A Britain First banner at a protest against Lee Rigby's killers
We first brushed up against Britain First while making our documentary London’s Holy Turf War. Back then the British National Party (BNP) offshoot were content with harassing Muslims on the street, shouting stuff outside Anjem Choudary’s house and patrolling east London in military vehicles, talking to each other on walkie-talkies and pretending to be soldiers. However, over the past couple of months they’ve stepped up their efforts somewhat.
The group stood in last month’s European elections, extended their patrols past London and have started “invading” mosques, which basically involves a bunch of them walking into a Muslim place of worship, asking to see the imam, being told he isn’t there and leaving. But what you might be most familiar with is their Facebook page, which is approaching half a million Likes thanks to a dedicated social media team regularly posting very shareable stuff, like photos of cute army puppies and collages that pose the question: “Should we bring back public hangings for paedophiles and rapists?”
In fact, they now have such a visible public profile that someone has started a parody Facebook account under the banner “Palatable racism for ignorant Englanders” (and they even made it into their own little spot on British Channel 4 news last week). But for those of you who aren't up to date with the UK's newest far-right street team, here's a rundown of the Britain First top brass.
Britain First's Paul Golding on Brick Lane
As far-right leaders go, Paul Golding is both a standout and a bit of a disappointment. In many ways, his own story is simply that of his archetype in modern times: a background in the National Front and a graduation through the BNP. A military fetishist and arch bovver-boy, his big ham head and estuary accent don't mark him out in the slightest from the herds of angry young Pauls and Darrens who spend their weekends marching around depressed towns shouting about soft touch Britain.
But at the same time, Golding’s sense of himself as a martyr and a warrior gives him a certain self-propulsion that has nudged him up the ranks. He has a theatricality that a Tommy Robinson or a Nick Griffin never managed. He drives around town in an ex-Army desert-camo Land Rover, complete with roll cage and webbing up the windows. He wears tweed flat-caps and seems to view each of his many arrests as a personal Mandela moment. When we caught up with him for our documentary, he was going into his local police station to tear up his own bail agreement, just so he could enter London to attend an anti-Islam rally.
Once, Golding was a star pupil in Nick Griffin’s BNP – communications director and editor of the party magazine. But after 2010’s election disaster, Golding was part of an anti-Griffin faction that tried to take power of the party. When the palace coup failed, he resigned his Swanley local council seat before he could be sacked, before pushing off into the political wilderness.
Jim Dowson talking about Britain First standing for election
That's until he met another ex-BNP dissident on the make. If Golding is an archetype made flesh, then his partner Jim Dowson is the opposite – an unusual man to find propping up Team Bovver. A Scot, a lay-preacher, a fervent born-again Christian who made his home in Belfast, Dowson feels more like a journeyman grafter – a long-time kingpin of various get-rich-quick schemes who has stumbled onto an easy way to make a living by tapping into the most unfiltered fears of the simpler sections of society.
Classically, Dowson finds a cause. He latches onto it. He then jiggles the emotional joysticks until his subjects reach for the wallet. He’s the troll at the heart of Britain First’s bizarrely successful, hyper-emotive Facebook churn. His lay-preacher background allows him to laser in on the rawest of feelings very effectively; he had an anti-abortion "charity" at one point, then a "parental choice" one soon after. Then "Solas NI", set up as a “support group for troubles victims”, which reportedly received £130,000 (€163,00) from Government and European Union peace grants – until journalists started sniffing around and uncovered that it was being run from BNP offices, at which point it suddenly and inexplicably closed down.
It was his talents as a fundraiser that led Nick Griffin to create a special role for Dowson within his party. That – and his alleged links to loyalist paramilitary cells – affording him a gangster glamour that seems to have dazzled the BNP inner circle. For a while – like Golding – he was also a golden-boy, if not a well-liked one. All across the party, people began to mutter about dirty dealings and the hypnosis under which Dowson had laid The Dear Leader. Eventaully, Dowson was forced out, and began devoting himself full-time to opposing Griffin.
Our film about Britain First and the "Muslim Patrol", London's Holy Turf War
Dowson needed a frontman, Golding needed a money-man. Golding went to Belfast to raise some rabble during the 2012 Union Flag protests that Dowson was muscling in on. Britain First was born from that love-in. As a party, they’re a thoroughly logical stew of their ancestors, born of a dash of that proper old school hate-preaching, and advocates of the direct-drive, street level tactics of the EDL. They even have their own sexy uniform: a tweed flat-cap and green "volunteer jacket" combo that makes them look like an army of mosque-baiting Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstalls.
Dr Matthew Feldman is part of the far-right study group at Teesside University. He points out that every 25 years or so, the mould of the far-right gets broken. And Britain First have the winning model for our times – one that distinguishes between race and creed. They are the new captains of that "stand up to Muslim paedos" end of the dim right-wing, which is bang on trend for the new wave of far-rightism. The world has changed: even extremists now try to avoid being bracketed as racists, and Golding spends a lot of his time asserting that it is Islam he is "standing up against", not brown people generally. “Many Muslims are white,” he told Alex Miller, VICE UK Editor in Chief and presenter of London's Holy Turf War.
"The idea they would sell you is that there is presently a titanic clash between two civilisations, and that these two cannot co-exist long-term," Feldman suggests. Islamophobia is a push-button – you can point to actual things that are actually harmful: Sharia, 7/7, Rigby, Golding’s comedy nemesis Anjem Choudary. Hence why Britain First tried to get the words "Remember Lee Rigby" printed as their slogan on the ballot paper for the European elections – and nearly succeeded, until the Rigby family personally objected.
It's also how they originally gained traction, with their Christian Patrols – a response to the "Muslim Patrols" that Choudary’s Islamists had set up in Tower Hamlets, harassing prostitutes and hounding gays in order to impose their personal vision of purity. The Christian Patrol's response involved Golding and co pouring beer onto the pavement outside mosques and handing out Muslim paedo-awareness leaflets to passing Muslims, before walking up Brick Lane to warn bemused tourists and unamused locals about the menace on their doorstep.
Pro-Sharia preacher and Golding's nemesis, Anjem Choudary
As the momentum of those original patrols dissipated, Golding and Dowson clearly realised they had to up the ante. In London, Britain First activists filmed themselves harrassing Choudary – him driving off as a bunch of skinheads slapped the sides of his moderately-priced family car. In Bradford, they set upon the Lord Mayor, Khadim Hussain. Ten men arrived at his family home one Saturday, knocked on the door and demanded he let them in to discuss the eternally relevant subject of Muslim paedo grooming gangs, before doing the same to a local councillor.
Soon after, Britain First troops walked fully-shoed into mosques in downtown Bradford and tried to hand leaflets and Bibles to the imams. The same thing happened in Glasgow. They also entered the Bolton mega-mosque, before Golding posted pictures that tagged it as "reclaimed for Christ".
On their Facebook page, Britain First chalked up their incursions beyond the capital as a victory: “This is the first of many such operations that are due to be launched across Yorkshire against Islam," read the post. "The Yorkshire brigade is finally here and has ‘blooded’ itself in the most heavily Muslim town in Yorkshire.”
A photo of a mosque in Bradford that Britain First posted to their Facebook page
In terms of the future of the far-right, Britain First are still minnows. At the European elections, they peeled-off just 20,272 votes – slightly less than the Animal Welfare Party. And while their online army may seem impressive, on the streets they are made up of small wheezing crews of the same old bovver boys. But with the BNP financially knobbled and the EDL effectively beheaded, the splits and soap operas that drive the dynamic of their market could easily push support their way.
However, unlike Griffin – who at least maintained a studied blankness on Question Time, facing down a roomful of haters – Golding’s meaty face gives far too much away. In May of this year, for instance, he found himself on The Daily Politics, being grilled by Andrew Neil. There, Neil wondered why Golding had been photographed at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday, aged 16, with his National Front chums by his side and a pair of knickers on his head.
They flashed up a photo of Golding with a poppy on his chest and some pants covering his hair. His jaw fell. He looked agog. “Someone put them on my head for a joke,” he offered. “Then why are you walking down the street in them?” Neil replied. Another pause. “You’re not moving to take them off. You’re clearly walking there…”.
The conversation never quite recovered.
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