Aging skinheads were forced to flee East London last weekend after a gig that a load of neo-Nazis were expected to attend was cancelled by the mayor of Newham. Despite the fact that the show was called off, the venue—the iconic Boleyn Tavern that was "glamorized" by Elijah Wood in Green Street as a good place to get hit with a bottle after a West Ham soccer match—had its windows smashed in anyway, most likely by antifascists.
The fuss was over a skinhead party called Monsters of Oi, an event with no overt far-right agenda, but a suspicious amount of crossover with the underground white-power music scene—a soft front for something far more sinister. And this is nothing new. While antifascist groups have been rightly focusing their attentions elsewhere (on "political" groups, like the EDL and BNP), pubs across the UK have recently been playing host to boozed-up, sieg-heiling men holding guitars.
This particular lineup had a number of bands whose members have links to Blood & Honour, the neo-Nazi network launched by Ian Stuart (awkward acquaintance of Suggs and singer of Britain's seminal white-power act, Skrewdriver) to fund the far right in the early 90s. Not all of the bands on the original bill were Nazis, but a few former members of neo-Nazi pseudoterrorist group Combat 18 signed up on the Facebook guest list to really nail down that weekend bigotry.
What initially spearheaded the protestations against the gig, however, was the fact that the band IC1 (police code for "white male") were singled out as a fascist act, which spurred Unite Against Fascism into announcing a picket. Organizers offered to pull IC1 from the lineup, but were forced to flee entirely when things started getting smashy.
There are a couple of reasons to explain this resurgence in so-called Rock Against Communism (RAC) gigs. First, the EDL and their various splinter groups have returned to the fascist marches of a much simpler, much more racist time. This has reinvigorated many of the original boneheads and inspired a younger generation to shave their heads and spout misguided political rhetoric that they don't really understand. Secondly, the collapse of the organized far right over the last two years has seen fringe neo-Nazi groups grow to double-digit membership for the first time in over a decade, helped by an influx of Eastern European skinheads.
Militant antifascists stopped paying so much attention to the white-power skinhead scene in the mid 90s, instead choosing to focus on the BNP, whose move toward becoming a respectable political party after they parted ways with Blood & Honour was seen as a more significant threat than a bunch of thugs shouting about rights for whites in a country that awards its best rights to whites.
Battle of Waterloo, 1992.
Blood & Honour were shamed off the streets after the Battle of Waterloo in 1992, when Anti Fascist Action tore into a few hundred young fascists looking for the redirection point for a huge Blood & Honour gig. The next year, their leader, Ian Stuart, died when a car he was driving mysteriously stopped functioning and crashed (rumors have pointed to antifascists, though no one has ever taken responsibility). His death spawned a morbid global personality cult for disgruntled white men who can't play their instruments, but it left the movement without a figurehead.
That left Britain's fascists with a tricky choice: go straight or go harder. It was either donning a suit alongside the BNP and pretending your views were a legitimate political action, or remaining a member of Blood & Honour, who quickly tightened their ranks, withdrew from the streets and became extremely secretive.
The Blood & Honour scene still exists, holding secret gigs several times a year and a taciturn ISD memorial every September, a large gathering to mark the anniversary of Ian Stuart’s death. Mind you, last year's ISD memorial wasn't that much of a secret, after one member of the master race geotagged his photos to reveal they'd been in a field in Loversall, South Yorkshire. Worryingly, but not particularly surprisingly, some attendees claimed to be members of the armed forces.
In recent years, Steve Jones’s white-power thugs, English Rose, have led the way in rebranding neo-Nazi rock as “patriotic oi,” relaunching his band as Tattooed Mother Fuckers. It's the same terrible music, same use of swastika-like rune symbols, and the same sieg-heiling saluting in the crowd, only the lyrics now stop about a pube's length short of calling for a race war.
Nazi salutes at a Tattooed Mother Fuckers gig.
IC1 may have been the only band to be kicked off the bill, but also listed to play were Last Orders and Citizen Keyne, who've both been perfectly happy to share lineups with Tattooed Mother Fuckers in the past. It's a small scene and the line between supposed patriots and outright extremists is paper thin. Another skinhead band called Pressure 28 regularly plays alongside many of the acts billed to play Monsters of Oi, and their singer, Kevin Gough, a BNP and C18-linked soccer hooligan, was in attendance. Also present was Kevin Watmough, founder of the vile Redwatch, a website where pictures of fascist targets are posted with requests for their names and addresses.
Obviously not everyone involved in the scene is a rabid nationalist, but many of the bands are flirting with dangerous ideologies and a blind eye is clearly being turned to the presence of Combat 18 members. In 2011, some punks started a campaign called “Get Off the Fence” to challenge people's complacency as Blood & Honour began to infiltrate the punk scene. They created a blog, No Retreat, to investigate and expose the groups' links.
Welsh band, Waredigaeth—banjo-playing, dungaree-wearing extremists.
Blood & Honour hold underground events almost every month now—their first gig of 2013 was on the 28th of January and involved a secret redirect point in central London to throw off anyone thinking of ruining their fun and a mobile number everyone had to call to be vetted for attendance. The event took place a week before anarchist bookshop Freedom Press was firebombed in what some have suggested could have been a settling of old scores by Combat 18.
This weekend, Blood & Honour Yorkshire are hosting the Viking Fest with Czech fascists Cirhoza 88 traveling to play alongside Britain’s Section 88. The 88 is a “secret Nazi code,” translated as HH or Heil Hitler. On March 9th Blood & Honour Wales will commit the musical equivalent of epilating your eardrums by hosting banjo-playing extremists Waredigaeth, along with other acts from around Europe.
Even more excitingly (if you're a racist scumbag), Golden Dawn-linked Greek black metallers Der Sturmer are going to the UK in May to play a gig at a secret location outside of London. The mobile number from the poster leads to a far-right activist involved in a feud with the EDL, so if you're into picking up tips from foreign fascists and waiting to watch fights unfold between different factions of idiots, this is your night.
The rather transparent soft sell that these guys are "patriotic oi" bands is unlikely to keep fooling people for long. As such, clashes between fascist skins and their left-wing opponents are probably going to become far more common. But, in essence, the quickest way to take a hammer to the root of the problem is to educate promoters into sidelining extremist bands, leaving no platform for their scene in the world outside the fusty back rooms of their regular drinking holes.
Follow Brian on Twitter: @brianwhelanhack