Godwin’s law states that the first person to call their opponent a Nazi loses the debate. That’s because the word Nazi (the short-form of the German NSDAP or ‘National Socialist Party’) is so over-used today. It’s become the go-to insult for those whose intellectual abilities have run dry and who find themselves unable to counter a well-thought out argument. In that sense, Godwin was right – the first person to call their opponent a Nazi has indeed lost the debate. But what if the person you’re talking about or interacting with really was (or is) a Nazi?
That’s when Godwin’s law starts to come apart. It becomes even more confusing when your verbal sparring partner subscribes to Nazi policies (see groups like Britain First, UKIP and Liberty GB) and yet genuinely believes that they’re not Nazi at all. What if they actually see themselves as ‘anti-Nazi’?
The leadership of the British far-right have been so diligent in redefining themselves that they really have convinced their supporters (and perhaps even themselves) that their policies, although often exactly matching those of Hitler’s Nazi regime in the 1930s and 1940s, are actually anti-Nazi.
We’ll take a detailed look at policies and strategies later. For now we just want to highlight a few links charting the descent of Nazism through the generations, just as we might track the passage of the runners’ baton in an Olympic relay race. Here the track is measured in generations, not metres but the principle is the same. The same baton that was touched by the hands of Hitler, Franco and Mussolini now finds itself carried just as reverently by Weston, Griffin, Yaxley-Lennon and Dowson.
Hitler, Mussolini, Franco
It’s no secret that these three mid-twentieth century dictators knew each other. Hitler and Mussolini even fought together against the Allies during World War 2. Before the war both men sent troops, funds and equipment to support Franco’s fascist cause in the Spanish Civil War. They were the three most prominent fascist dictators of the period, matched in ruthlessness only by Stalin in Communist Russia. What isn’t so well known is the way that these dictators interacted with British high society.
Mosley, the British Union of Fascists and the Mitford sisters
Oswald Mosley was the leader of the British Union of Fascists, a party he formed in 1932 immediately after visiting Mussolini in Italy.
Mosley’s followers dressed in black military style uniform, shared Hitler’s hatred of Jews and socialists and even had their own army of street thugs, the infamous ‘Biff Boys’. These violent, black-shirted gangs spent their time terrorizing and assaulting Jews, homosexuals (the word ‘gay’ meant something rather different back then), socialists and non-whites. Their methods and their targets were exactly the same as those of Ernst Rohm’s violent, brown-shirted SA in pre-war Nazi Germany. There’s a reason for that…
Mosely had very real links to the fascists of Europe. As well as Mussolini he also visited Nazi Germany and even married his second wife, Diana Mitford in the home of Joseph Goebbels. There were only around half a dozen guests in attendance including Adolf Hitler himself. Mosley’s new sister in law, Unity Mitford was known to be extremely close to Hitler and even got to attend high level strategy meetings with the Fuhrer. Unity killed herself when war was declared, so heartbroken was she at the rift between the two nations.
Deputy leader William Joyce (Lord Haw Haw)
Deputy Leader of the BUF was William Joyce, later to defect to Nazi Germany and broadcast pro-Nazi propaganda across the channel throughout the war. Nicknamed ‘Lord Haw Haw’ by the British he was captured in 1945 and hanged for treason shortly afterward.
Defence regulation 18B
In late May 1940, Mosley and his wife, along with several other prominent members of the British Union of Fascists were imprisoned under Defence regulation 18B. This special regulation was created to prevent potential enemies of the state from undermining the British war effort. The BUF itself was disbanded a few days later. However its legacy lives on.
Archibald Ramsay & The Right Club
Archibald Ramsay was a Scottish aristocrat and Conservative MP. He was a staunch supporter of Franco’s fascists during the Spanish Civil War. In 1935 he collaborated with German Nazi agents to found the Nordic League, an aristocratic version of Mosley’s BUF. Like the BUF, the Nordic League was deeply anti-Semitic and committed to establishing and maintaining a racially pure Britain. Ramsay was responsible for instigating a number of attempts to have Jews barred from political life in Britain.
In 1939 he founded The Right Club, a secret society of upper class Nazi sympathisers and anti-Semites whose stated aim was to expose and oppose organised Jewry. Members included Mosley, the traitor, William Joyce along with Anna Wolkoff and Tyler Kent who were subsequently imprisoned for passing classified information to the Nazis during wartime.
AK Chesterton was a prominent member of the British Union of Fascists, The Nordic League and The Right Club. Like his fellows he was staunchly anti-Semitic and pro-fascist. He left England during the second world war and went to live in Africa, presumably to avoid being forced to fight against his ideological brethren. However he maintained his far-right, anti-Semitic and openly racist views throughout his life and was instrumental in passing the baton of fascism down to the next generation of British Nazis – The National Front.
Chesterton, Tyndall and the National Front
Chesterton’s most prominent protégé was John Tyndall. It was through Tyndall and his fellow acolyte, Colin Jordan that the ageing Nazi sympathiser passed the baton of extreme right wing politics to the next generation. Tyndall joined his mentor, Chesterton in the League of Empire Loyalists, The National Labour Party (mirroring Hitler’s National Socialist Party) and The National Socialist Movement (with Jordan) until eventually the pair co-founded The National Front in the late 1960s.
The early years of The National Front, steered as it was by Chesterton and Tyndall saw the introduction of many better known modern neo-Nazis who also carried forward the baton of British fascism first brandished by Mosley, Joyce and Ramsay. Under Chesterton and Tyndall’s stewardship the NF nurtured the early political careers of people like Nick Griffin and Andrew Brons (later to become British National Party MEPs), Holocaust denier, Martin Wingfield and even Tommy Robinson. Tyndall and Colin Jordan eventually formed the White Defence League before uniting with John Bean to found the British National Party.
Andrew Brons had been a member of Colin Jordan’s National Socialist Movement, an affiliation he has repeatedly had to distance himself from in later years. In 1965 he joined the National front led by John Bean. This is not the same National Front that Tyndall and Chesterton founded in 1967 although its aims and ideology were the same – anti-Semitism, racial purity and neo-Nazism. Only in 1967, following a merger with Tyndall and Chesterton’s League of Empire Loyalists did the current National Front come into existence. With this merger, a critical mass of new-generation Nazis was re-established in UK and Mosley’s baton became a truncheon once again.
Combat 18 and Combat 88
This newly imagined National Front gave rise to some of the most violent street warfare of the period. Groups like Combat 18 and Combat 88 were as much the NF’s enforcers as Mosely’s ‘Biff Boys’ had been for the BUF. Named after letters of the alphabet, Combat 18 stood for A & H (Adolf Hitler) whilst Combat 88 stood for HH (Heil Hitler). Both groups remain active today and have a string of convictions for intimidation, assault, harassment and even murder to their credit. More modern groups like The Pie and Mash Squad and the EDL’s breakaway ‘Infidels’ groups have their own links with these early bands of politicised street fighters.
Nick Griffin was mentored by Tyndall and followed his far-right tutor from the National Front into the newly formed British National Party. This erstwhile NF Street fighter rose to prominence in the BNP and eventually ousted his old mentor to take the BNP chair for himself. There he steered the party from relative obscurity to become the most successful British far-right party since Mosley’s BUF before financial irregularities and a string of law-suits brought his newly-built empire crashing down around his ears. Now the BNP is a shadow of its former self with many of its members defecting to join the ranks of street movements like the English Defence League and Britain First.
The BNP gives birth to the EDL and Britain First
Paul Golding had once been a member of the National Front but he followed his mentor, Nick Griffin into the BNP when still a teenager. With Griffin’s mentorship he rose to become Communications Officer on the party’s National Executive and was widely tipped to rise high in the organisation. That was until things started to fall apart.
Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (AKA Tommy Robinson) was a member of the British National Party under Griffin’s leadership. It’s unclear how well he knew Griffin personally but they certainly had shared contacts and their ideologies are broadly the same. It was Robinson who took the far-right baton in a new direction and abandoned politics, albeit temporarily to form the English Defence League, a street movement that once boasted up to 5,000 ‘foot-soldiers’ at its largest demonstration. The English Defence League still exists but without Yaxley-Lennon who has since been associated with the Muslim-led anti-terror organisation Quilliam and then the UK Branch of the anti-Muslim group, Pegida.
British National Party fundraiser, Ulster Unionist and long-time pro-life campaigner, Jim Dowson became involved in a spat with Griffin over allegations of sexual misconduct. Dowson left the party in less than amicable circumstances and Golding went with him. Together they formed the anti-Muslim party, Britain First in 2010. They were later joined by former EDL ‘Angel’, Jayda Fransen and Golding and Fransen spend much of their time campaigning against Islam and ‘invading’ Mosques and Halal businesses. The pair regularly find themselves in court for harassment, breaches of bail and ironically for wearing political uniform, an offence under the Public Order Act of 1936, originally created to curb Mosley’s black-shirted British Union of Fascists. Dowson famously claimed to have left Britain First shortly after its inception although, as we shall see in later blogs he remains very much involved ‘behind the scenes’.
Godwin’s law revisited
It’s clear that step by step, generation by generation the British fascist baton has been passed down without interruption from mentor to student, from racist to racist, Anti-Semite to anti-Muslim, Nazi to neo-Nazi for almost a century now. As this series continues we’ll start to look at how the very same policies and ideological beliefs have withstood the test of time. Some have remained unchanged whilst others have adapted slightly in the face of modern attitudes and current events. But however they might have been adapted the core of fascism and Nazism remains unchanged.
Remember – Godwin’s law only applies if the people you’re talking about really aren’t Nazis. In this case – they really are!