities.
Their Aryan Strike Force boasted 350 members. Its website had tens of thousands of postings, all messages of hate like urging the destruction of Jews, describing them as treacherous scum.
There were references to “chopping n****** legs off” and “kill the jew, burn down a synagogue today”. Heaton was found guilty on four charges charges, while Hannington admitted to four terrorism charges including distributing instructions on how to turn a water pistol into a flamethrower. Both were both found not guilty of soliciting to murder.
“These are neo-Nazis, pure and simple, and consider themselves really the most extreme versions of this ideological neo-Nazim that is new.” Dr Matthew Feldman
Dr Matthew Feldman, who runs the UK’s only research unit on new media and domestic extremism at Northampton University, was the prosecution’s key witness in this case.
He says “These are neo-Nazis, pure and simple, and consider themselves really the most extreme versions of this ideological neo-Nazism that is new.
“We have had some evidence, I believe, of activists from the ASF appearing on videos at the English Defence League marches and so forth.”
Rise in extremism
Dr Feldman believes this recent string of convictions of “lone wolf” cases and the creation of the English Defence League point to a resurgence of far right extremism.
He said: “In terms of what we might call small cell or lone wolf terrorists cases since 2008, but also other events in 2008 such as the successful election of two British National Party MEPs in the Yorkshire, Humber area, and in 2009 the creation of the English Defence League on the back of those protests by some radical Islamism groups against the return of Anglican soldiers.
“So I think there is a confluence of factors that do point to a resurgence in the far right.”
The two convicted today actually turned up at several of the EDL rallies and used their website to praise the EDL’s actions. Yet the EDL denies any links to these extremists organisation.
We asked for an interview with its organisers so we could put all our evidence to them. They declined.
“We have found no strong links between extreme groups like the Aryan Strike Force and the EDL.” Asst Chief Constable Anton Setchell
Does that mean EDL is infiltrated with those with a much more extreme agenda intent on more than just glorified football style violence? Police who monitor these events say no.
Assistant Chief Constable Anton Setchell, national coordinator for domestic extremism, told Channel 4 News that “we have seen some individuals from the far right on the margins of EDL organised events but these are only one or two individuals. We have found no strong links between extreme groups like the Aryan Strike Force and the EDL.”
Yet today’s guilty verdicts bring to 16 the total number of far right extremists who have been convicted over the past two years.
Among them were father and son Ian and Nicky Davison who were sent to prison last month for possessing the poison Ricin and for making and detonating pipe bombs. They were also co-founders of the Aryan Strike Force.
Dr Feldman says: “in groups like the ASF successor organisations we are seeing a group numbering in the few hundreds probably at the maximum.
“That’s a few hundred too many because these are not people who are far right activists for the BNP and knocking doors. These are people who may very well be considering a future as we saw in the Davison case undertaking terrorists.
In fact Heaton stated publically that as part of a “rites of passage” to join, potential recruits had to carry out a serious op, meaning a violent racist attack.
Report on racism
The Institute for Race Relations is about to publish a report, which Channel 4 News has had exclusive access to, mapping out 600 serious racist attacks in the UK last year.
Many have taken place in towns which have had influxes of a migrant workforce or asylum seekers. But it also hints at a correlation between attacks and pockets of extremism.
We found that of the 16 extremist convictions since 2008, two thirds come from towns which form a corridor across the north of England: Penwortham, south of Preston, to Leigh, west of Manchester, to Batley, to Selby, to Goole, to Grimsby, then further north to Elsdon and Durham.
“Those monitoring far-right extremists attribute the recent string of convictions to a combination of good police work, community relations and luck, rather than an increased threat.”
Privately, police sources have confirmed to us that their intelligence suggests the same. They admit there are some dangerous individuals, but overall the threat from right-wing extremists has hardly changed since the days of the nail bomber David Copeland, who killed three and seriously injured 79 people in three attacks, the worst at Soho’s Admiral Duncan Pub in 1999. It was the last time white supremacists were said to behind a bomb attack in the UK.
Those monitoring far-right extremists attribute the recent string of convictions to a combination of good police work, community relations and luck, rather than an increased threat.
But they say what has changed is their profile boosted by a combination of the numerous convictions and the tenor of EDL marches.