The Anti-Fascist Research Group Exposing Britain’s Neo-Nazi Threat

The leader of Patriotic Alternative congratulates supporters when they 'welcome white babies into the world'.

by Simon Childs

10 January 2023

Patriotic Alternative leader Mark Collett on a walk with supporters. Photo: Red Flare
Patriotic Alternative leader Mark Collett on a walk with supporters. Photo: Red Flare

On the website of the fascist political party Patriotic Alternative (PA), a doomsday clock ticks down relentlessly to the time when “native British” people are apparently going to become a minority in the UK.

PA’s programme includes “a complete halt to all immigration” unless under “exceptional circumstances”, which include “people with a shared ethnic and cultural background who can prove British ancestry.” Articles on its website discuss the “voluntary repatriation” of ethnic minorities.

But these far-right views on migration and nationalism are just the soft-sell of an even more extreme politics, according to anti-fascist research group Red Flare, which has been exposing what they see as a neo-Nazi group.

“Their politics are more extreme than you might be led to believe if you just looked at their public output,” says Red Flare researcher Kit. Private chats for PA supporters on Telegram from 2020 seen by Novara Media show sympathy for Hitler, repeated use of racial slurs, and veneration of convicted Holocaust denier Ursula Haverbeck.

PA pushes a message about “demographics”, which experts say is a thin cover for the far-right conspiracy theory the “great replacement” – a conspiracy theory which has inspired a number of terrorist attacks.

The group does not call for violent action, in fact its code of conduct forbids it. Instead it casts itself as a traditionalist, conservative group engaging in communal activities like litter picking and homeless outreach. But Red Flare researcher Sam warns that its rhetoric, “frames the plight of white people in these kind of urgent, existential, even quite apocalyptic terms – that white people are facing extinction and that this is an issue of self-defence. This is the kind of language and rhetoric that you see used to justify terrorist atrocities and genocides.”

PA is led by Mark Collett, a former organiser with the BNP who was profiled in the 2002 Channel 4 documentary Young, Nazi and Proud, in which he voices his sympathy for Nazism. In his 2017 book, The Fall of Western Man, he writes that National Socialism is “an ideology of discipline and order that seeks to establish a perfect homogenous society that is centred on national unity.” He also writes that there is “hysteria that surrounds the holocaust” which is used to promote “white guilt” and therefore undermine the “western Man”.

PA represents an attempt to try and revive the British fascist movement as a political force following the downfall of the BNP.

The changing face of the far right.

Despite its rhetoric, you might not have heard of PA. Until fairly recently, far-right activity in the UK has been a noisy, public affair. From 2009 until around 2020, Tommy Robinson held rowdy, Quran-burning rallies of thousands in towns across the country. First leading the English Defence League (EDL) and later as a solo operator having abandoned the group, he became the unacceptable, hooligan face of the Islamophobia that was rife in the respectable rightwing press.

While Robinson and the EDL certainly had an impact on the public discourse (David Cameron was accused of handing the EDL a coup when he criticised multiculturalism on the day of a rally), there was no clear strategy beyond a repetitive pattern of rallies ending in violence, and finding new reasons to ask supporters for donations. Robinson faced a string of legal battles, including losing a libel case against Jamal Hijazi, a Syrian teenager who he defamed. In June 2022 he told a court that he had spent £100,000 on gambling and wasted thousands on “drink, alcohol, partying” before declaring himself bankrupt.

PA is both less stupid and more extreme. While the EDL was racist, it was essentially a group of far-right reactionaries barking at Islamophobic dog-whistles. PA is more explicitly concerned with ethnicity and has a more coherently racist politics. On a recent livestream, Collett congratulated a PA supporter who had just had a child for “welcoming more white babies in the world”. PA’s website includes a curriculum for parents who want to home-school their children with a more ethnocentric education.

In his 2022 northern conference speech, Collett said, “There is a phrase that many people in our movement love and it states that we must not just secure an existence for our people but we must also ensure a future for our children” – paraphrasing the 14 words which originated in the US neo-Nazi terrorist group The Order.

“PA is obviously Islamophobic, they’re antisemitic, they’re misogynist, they are ethno-nationalist – racist to the extreme. We refer to them as fascist and neo-Nazi and these are accurate descriptors of their politics,” says Sam.

PA appears to be a little more savvy, too. While the EDL was publicity hungry, it is largely thanks to the work of Red Flare and other anti-fascist researchers that we know much about PA at all.

While the group has done a number of attention-grabbing stunts, it operates somewhat secretively – often blurring the faces of activists on publicity photos – and focuses on community-building activities such as walks and gaming sessions.

These activities are aimed at bringing in new converts and “radicalising them, rather than throwing people straight into more or more explicitly political activity,” says Kit.

One such event was a walk held at Mam Tor in the Peak District in 2021. Red Flare found out about the event and photographed the attendees. Pictures show dozens of walkers, some of them carrying the flags of English regions through the rugged landscape. One wears a pith hat and carries a union jack.

James Owens, aka "The Ayatollah", on a Patriotic Alternative organised walk with other supporters. Photo: Red Flare
James Owens, aka “The Ayatollah”, on a Patriotic Alternative organised walk with other supporters. Photo: Red Flare

One of those pictured is “the Ayatollah”, a PA supporter, one of Britain’s most prolific far-right YouTubers, unmasked as 37-year-old former sports journalist James Owens. Owens identified himself as Ayatollah to a Red Flare infiltrator at a PA event, and on a podcast he talked about a Hawaiian shirt he was wearing to another event that was being filmed by Red Flare. (Owens told Novara Media: “I’m an autistic bloke using a broken laptop to stream to live audiences which rarely get into three figures.”)

An anti-fascist winter walk.

As PA grows, Red Flare is trying to expand the reach of its anti-fascist intelligence operation.

On a crisp, clear day this autumn, from the top of Mam Tor, views of the green, rolling countryside of the Hope Valley were only interrupted by the Hope Cement Works – Britain’s largest, dating back to 1929. In these Miltonian surroundings, Red Flare organisers were training a new cohort of researchers.

The set-up was this: a small group of people had agreed to go on a walk through the countryside, as groups of PA activists had done before. Red Flare trainees were in the area and had been given a limited amount of internet-accessible information about the walkers – one picture from social media for each person – exactly what you might be able to find if you were tracking some real fascists. Using this information, the trainees were to identify the pretend-PA walk and take pictures of the walkers. In a real-life scenario, this information would then be used to verify the identities of PA supporters and potentially expose them.

“We’re not really interested in people being criminalised for what they think or what they’re saying,” says Red Flare researcher Chris. “But we do think if you’re going to advocate for fascism, people have a right to know who you are and what you’re doing.”

Slowly, through painstaking research, a picture of PA’s strategy and membership is emerging.

Sam says: “On the one hand, there is a new generation of people that have been radicalised online by the ecosystem of fascist content creators in which Mark Collett is embedded” – during Covid, Collett had a weekly streaming programme discussing the news from an ethno-nationalist perspective.

“But it’s also drawing people away from groups like the EDL. It’s bringing former members of the BNP and the National Front back into the fold. In a couple of instances, we’ve seen people that were formerly involved in groups like Generation Identity – another ethno-nationalist group.

“It’s become the hegemonic group on the new British ethno-nationalist far-right. We’ve seen people of all ages, all kinds of walks of life, middle-class, middle-aged business owners, things like that. It’s not just some 4chan neckbeards.”

It’s doubtful that even PA activists believe they could mimic the electoral success of the BNP, which got two MEPs elected at its zenith in 2009. The group’s attempts to be registered as a political party have been rejected by the electoral commission four times.

“They badge themselves up as having aspirations to be an electoral party, but I think a lot of the membership don’t actually believe that there is a democratic route to power for them. They’re using it as a cynical vehicle for publicity.”

However, Red Flare considers PA to be dangerous nonetheless. “If the far right is ideologically educating its supporters [and] is developing a cadre of activists, that in and of itself is a real threat. That’s going to lead to harm being brought upon ethnic, sexual and religious minorities and activists around all sorts of different issues,” says Sam.

Patriotic Alternative supporters on a walk holding British regional and national flags. Photo: Red Flare
Patriotic Alternative supporters on a walk holding British regional and national flags. Photo: Red Flare

Trouble with the nativists.

As PA builds a base of support, it is also experimenting with trying to create a parallel economy, to insulate supporters from losing out financially if they’re exposed as neo-Nazis.

PA deputy leader Laura Towler made headlines in 2020 after Yorkshire Tea tweeted “please don’t buy our tea again” at her, in response to Towler tweeting: “I’m dead chuffed that Yorkshire Tea has not supported BLM”, following the killing of George Floyd. Towler now runs her own tea company, selling over-priced, anti-woke tea bags.

In 2020 Red Flare exposed PA London regional organiser and former Lib Dem candidate Nick Hill, tracing him to a house in Catford, south London, which he described as a self-sufficient “ethno village”, growing food and making wine in a trial of a whites-only enclave. Hill was pictured at a PA walk in Kent in 2020 with convicted child sex offender James Shand. Hill’s lodger was the pseudonymous “Nativist Concern”, co-host of The Absolute State of Britain podcast which described itself as “Britain’s most racist podcast”. Hill did not reply to Novara Media’s request for comment.

The fear is that PA supporters will not be content with hiding away in fantasy whites-only enclaves for long.

“At some point, some of [PA’s supporters] are going to get sick of having fucking meetings and doing litter picking and hikes and want to take action. So I think Collett has got quite a difficult task to keep a lid on this stuff,” says Sam.

People associated with PA have been in trouble with the law. Kris Kearns ran Fascist Fitness classes for Collett. Kearns, 37, known as “Charlie Big Potatoes” for his muscular physique, is currently awaiting trial at the Old Bailey facing two charges of disseminating terrorist material, having been extradited from Spain.

PA appears to be careful about the possibility of being banned, as happened to another UK neo-Nazi organisation, National Action. The group previously took down a podcast over fear that it would get it proscribed, according to Australian neo-Nazi Thomas Sewell, a guest on the podcast. In Scotland, PA has been the subject of an email exchange between the Scottish government, Police Scotland and the counter-terrorism strategy Pursue.

However, Red Flare doesn’t trust the state to take the problem seriously. “The state is only willing to intervene over a certain threshold, which is far above what we should be concerned about,” says Sam.

What’s wrong with counter-extremism?

The anti-fascist group is also critical of an approach that sees all forms of “extremism” as equal evils needing to be dealt with by state repression.

“There’s a tendency to view all forms of radical politics that fall outside of the political mainstream as if they were equivalent,” says Sam. “So you see this now where labels of extremism are being applied to groups like Just Stop Oil and Extinction Rebellion. The same kind of policies that have been developed to counter hate speech are going to lead to laws to shut down these groups and to hit what should be their democratic right to protest.”

“A lot of centrist counter-extremism organisations are happy to feed the machine of political repression without taking a second to think, ‘oh, this might fuck over groups that are not doing hate speech’.”

“Fascism is created because of social inequalities,” says Chris. “If you want to stop fascism from growing, you need to tackle those root causes, rather than just trying to legislate against it.”

In the meantime though, the group is intent on exposing more neo-Nazis. “Most members of PA are too cowardly to be open in their personal lives about their racist views,” says Kit. “As part of halting the growth of the far right, we believe it’s important to make racists take responsibility for their political activity and for their spreading of racial hatred.”

When approached for comment about this article, PA deputy leader Laura Towler did not reply to Novara Media’s specific questions about the PA’s politics.

Collett replied to our request for comment saying PA is a “community-based campaigning group that stands up for the interests of the indigenous British people and campaigns against their ongoing replacement” and that “we do not subscribe to the same thought policing as liberals do”.

“I make no apologies for congratulating white couples for having babies,” he said.

Simon Childs is a commissioning editor and reporter for Novara Media.

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