Yorkshire has just returned as its representative in the European Parliament Andrew Brons, a man who cut his political teeth in the National Socialist Movement. Yes, that’s right. National Socialist, as in sieg-heiling, formed-on-Hitler’s-birthday, send- them-all-the-gas-chambers, National Socialist.
In those days, Andrew Brons once overheard another NSM member discussing (as one does) bombing some synagogues. Brons himself equivocated over the plan. “I realise that he is well intentioned,” he explained to a third colleague, “[but] I feel that our public image may suffer considerable damage as a result of these activities. I am however open to correction on this point.”
Today, Brons seems to be more decided. In the recent elections, he campaigned for the British National Party, promising to seek Britain’s withdrawal from the EU. No mention of bombing synagogues — and no mention, either, of the slogans of the National Front, the organisation he led after his NSM days. In that capacity Brons distinguished with an arrest for breaching the peace for shouting “Death to the Jews” and “White Power” in a suburban shopping mall.
Brons’ election, along with that of the BNP leader Nick Griffin, came amidst a swag of successes for fascist and racist groups across the continent.
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In Hungary, Jobbik — or Movement for a Better Hungary — won 14.8 per cent of the vote, nearly trebling the result of the ruling socialists. Jobbik openly parades its members in the colours of the Arrow Cross, the party responsible for murdering Hungary’s Jews during the Second World War.
Slovakia saw the triumph of the Slovak National party, which honours the wartime leader Jozef Tiso, executed in 1946 after deporting between 60,000 and 70,000 Jews to concentration camps. In Austria, the combined vote of 17.7 per cent for the anti-immigrant Freedom Party and the Alliance for the Future of Austria came in the context of a resurgent neo-Nazi movement with which both groups have links, while in Denmark, the far-right Danish People’s Party won two seats with 14.4 per cent of the vote.
Geert Wilders — a man recently banned from Britain — was one of the biggest winners, with his Freedom Party moving into second place behind the Christian Democrats. Wilders group, unlike so many of the European rightists, has no historical association with Second World War-era fascist groups, and has built its profile almost exclusively out of bigotry against Muslims. Increasingly, that’s the model that others are following: toning down the anti-Semitism, ramping up the Islamophobia (and, in the east, racism against those forgotten victims of genocide, the gypsies).
Take, for example, the BNP.
It emerged from the wreckage of the old National Front, under the leadership of John “Mein Kampf is my bible” Tyndall: an unabashed, swastika-wearing Nazi, who regularly posed giving a casual heil to portraits of Adolf.
The BNPs fortunes changed in 1999, when Cambridge-educated Nick Griffin staged a palace coup. Now Griffin, also just elected to the European Parliament, came out of the National Front, too — here he is marching in a natty ‘White Power’ t-shirt. But as BNP leader, he championed a “boots not suits” road to fascism. “This is a life and death struggle for white survival, not a fancy dress party,” he explained. “A little less banner waving and a little more guile wouldn’t go amiss… As long as our own cadres understand the full implications of our struggle, then there is no need for us to do anything to give the public cause for concern.”
The cadre understood — and why wouldn’t they? Griffin was one of them. In 1997, he helped write a pamphlet entitled “Who are the mindbenders?”, an update of the old Protocols of Zion slander. The next year, he received a suspended gaol sentence for his writings about what he called the “Holohoax”.
Today, though, the BNP talks less about Jewish “mindbenders” and more about Islam, even supporting Israel’s military campaigns. The old anti-Semitism remains, inadvertently vented every now and then by some gormless BNP representative or another. But Griffin knows what he’s doing. “We should be positioning ourselves,” he said, “to take advantage for our own political ends of the growing wave of public hostility to Islam currently being whipped up by the mass media.”
And, as the recent poll shows, it seems to be working.
Yes, it’s possible to overreact to the electoral successes of Europe’s neo-fascists. Such groups are notoriously unstable (too many fuehrers, not enough footsoldiers) and they’ve blown plenty of previous breakthroughs. What’s more, the far right’s successes don’t seem to have come from an increase in the fascist vote so much as from a collapse of social democracy. In Britain, as Sunny Hundal points out, the BNP polled slightly lower than in the past and won seats only because their relative vote was higher, owing to the low turnout and Labour’s dismal showing.
Still, a million votes are a million votes. The BNP is now more popular than the Greens — and, whatever you think about the Greens, they don’t discuss the strategic merits of bombing synagogues. The organisation is now eligible for substantial cash subsidies in the form of salaries, staff and allowances for offices in Brussels and Strasbourg. There’s also the possibility of the fascists forming an official parliamentary bloc, which would give them more money and guaranteed speaking rights in the parliament chamber during debates and formal occasions. How might Griffin use such a platform?
Well, after the BNP won its first council seat in 1993, Griffin let the mask slip slightly. “The electors of Millwall did not back a postmodernist rightist party,” he explained, “but what they perceived to be a strong, disciplined organisation with the ability to back up its slogan ‘Defend Rights for Whites’ with well-directed boots and fists. When the crunch comes, power is the product of force and will, not of rational debate.”
You don’t need to be a historian of the Third Reich to know what he’s talking about.