The new Searchlight publication, White Noise, promises to reveal the true history of the neo-nazi Blood & Honour movement. But does it? Joe Reilly explores.
To say I approached the new Searchlight publication, White Noise: inside the international Nazi skinhead scene, with a keen sense of expectation is an understatement. For two reasons. One, I wanted to see how they would deal with the rise and fall of Blood & Honour, while ignoring the Anti-Fascist Action role of nemesis in it. Secondly, it was part written by Nick Lowles. Lowles it was, who in July last year I publicly identified as a key member of the state-friendly Searchlight team.
At the time he was, you may recall, the 'mysterious journalist' whose identity according to former Leeds Anti-Fascist Action (AFA) organiser 'Simon', had for "security reasons", to remain kept secret - even from an AFA internal inquiry.
Initially the inquiry into Searchlight infiltration of AFA had been assured that Lowles had "only ever taken a couple of photos for Searchlight".
A mere nine months after being outed as a leading member of the 'Searchlight Team', in Red Action (June/July 98) Mr Lowles, has been introduced as the new joint editor of the Searchlight magazine. A meteoric rise by any standards.
And with Searchlight refusing to even publicly acknowledge AFA's existence from 1994 onwards, it was only natural to be curious to see how the combination of airbrush and story telling, would be accomplished.
Expecting the usual elaborate construct, where Searchlight are the centre around which all else revolves, it came as a surprise to find that they had taken the easy way out by sticking roughly to the facts. The facts, as they know them that is. White Noise (WN) even corrects the story deliberately fed to the media at the time, that it was Searchlight rather London AFA, that was the lone anti-fascist target of the Combat l8 letter bomb campaign in 1996. There are nonetheless glaring omissions. Particularly irritating is the cropping of pivotal events, that occur throughout. The final crippling of the Blood & Honour (B&H) operation as a serious recruitment/fundraising outfit is for instance dismissed in two lines. 'Badge Sales' which is described "as surviving" the campaign by "anti-fascists" against outlets selling fascist propaganda in Central London, was once it came to AFA's attention, WN omits to mention, forced to cease trading. Of the one successful operation directly attributed to Searchlight itself; the closing down of the "only public outlet for nazi CD's in Camden north London" WN is a little less than candid. Far from being "public" this was very much a tiny, word of mouth, under the counter type operation. It was moreover already under AFA surveillance. Searchlight's great achievement, in exposing it was to deny militant anti fascism a source of intelligence on the far-right, independent of them: in line with general policy, motivation enough.
Some obvious flaws are a natural consequence of producing a pamphlet without any direct involvement from the principle protagonists, but in terms of realpolitik the continued relegation of militant anti-fascism to a peripheral role is no accident. Even in WN where AFA is actually mentioned, it remains a case of being damned by faint praise. Pointedly, while the far-right leadership are routinely quoted, militant anti-fascists are never once allowed a speaking part. In the same way, whenever possible AFA's exclusive efforts are routinely awarded to the collective 'movement'. This long established custom and practice is a result of an abiding Searchlight obsession, that militant anti-fascism in particular, needs to be kept very firmly in it's auxiliary place. Or as the manipulative real estate agent in the film Glengarry Glenross, might have put it, militant anti-fascism must never be allowed to be seen "to close the deal". A small example is the 1987 march on the 'Prince Albert' pub in King's Cross, N. London, by "hundreds of anti-fascists". WN reports that "the landlord eventually gave in to pressure and the skins were forced to find a new venue."
The march itself, was planned by AFA, not as the culmination, but the opening shot in the campaign to force B&H out of the area. This 'long war' approach was adopted in recognition, that the pub's governor who admitted the fascist business was worth "£50,000 a year"
had no intention of giving up as a result of 'one poncy march'. WN is correct when it says 'the landlord eventually gave in'. 'Eventually' being the operative word.
After losing the 'Prince Albert' it took B&H a couple of years before establishing a new base of operations this time in fashionable Carnaby St smack bang in the West End of London. More significantly they were for the first time openly using two retail outlets, 'Cut-Down' and 'Merc M' to sell B&H merchandise.
In January of that year AFA launched a campaign, beginning with a press conference in the House of Commons, with, (it must be said) the cooperation of Searchlight. This was followed by a three hundred strong picket of the shops. WN reports "
that local Westminster councillors supported the protest and over 30 shop keepers added their signatures to a petition calling for the shops to stop selling Nazi propaganda."
Well yes, but what they neglect to mention was that many of these petitioners also sold fascist paraphernalia, Carnaby St having become as an AFA press release described it at the time "
the cultural centre for fascism in Europe"
, and the trade as a consequence extremely lucrative.
What is more, the one 'Westminster councillor' who joined the picket, and who was dispatched by AFA to collect the petitions was singularly unsuccessful, until some 'weight' was added to his canvassing team. His innocent delight in the spectacular turn round in attitudes, drew wry smiles from militants present. Within the month, as WN acknowledges; "
Cutdown closed it's premises in Carnaby St"
and also lost their pub "
which was shut down... as a result of Anti-Fascist Action pressure on the brewery."
(And not just on the brewery, or only on that pub either). Having moved to new premises in Riding House St, just off Oxford St; but by now under the cosh, literally and figuratively, B&H decided to go for broke. Just six weeks before the 'Main Event' London AFA were tipped off to it's significance by a contact in Belgium. A seven band line up, and a thousand tickets had already been sold in advance, AFA was told. Also provided was information on the re-direction point, but not the venue. As WN acknowledges: "
On both sides it was clear that more was at stake than just a concert."
with Blood and Honour promising their supporters that the "the Jews and the reds are going to be trashed by our international efforts."
In a fit of pique, the Searchlight report on May 27 omits to mention AFA at all, putting the absolute chaos and the considerable damage inflicted on the visiting fascists in Hyde Park entirely down to some "young students". Remarkably despite correcting this omission, though relegated to a walk on part, the fictional "young students" reemerge in the WN account.
Otherwise, while the WN description of the day is adequate, it concludes with a scene of "
anti-fascists a thousand strong marching out of the area in a triumphant mood to Trafalgar Square." What is not mentioned is a that the AFA 'Stewards Group' the architects of the victory were not with them. Instead they were busy trying to shake of a considerable number of plain clothes plod in and around central London. And with purpose. At dusk some hours later the Blood and Honour outlet in Riding House St was attacked by a large gang led by masked men armed with sledge hammers. Access to the building was quickly gained and the entire stock destroyed with acid. An eviction order against B&H was granted with immediate effect.
"Cut-Down Shut Down!" On the climax to the six month campaign WN is of course silent.
Much like the Main Event, the description in WN of 'The Battle of Waterloo' in October 1992 also ends in another rather abrupt 'anti-fascist victory': "
As more and more fighting broke out in the station and its immediate vicinity the police decided to evacuate the station signalling a victory for the anti-fascist movement as the Nazis meeting point was now closed." Fact is, the station closure merely set the scene for major clashes outside that lasted until dark. Not only was traffic stopped on Waterloo Bridge, but in addition to Waterloo, the neighbouring Charing Cross, and a number of smaller tube stations in the vicinity were also closed. As a sign at one succinctly put it "due to riots."
Oddly the WN emphasis on accrediting the victory to the 'movement' is in total contrast to the Searchlight report at the time, which was more than happy to acknowledge this major and singular AFA victory. Not only was the mobilisation by AFA only, but was directly off the back of another AFA event, a rain washed 'Unity Carnival' in Hackney a couple of weeks earlier. Neither the ANL, YRE, or ARA offered any support prior to Waterloo. ARA in fact claiming that they were unable to mobilise because "AFA could not guarantee their protection"!
Yet another example of unnecessary revisionism is the two line dismissal of the return to London of B&H in January 1994, when according to WN "anti fascists gave the authorities little choice but to cancel the event." In fact, while generally not as acclaimed, as either 'The Main Event' or the 'Battle of Waterloo' encounters, events around 'The Little Driver' pub in Bow, E. London proved to be the final nail in the B&H coffin. And as a by-product the beginning of the end for Cl8.
As soon as night fell a 150 strong AFA stewards group advanced on the pub. Initially, about 50 C18 emerged to do battle, but whether they were unnerved by a flare hitting a bridge overhead, or the 'Zulu' chant of the menacing mob, they broke ranks and were there for the taking. A complete rout was prevented, by the intervention of mounted and baton wielding police from a station opposite and the attack lost momentum. Leading C18 figures utterly humiliated, were seen begging for police protection, one even jumping unsolicited into the back of a cop's car in an effort to get out of the area.
As a result it was the last time B&H would even attempt to play in the capital. And worse everybody knew why. C18 after being brought into existence in 1991, to protect the far-right, were now shown to be incapable of protecting even themselves. It was probably not entirely a coincidence that within weeks of the debacle, the BNP choose to declare that "there would be no more marches meetings punch-ups". C18 meanwhile, clearly incapable of sustaining the media myth of invincibility (a myth carefully nurtured by Searchlight incidentally) began to turn inward on itself. For them, the gig, forgive the pun, was up. After The Little Driver the C18/B&H operation limped along only for a while, before ending in ignominy, betrayal and ultimately grisly murder.
This is not an analysis that WN shares. It concludes instead by lamenting, the failure of the "authorities to do more" particularly in Europe to halt the production and sale of CD's. With good reason it estimate "the White Power music scene internationally, remains a multimillion pound industry", and quotes a former C18 leader who estimates "their 20 CD's" alone brought in "almost £200,000 profit." But fundraising is not the raison d'etre as an authorative quote from the BNP's Spearhead points out: "Anyone who thinks that this scene is important primarily on account of the money it can generate has missed the point completely, what really matters, is it's power to catch the souls of thousands, and turn them into racial nationalists." Which means that for the contemporary fascists it remains a chicken and egg situation. To have a "scene" they must have gigs. To recruit, the gigs need to be open to the public. Being public demands advance publicity. This in turn requires the necessary logistical back-up to be on hand to deal with the inevitable opposition. A conundrum B&H, despite having on more than one occasion, as a result of advance sales, more than a thousand 'racial nationalists' at their disposal, were never able, because of AFA, to satisfactorily resolve.
Even when taking into account it's less than forthright account of the B&H rise and fall, the political summary in WN is quite ridiculous."While it is important that the police alone (RA emphasis) cannot halt the White Power music scene especially in areas where the skinhead image is dominant within youth culture, the authorities only seem willing to act when external pressure is forced upon them." 'Pressure' as has been chronicled, is undeniably key. And by definition 'a pressure group' applies pressure. But crucially a pressure group of itself, lacks that vital dynamic to act independently and create change on the ground. Instead in order to achieve its objectives it is obliged to either persuade, or manipulate, those with the capacity to apply the vital "external pressure".
As a pressure group par excellence, Searchlight is perpetually torn between hyping the threat of 'imminent criminal violence', while at the same time working feverishly to conceal it's own impotence. Conflict resolution is only ever really successful when the interests of the 'movement' become subordinate to the continued existence of the pressure group itself. While perhaps inevitable, it is also a rationalisation which leaves the dividing line between parasite an asset so narrow as to be subjective.
Thus while pressure groups might interpret the world, the point is to change it. And dissemble as it does, WN cannot quite conceal that reality. To paraphrase a famous Sun Headline: 'It woz AFA wot done it!'
Reproduced from RA Vol 3, Issue 6, April/May 1999