This article originally appeared on VICE UK.
When the annals of great chat-up lines are written, it's unlikely former BNP Youth spokesman Jack Renshaw will feature highly. On the evening of the 1st of July, 2017, he approached a girl in a nightclub in Warrington and told her: "I'm a terrorist."
He was telling the truth. Earlier that night, at the Friar Penketh Wetherspoons on Barbauld Street, he had spoken of his plan to use a machete to murder his local MP, Labour's Rosie Cooper. He would later testify in court that he had been "drunk and ranting" and that he'd "have probably talked to anyone that was there".
He may well have been drunk, but he was deadly serious. At some point during the previous month he'd spent £54 on a 19-inch machete, which he intended to use as the murder weapon. Even before that, in May, his search history showed that he'd googled the phrase: "cutting the jugular artery".
Renshaw said he believed that murdering Cooper would "send the state a message" – that message being: "If you beat a dog long enough, it bites" – and called his actions "white jihad". Asked in court why he chose Cooper as his stand-in for the British state, he said simply: "She happened to be my local MP."
Rosie Cooper was not his only intended victim. Renshaw also planned to take hostages after killing the MP so that he could lure Detective Constable Victoria Henderson to the scene. He had a vendetta against Henderson because she was investigating him for allegedly grooming children for sex, as well as several racial hatred offences. He told the jury that, unlike Cooper, the murder of Henderson "was personal".
After killing the two women, he planned to reveal a fake bomb vest. He imagined the day would end with his suicide by police. He hoped to die a martyr to the far-right cause.
Jack Andrew Renshaw was 22 years old when he made these plans. He had been born in Ormskirk, West Lancashire in 1995 and grew up a few miles east in the small town of Skelmersdale. His family had then moved to Blackpool, which was where Renshaw became infatuated with far-right politics. The seaside town had been a focal point for British nationalist groups for a number of years, particularly since the November 2003 disappearance of 14-year-old Charlene Downes, which had been blamed on a group of Arab fast-food shop owners.
He became a member of the EDL at the age of 15, although apparently quickly became disillusioned with them because they weren't antisemitic or homophobic enough for him. After meeting Nick Griffin at a Charlene Downes memorial, he joined the BNP – against the wishes of his parents.
Once he'd finished school in Blackpool, Renshaw headed to Manchester Metropolitan University to study Economics and Politics. It was during his first year as a student that he began building his reputation as a BNP Youth spokesperson, and he applied to start a BNP society as part of the Student Union. His application was rejected. "They don't allow fascist organisations apparently," he said later. "They won't let us, but we're going to try and do it anyway. Whether they like or not."
Renshaw achieved a sort of viral fame when, on the 12th of May, 2014, BNP Youth posted a video called "Fight Back", which has now been watched over half a million times. Renshaw appears in the video several times, opening the clip with this nonsensical rhetoric: "Fellow British youth, who is responsible for the ongoing attempt to eradicate the British culture and the British identity for the forced assimilation of different cultures and different peoples of our culture and our people resulting in the bastardisation of the genuine diversity that makes up the rich tapestry of humankind?"
A couple of months later, Renshaw went viral again in a more unexpected way. He posted a Facebook status which read in full: "I wish my dog would stop licking the penises of other male dogs. I love you, Derek (my dog) – but – don't challenge my principles because my principles will likely win." Naturally, he was mocked across YouTube.
By August of 2014 he had reached a high enough level of notoriety to be interviewed by The Tab. He used the opportunity to claim that the Facebook status about his dog had been "a joke. I have learnt my lesson, that's all I can say." However, he also used the opportunity to appeal for sympathy. "I've been spat at numerous times, and I've been shouted at on the street," he said. "Just people who know me. After the BNP video I had a lot of trouble. When I walked through Manchester, people shouted crap at me."
His own description of himself drew a portrait of an isolated, unsociable individual. "I'm not a big one for meeting new people," he said, adding: "I don't go out of my way to make friends. It's accidental. You talk to someone and you get to know them. I speak to some people at uni, like in lectures, and we get on. I don't go out [of] my way to socialise."
The people Renshaw did socialise with were likely to share his increasingly violent ideology. By the end of 2014 he was already writing virulently antisemitic blogs claiming that: "The Jew has declared war on our people and we should – and in time we will – return the favour."
As his views became more extreme, so did his party allegiance. By 2016, he had switched from the BNP to National Action, a group which was outlawed by then-Home Secretary Amber Rudd on the 16th of December, 2016 following their open support of Thomas Mair after he murdered Labour MP Jo Cox on the 16th of June that year.
Renshaw had been a public face of National Action, and on the 11th of January, 2017 he was arrested on suspicion of stirring up racial hatred. The charges related both to tweets he'd sent and to speeches he'd given around Yorkshire. At one, in March of 2016, he told his audience: "Now, the refugee problem is part of a bigger problem. It's a symptom of a disease. That disease is international Jewry. In World War Two, we took the wrong side. We should have been fighting the communists. Instead, we took the side of the communists and fought the National Socialists, who were there to remove Jewry from Europe once and for all. That's what the Final Solution was. Instead, we let these parasites live among us, and they still do."
It was during his arrest, in January of 2017, that Renshaw was interviewed by Detective Constable Victoria Henderson, alongside a male police officer. During the course of this investigation, police also discovered what they considered could be evidence on Renshaw's phone of grooming children for sex. Renshaw was arrested once again on the 19th of May, 2017, in relation to this second allegation, and once again the team investigating him included Henderson.
In July, the Criminal Prosecution Service belatedly decided to charge Renshaw with two counts of incitement to racial hatred related to the speeches he'd given. His court date was scheduled for the 2nd of January, 2018 (he was never charged in relation to the grooming investigation).
By that point, Renshaw was already hatching his plan to follow in Thomas Mair's footsteps. He wanted to kill an MP, and he wanted to have his revenge on DC Henderson. He had no intention of still being alive to stand trial.
Renshaw did not act alone: he had an audience, and he had supporters. On the night of the 1st of July, 2017, when – he has admitted – he spoke openly of his murder plot, he was reportedly in the Wetherspoons with a number of men who are alleged to be National Action members: 24-year-old Garron Helm from Seaforth, Merseyside; 24-year-old Matthew Hankinson from Newton-le-Willows, Merseyside; 33-year-old Andrew Clarke from Warrington; and 35-year-old Michal Trubini from Warrington.
Also present was 32-year-old Christopher Lythgoe, also from Warrington, who is accused of being the leader of National Action. He denies encouragement to murder, despite allegations that Renshaw sought permission from him to murder Cooper, and that Lythgoe granted it but then encouraged him to switch his target to Amber Rudd, calling Cooper a "nobody". Renshaw considered her to be too well protected, the court was told.
The jury at the Old Bailey also heard that: "Lythgoe advised Renshaw to destroy all of his electrical equipment before the attack, so the police could not link him to individuals. Lythgoe then gave him permission to conduct the attack, warning him: 'Don't fuck it up.'"
Fortunately, another person present at the Friar Penketh Wetherspoons that night in July last year was Robbie Mullen. A member of National Action himself, Mullen had been growing increasingly disillusioned and concerned about the extremity of the group since April. After learning about Renshaw's murder plot, he contacted Nick Lowles of the campaign group Hope Not Hate. Lowles in turn alerted Labour MP Ruth Smeeth, and after she had warned Cooper of the threat the police were called in to arrest Renshaw and round up the others.
If it hadn't been for Mullen’s intervention, there could very easily have been a second British MP murdered within two years. The trial against Lythgoe, Helm, Hankinson, Clarke and Trubini is ongoing. All five deny belonging to National Action, a proscribed organisation.
However, on the 12th of June, 2018, Jack Renshaw pleaded guilty to preparing an act of terrorism by purchasing a machete to kill. Renshaw said the plot "was on behalf of myself", not National Action, which he denied he was a member of. Nobody who has listened to him or watched his actions during his young life could claim to have been surprised. He is an example of a lesson we have repeatedly failed to learn in recent history. When people tell us who they are, we should believe them.