INTRODUCTION by Larry O'Hara
While the British National Party (BNP) is by far the most significant fascist group in the UK today, in 1995 the far right group attracting most interest was the violent neo-Nazi 'Combat 18' group, headed by Charlie Sargent and Wilf Browning. For those who don't know, the numbers 18 correspond to the first letter of the alphabet (A) and the eighth (H), meaning 18 is an abbreviation for the initials of Adolf Hitler. In 1997, C18 shattered into fragments following the fatal stabbing of Nazi activist Chris Castle by Charlie Sargent & Martin Cross. For a period (and even today in imitation/on the internet) C18 exercised an influence--on the far right and elsewhere--far out of proportion to its numbers.
The article below (which first appeared in Lobster magazine issue 30 December 1995 p.28-29) was a contemporary attempt to make sense of developments. It is still pertinent today, for a number of reasons. First, being online it allows me to correct the simplistic impression given on Wikipedia that I believe C18 was 'created' or 'run by' the secret state--my interpretation is more subtle than that. Secondly, with time some facts become more interesting not less. Notably, the keynote 'C18' booklet referred to below was written by Wilf Browning, but with significant input from Darren Wells (aka McKenzie) who later 'came out' as a Searchlight/Special Branch informant in 2002. To top it all, Browning did a deal with Nick Griffin in 1995 to get the C18 booklet distributed along with Spearhead to BNP branches--how Special Branch/MI5 must have laughed at that! I have never thought either Browning or Sargent were state assets, in the case of the latter, while he may have been, the paucity of substantiated evidence means a Scottish-style verdict of 'not proven' has to be returned. What is certain is that genuine assets like Wells helped create a siruation where Browning and Sargent each thought the other was. This is classic disruption from the FBi's COINTELPRO playbook-- and, I would contend, led to an escalation of violence, most notably the 1997 parcel bombs sent from Denmark to various UK anti-fascists/celebrities, in which escapade Wells played a role that has not yet been revealed--but it will be...Finally, two key players in this whole C18 saga--MI5 and the Searchlight organisation--are still active today, the former curtailing civil liberties and the latter presenting themselves as squeaky clean 'Community-oriented' anti-fascists via their 'Hope Not Hate' front. Don't be fooled for a minute...At some point this site will dissect the tendentious disinformation peddled by Searchlight editor Nick Lowles in his 'White Riot' book on C18. While best read in conjunction with the relevant chapers from my 1994 book 'Turning Up the Heat: MI5 After the Cold War', the article below hopefully stands muster as a serious analysis in its own right...
COMBAT 18 & MI5: some background notes (December 1995)
Observers of the activities of the neo-nazi Combat 18 (C18), otherwise known as the National Socialist Alliance (NSA), have been treated to some bewildering documents and allegations recendy. In an attempt to clarify who is saying what, and why, I will examine the origins and initial purpose of C18, the role (if any) of alleged state agents within it, and accounts of its current status and purpose. The interpretations examined are those of C18 themselves, the British National Party (BNP) and others on the far right, Searchlight magazine, and my own.
The origins of Combat 18
For its leaders, the origins of C18 have hitherto not been a subject of dispute. The trigger is said to have been the events surrounding a fracas at a League of Saint George meeting in Kensington in May 1991 . Their initial aim was to provide strong arm defensive and then offensive protection for the far right, the first publicly admitted 'action' being an incendiary attack on a Communist Party premises in March 1992 . The gap between the events that were the catalyst (including a failed November 1991 Fred Leuchter meeting in London), and the first admitted 'action' accounts for my earlier description of C18 as having been founded in early 1992 . John Tyndall, leader of the BNP, has written about C18 on a number of occasions. His first treatment, in the 14 December 1993 Organiser's Bulletin, did not actually dwell on the origins of CI8, perhaps because he himself had been publicly photographed with people, later said to be prominent in C18, acting as stewards. His more recent (September 1995) Spearhead article concentrates on the role played by US Nazi Harold Covington, discussed below. This later emphasis is not inconsistent with his earlier treatment, more an elaboration of it.
Consistency cannot be claimed for the analysis of Searchlight magazine, the importance of whose views should not be underestimated. The Third (May 1994) report of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee into Racial Attacks gave Searchlight's opinions on the organisation equal ranking with those of the Home Office and police, counterbalancing the views of the authorities against their thesis . In the written evidence submitted by Searchlight in 1993 they dated C18's arrival back to Autumn 1991 (p. 3), and elaborated on this in a paper 'The Genesis Of Combat 18' which was another part of their evidence. A crucial role was attributed to Harold Covington, described as the 'outside influence to bring together several disparate factions and groupings into C18' (p. 2). There was speculation of a possible intelligence input, that of the 'South African state security services' (p. 3), though the only evidence offered was the presence of some anti-Apartheid individuals on the Redwatch hit-lists. The contribution by Searchlight publisher Gerry Gable to a recent book on European fascists is similar, in that Covington's role was still seen as central (p. 261), although the South African aspect had been dropped without explanation . Nonetheless, Gable was clear in describing C18 as being in part a response to the Leuchter meeting getting turned over: 'Such a disaster could never be allowed to happen again. An effective group of bodyguards and stewards had to be formed'.
Speaking of a hypothetical ban on C18, Searchlight's 1993 Commons evidence argued that 'MI5 and the police should find no problem in dealing with such groups' (p. 6). Searchlight's written evidence was followed up by the verbal evidence given by Gerry Gable, on 8 December 1993 in which he called for investigation of C18 to be turned over to MI5, in particular because of C18's links with groups such as the UDA . This was followed in the Searchlight January 1994 editorial, hostile to Special Branch, by a call for 'the investigation of nazi terror groups either to be put into the hands of a special police unit..or to be turned over to MI5 and MI6'. All this changed in April 1995 when, in an astounding about turn, Searchlight (pp. 2 and 3) announced that MI5 had in fact set up C18, in order to 'know the extent of such joint operations' between the UDA/UVF and British fascists. This theme has been intermittently repeated since, for example in the assertion in the issue of October 1995 (p. 4) that 'perhaps there is some truth in claims that CI8 has come near to achieving the aims set for it by its original creators and is running down many of its activities'. The reasons for Searchlight's abrupt change of tune I have already analysed and need not concern us here .
Harold Covington revisited
I have summarised elsewhere the available evidence on the possibility of his being an FBI asset, since when there have been three published references to Covington which carry the debate forward . The first is Searchlight's statement of April 1995 that when 'C18 was formed some of its key players had links to the intelligence services. They included Harold Covington, a US nazi and long time asset of the FBI' (p. 2). Given that I had castigated Searchlight eight months before for building him up without ever mentioning this possibility, this admission is almost as amazing as their about turn concerning C18's origins . The second published reference to Covington comes from the BNP's John Tyndall. He cites an unnamed US leader as telling him that Covington is a long time FBI employee. While careful not to endorse this opinion as necessarily true, he then makes the same point as I did a year earlier viz.'large numbers of people in Britain who have written off to his mailing address in response to C18 literature would have had their names and addresses passed on straight away to the FBI, who would in turn have supplied them to the political police in this country, whether MI5, Special Branch or both'.' The third mention of Covington recently has been in an anonymous pamphlet entitled C18 distributed this summer to all BNP and selected other right-wing PO Boxes. This also comments on Covington's mail being monitored, and results passed back to MI5, but Covington is presented as an innocent party who let his PO Box be used 'as a favour' .
The current situation in C18: various theories
While not really alleging that any of the British C18 leadership were originally state plants, John Tyndall has long been of the opinion that they have operated under some kind of implicit state license, making them immune from prosecution for the distribution of inflammatory literature . By introducing Covington into the picture Tyndall has deepened this criticism, while careful (no doubt partly because of the sympathies of some BNP members) not to unequivocally condemn the current C18 leadership on the question of their ultimate allegiance (as opposed to political strategy or ideology). Thus he asks, 'Does this mean that the chief operatives of C18 are conscious and willing agents of the state, deliberately working against the nationalist cause?' And answers, 'Not necessarily' .'
Searchlight's account of current developments is contradictory. On the one hand they stated 'that C18 is controlled by the security services and has become a no-go area for decent police officers who wish to halt its activities' , and have reported 'claims that the NSA [National Socialist Alliance] is trawling for information on nazi activists, which could end up on MI5's computers' . On the other hand an unusually lucid article in the July 1995 issue described the NSA 'as a network of semi-autonomous groups united by their modus operandi and certain core beliefs' (p. 2). But if C18 was set up, and is controlled by, MI5, can it also be a semi-autonomous network?
A highly intriguing and imaginative account of current C18 developments is contained in the anonymous 'C18' document discussed above. Authorship has been widely attributed to a well-known BNP member, who has denied it , and the text is written as if it comes from within C18/NSA ranks. It alleges that those who originally set up C18 are more or less conscious or unconscious MI5 assets. The aims are stated to have been 'using C18 to wreck/disrupt the BNP and entrap national socialists in militant activities that carry big bird'. (p.3) Evidence for these allegations is less than overwhelming, and in one case, concerning the leaking of details about a January 1994 'Blood and Honour' concert in London, contradicts existing information . What is fascinating for our current purposes is that in line with my thesis of October 1994, that it was within MI5's game-plan to supplant the original leadership for their own purposes, this anonymous pamphlet alleges that the original C18 leadership are state agents, and should be replaced. I am not saying this means that the pamphlet is a state production, merely that the call for an internal coup is redolent of my earlier analysis. My view of C18 remains that it was not set up by MI5, but they have sought to influence it, at all levels, so far without signal success .
The opinions offered by Searchlight on the key issues are the most contradictory of any available, and that includes those offered by fascists themselves. This is particularly disturbing given the serious nature of the issues involved and Searchlight's continuing grip on media analyses of the far right. For their part, C18 still declare themselves to be 'At War With The British State' .
1 Interviews given to The Order, issue 1. April 1993. p. 9 and Terreur d'Elite, issue 4, Autumn 1994.
2 Terreur d'Elite ibid.
3 In my 'At War With The Truth', October 1993. p. 28.
4 See p.xxvi, paragraphs 71 and 72.
5 'Britain's Nazi Underground' in L. Cheles (ed) The Far Right in Western and Eastern Europe, (Longman, second edition, London, 1995).
6 Ibid. p. 262.
7 See (London) Evening Standard and The Independent, 9 December 1993.
8 Gable's contribution to the 1995 book, discussed above, was somewhat similar, saying the "vital question is whether or not the British government and its instruments of law and order will step in to end such dangerous operations and to stop those who control them" -by clear implication and earlier analysis, not the state (p. 266).
9 See my piece in Green Anarchist 38, June 1995, pp. 13-14. Red Action, issue 71, Summer 1995, pp.1-3, was the only other publication to comment in detail on this change of line.
10 'Turning Up the Heat--MI5 after the Cold War', (Phoenix, London, 1994), pp. 68-71. But see National Socialist Vanguard Report, Vol. 12, no. 4 (Oregon, USA) October/December 1994, which makes a careful and spirited defence of Tom Metzger's White Aryan Resistance against charges of state collaboration laid against them by Covington. Not having seen yet the primary sources to which the NSV report refers, my mind is still open on this episode. If their case against Covington here is correct, then his hurling of false accusations would be just the sort of thing he would do were he an FBI asset, although of course there might be other (sectarian) reasons for doing so.
11 The 1995 book contribution by Gable doesn't refer to Covington being an FBI asset when it would surely have been relevant.
12 Spearhead, September 1995, p. 10. Cf my 'Turning Up The Heat', p. 70.
13 This text is un-numbered, but taking inside front page as page 1, this quote is from page 7.
14 BNP Organiser's Bulletin , December 1993, and British Nationalist, January 1994, p. 7, texts analysed in my 'Turning Up The Heat', pp. 79-82.
15 Spearhead, September 1995, p. 9.
16 Searchlight October 1995, p. 3.
17 Searchlight October 1995 p. 6.
18 Spearhead, October 1995, p. 10
19 pp. 4-5. Tyndall makes the same point in Spearhead, September 1995, p. 10.
20 We should take note of a general downturn in media coverage of C18 recently, and the comment by Duncan Campbell that as far as Scotland Yard Anti-Terrorist Branch is concerned 'Far-right neo-fascist groups such as Combat 18 are not regarded as posing big threats'. The Guardian, 21 August 1995.
21 Title of an article in The Order issue 12, July 1995, pp. 5-8, an article which Searchlight (September 1995, p. 4) absurdly and despicably 'speculated' was written by me.