The neo-Nazi group that James Fields marched with in Charlottesville before running over a group of anti-fascist protesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring about 20 others, has a UK chapter.
Before driving his Dodge Challenger into the crowd, Fields was pictured holding a shield with the black and white Vanguard America logo, and was wearing their uniform of a white polo shirt and tan slacks.
Vanguard America is about a year old. It's one of a number of new far-right organisations that have sprung up in the political space that the so-called "alt-right" has opened up by normalising racist discourse. Its membership is only open to people of white European heritage. Obese men are also barred, and the group tries to present a preppy image, which is why they all end up looking like suburban golf dads. Despite appearances to the contrary, the group said that Fields was not a member.
"Vanguard Britannia" – the UK chapter – was formed in June, using a similar visual language as its American counterparts. It claims to stand for British people while spreading anti-Semitic and Nazi propaganda and memes involving Oswald Mosley, the leader of the British Union of Fascists (BUF).
If that sounds appealing, then be aware that not just anyone can join. Their membership specifies, among other things, "You must be at least 90 percent White/European", "No homosexuals, transsexuals, miscegenators, or any other sexual degenerate. No hand, face or neck tattoos. Physically fit, or willing to become so. No lifestyle choices that do not reflect the values of the group." I've made it a lifestyle choice to not be a dry-dick Nazi with no friends so I guess that counts me out.
The group makes a poor attempt at mimicking the internet-savvy aesthetics of groups like National Action – noted for its propaganda, which was as slick as it was disgustingly racist, before it was proscribed as a terrorist organisation. Vanguard Britannia uses the BUF's lightning motif quite a lot, which means one of its logos is a lion with what looks like a Ziggy Stardust lightning bolt over its eye.
Nostalgia for the British Empire seems to be a really big deal for them (or just "him"; it's not clear that this isn't just some epic weenie sat in his room and, like, maybe, one friend). Its slogan is "when the sun sets, we must rise", a reference to the British Empire's demise. The group's main activity so far has been to produce propaganda videos, the first of which is a montage of British war scenes from films depicting different eras of the Empire. Weirdly for something with links to a right-wing American organisation, this includes scenes from The Patriot, about the American War of Independence.
Another video is a super-saturated mash up of more war films, like Zulu featuring Michael Caine, who is yet to make his feelings on the group known, interspersed with a speech by Oswald Mosely. It ends with "White revolution is the only solution" written in a pixelated font. The group's videos are set to synth music; this, and the washed-out aesthetic, are an example of "fashwave" culture, something they make reference to on their Twitter account.
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In July, Vanguard Britannia flyers popped up in Arbroath, Scotland, and the local Courier newspaper reported how "furious" locals "took matters into their own hands" and tore them up. The posters suggested that Jews are responsible for immigration in order "to replace you" – a phrase similar to the sinister "Jews will not replace us" chant used by far-right protesters in Charlottesville. Another Vanguard Britannia poster says, "What made Britain great? Blood and Soil." Blood and Soil is another Nazi slogan that was chanted in Charlottesville.
They also flyered Eastleigh and Winchester, in Hampshire. They made a video about it, set to the music of Blink 1488, which, if you know anything about far-right nomenclature, is exactly what it sounds like: Nazi covers of Blink 182 songs.
Vanguard Britania has now distanced itself from Vanguard America. A disclaimer on its website reads: "Vanguard Britannia does not condone lawlessness, but for us the highest law is the survival of our blood. We are no longer connected to Vanguard America due to leadership issues. This is not due to the false flag attack at Charlottesville that has been associated with VA."
So just so that everyone's clear: they didn't disavow Vanguard America because of its alleged links to what some are calling an act of domestic terrorism. Instead, it's because of beef within the leadership.
"False flag" means the group is into conspiracy theories. In this case, they may think the state or another shadowy organisation carried out the attack in order to discredit the far-right. Good to see they're carrying out a venerable Nazi tradition of having no grip on reality.
In a further statement on Twitter, it is explained that anyone who still stands with the leadership is "simply a faggot". The statement refers to a former leader, "Dillon", who has been reported as Dillon Hopper, a former US marine and veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The new leader that Vanguard Britannia dislikes is called "Thomas".
One commenter on a neo-Nazi forum who claimed to know the Vanguard Britannia leader was dismissive, describing him as, "Some kid who fancies himself a National Socialist but can't get off his arse to join an organisation despite being in every opportunity to," and a "Fascist Fetishist" who "Has a collection of German WW2 uniforms."
The idea of a frivolous fetishist contradicts how seriously Vanguard Britannia appears to take itself. Either way, there's no mistaking the extreme racism of the message they promote, and in Charlottesville we saw what that can result in.