There is an interesting review in the Belfast Telegraph newspaper of Mathew Collins’ new book, “Hate”, which charts his journey through Britain’s ultra-nationalist and Neo-Nazi movements, examining along the way their close ties to the militant political core of the British separatist or “unionist” minority in Ireland. Veteran journalist Henry McDonald writes:
‘Recalling his days selling race-hate literature in London’s East End, Matthew Collins says: “We took the traditional Brick Lane Sunday drink with the BNP that day, watching strippers and eating a selection of mussels and whelks off the bar.”
All they would have needed was a Cockney-style sing-song of Horst Wessel Lied and Deutschland Uber Alles around the old Joanna and that would have topped off a perfect National Socialist Sabbath for Matthew and his comrades.
There are, however, more sinister segments of the book and they include his relationship with Ulster loyalists who had latched onto the NF and other neo-Nazi organisations in Britain.
Of these the most prominent is Eddie Whicker, a UDA member from Belfast who became somewhat of a personality on the London far right scene at the time Collins was an active fascist. Whicker was one of the most militant of the extreme right street thugs taking on leftists, some of whom marched in pro-IRA rallies in the UK capital and other British cities.
There can be no doubting the connections established from the early 1970s onwards between the NF, BNP and the more extreme Combat 18 to the two main loyalist paramilitary organisations. On a political and, dare one say social level, the disparate British far right were the only supporters of the Ulster loyalist cause in Britain.
Apart from their traditional allies in Scotland, particularly within the Orange Order and the Rangers football team’s support base, loyalism’s allies were few and far between.
While loyalists across the sea could feel very much at home in parts of Scotland’s central belt or the Ayrshire coast, your average working class Ulster Protestant would feel a greater sense of isolation in English cities, particularly the multi-cultural/racial conurbations.
As Collins attests to in his book, the NF and other rival organisations at least provided a home for an Ulster loyalist away from home but still in touch with the cause.
There were a number of gun running plots such as the one involving Frank Portinari, an English UDA member of Italian Catholic extract in direct touch with ‘C’ Company and a friend of the UDA killer John White.
Charlie Sergeant, for instance, crops up several times in Collins’ book as a prominent Combat 18 thug and strong supporter of Ulster loyalists. Yet after Sergeant was tried and convicted of stabbing a rival neo-Nazi to death it transpired he was also a police informant whose work included spying on any potential loyalist arms smuggling operations in the south-east of England.
The Ulster Volunteer Force did, of course, meet with the extreme neo-Nazi Belgian VMO in the early 1980s. The Flemish fascists were fascinated with the home-made engineering skills of Ulster loyalists who were manufacturing their own sub-machine guns. In return, the VMO promised to hand over plastic explosives, as long as the UVF attacked a Jewish target in Belfast.
On a propaganda level the activities of a handful of loyalists in England like Whicker was undoubtedly damaging. It only projected and solidified the notion that the average loyalist was as much a bone-headed, shaven, beery-breathed bigot as their neo-Nazi buddies smashing up Brick Lane.
Observers of the far right will point to the career of Johnny Adair, who started his politico-paramilitary career in the NF.’
Despite recent attempts to conceal the once very public links between the British terror factions on this island nation and their Far Right counterparts in the UK, there is little doubt that groupings like the National Front, Combat 18 and the BNP provided an ad hoc support-base during the 1966-2005 conflict from which unionist paramilitaries could draw succour. The financial aspects of this support were to become particularly crucial in the early 1990s when the “loyalist” terrorist organisations in the north-east of the country found it necessary to look beyond the clandestine counter-insurgency funding of the UK state to maintain themselves and became heavily involved in the drugs trade. By the year 2000 the main militant bands – the UDA-UFF, UVF and LVF – had gained control over the importation, distribution and sale of all illegal narcotics within the broader British unionist community, using their right-wing contacts in Scotland and northern England to access pan-European criminal networks.
It was through these same sources that unionist militants had earlier forged ties with the intelligence services of Apartheid-era South Africa, eventually leading to the pariah-state supplying the British extremists in Ireland with substantial quantities of arms from Israeli-controlled Lebanon in the mid-to-late 1980s (and with the connivance of the British security service, MI5, which opposed London’s political and diplomatic concessions to Dublin during this same period).
A fuller history of modern Far Right links to militant British unionism in Ireland was described in a 2002 issue of “No Quarter”, the magazine of the group Anti-Fascist Action:
‘Links between Unionists/Loyalists in the North and British Fascists go back over 80 years. As far back as the 1920s the ‘British Fascisti’ set up a group in Co. Down which led a pogrom against Catholics and in the 1930s members of the Glasgow fascist gang the ‘Billy Boys’ visited Belfast to take part in sectarian rioting during the 12th of July weekend. However this article will focus on links in recent years.
The convicted UDA terrorist Johnny Adair, recently released from Maghaberry Jail, is a man with a background even more sinister than that of the average death squad commander.
In 1994 Adair pleaded guilty to ‘directing terrorism’ and was sentenced to 16 years, serving only five until he was released under the Good Friday Agreement. In an interview he admitted to being the loyalist known as ‘Mad Dog’ and boasted of being involved in the sectarian murders of 20 Catholics. While in jail Adair forged close links with Billy Wright, leader of the LVF, and the UDA carried out sectarian murders of Catholics to avenge Wright’s death in 1997. Adair and Wright were also linked by their prominent involvement in drug dealing in the North.
But Adair, who rose to leadership in the Belfast UDA/UFF in the early 1990s, has a far longer political pedigree.
Belfast National Front 1980s
In the mid 1980’s there were about 200 National Front supporters in Belfast, one of them the young Johnny Adair. In September 1983 a National Front March took place in Belfast, attended by about 100 fascist skinheads. Prominent in the parade was Johnny Adair, along with his sidekick Sam McCrory. This march became known as the ‘gluesniffers march’, because many of the skinheads were drunk on cider and openly sniffing glue from plastic bags as they paraded from the city centre to the Shankill chanting anti-Black and anti-Republican slogans.
In April 1983 a group of young Loyalist skinheads from a gang called ‘NF Skinz’ killed a homeless alcoholic on the Lower Shankill. Patrick Barkey, a Catholic, died after being beaten unconscious and hit on the head with a concrete block. Three skinheads, William Madine, Clifford Bickerstaff and Albert Martin were charged with murder. Madine and Bickerstaff pleaded guilty to manslaughter and got two years and eleven months at a young offenders centre. Martin was found guilty of GBH and got a 12 month suspended sentence. Press reports stated that the skinheads were provided with character references by [unnamed] Belfast Unionist politicians.
The Belfast NF broke up anti-racist and punk gigs in the city. The NF was active around football and sold their publications at Northern Ireland games at Windsor Park. The NF youth paper ‘Bulldog’ published a ‘league of louts’ – detailing the most racist fans – Linfield and Coleraine featured regularly.
In January 1998 Mo Mowlam visited the Maze prison to meet the leaders of the loyalist prisoners. The UDA/UFF leaders in the Maze were Adair and Sam McCrory, both from the Shankill Road. At the time of Mowlam’s jail visit the media reported that McCrory has ‘White Power’ and ‘Skins’ tattoos on his right hand.
Investigations by Anti-Fascist Action revealed that in the early 1980s both ‘Skelly’ McCrory and Adair played in a Belfast Nazi skinhead band called ‘Offensive Weapon’. This band played a few gigs on the Nazi skinhead circuit in Britain in the mid 80s. In August 1998 the Irish News printed a photograph of Adair and McCrory on the ‘gluesniffers’ NF March in Belfast in September 1983. With them was Donald Hodgen, another skinhead who also became a UDA member and later a prominent activist in the now defunct Ulster Democratic Party.
Nearly twenty years later the 30 to 40 young skinheads who led the National Front branch in Belfast in the 1980s now form the core of Adair’s ‘C Company’ of the UFF. They moved on to more serious sectarian violence but never left behind their ‘white power’ beliefs. From a small gang of teenage thugs they turned themselves into so-called ‘defenders of the people’, which involved murdering scores of innocent Catholics. In 2000 they tore their community apart in a savage feud with the rival UVF. They are a classic example of what happens if fascism is not forcefully opposed when it first appears.
The early 1990s, when Adair was leader of the UDA/UFF on the Shankill, marked a period of increased contact between Northern loyalists and Fascists in Britain as close links developed between the UDA and London based Fascists. Eddie Whicker and Frank Portinari were both ‘UDA Organisers’ in Britain. Portinari was jailed in 1993 for gun running to the UDA. Portanari was involved in C18 in the 1990s but now heads a pro-UDA group in London called the British Ulster Alliance.
Charlie Sargeant, the former leader of Combat 18 now serving life in England for the murder of a fellow fascist, often boasted of his personal friendship with Johnny Adair.
In the mid 1990s C18’s control of the Blood and Honour ‘music’ network allowed them to put on several gigs in the North. ‘Blood and Honour’ magazine boasted of Welsh band Celtic Warrior’s visit to Belfast and published photographs of Loyalist bandsmen playing alongside them at a ‘White Christmas’ gig on the Lower Shankill Road. ‘Blood and Honour’ magazine also printed photographs of two UDA prisoners in Long Kesh, who sent greetings to C18 and said that they were ‘dedicated to keeping Ulster British and white’ and the loyalists’ prison journal ‘Warrior’ also published pro-C18 articles.
C18/LVF and Portadown
The annual attempt by the Orange Order to march down the Garvaghy Road, and the 12th weekend generally, has become a point of pilgrimage as English fascists from different groups visit the North to link up with their loyalist friends.
In July 1999 Combat 18 brought 25 supporters from Britain to Portadown. Combat 18 members attended at the unveiling of a memorial to Billy Wright and he is also idolised on C18 websites. On July 11th 1999 a ‘Blood and Honour’ gig was held in a social club in Portadown. The English fascist bands ‘Razors Edge’, ‘Chingford Attack’ and ‘No Remorse’ played alongside loyalist flute bands. According to a C18 report on the event:
‘A spokeswoman for the Loyalist Volunteer Force, who hosted the gig, took the stage and thanked Combat 18 officially for the support shown to her organisation and its prisoners of war both in C18 publications and financially. All the profits from the gig were donated to the LVF Prisoners’ Fund and links between C18 and the LVF were strengthened on the evening’. C18 members also attended the Orange march in Portadown and the demonstration at Drumcree on July 12th.
In July 2000 another C18 delegation attended the Drumcree march. The fascists, from Bolton, Burnley and Preston in the North of England, stayed with LVF members in Portadown’s Corcrain and Brownstown estates. A TV documentary showed a prominent Orangeman from Portadown, Ivan Hewitt, displaying his ‘Blood and Honour’, ‘SS’ and other Nazi tattoos. David Jones, leader of the Orange Order in Portadown, claimed that he did not know Hewitt.
‘Free Johnny Adair’
In September 2000 a group of UDA supporters and English fascists, including convicted loyalist gun runners Terry Blackham and Frank Portinari, took part in a National Front protest in Downing Street demanding the release of Johnny Adair. A similar protest took place in January 2001.
At the funeral of Steven McKeag, a major drug dealer, on the Shankill in September 2000 a large wreath was carried which read ‘C18’. McKeag, who had died accidentally from drink and drugs, was the notorious UFF gunman nicknamed ‘Top Gun’. He was known to be personally responsible for at least a dozen sectarian murders. He had been a teenage member of the NF and Adair’s right hand man, taking over command of the Shankill UDA when Adair was jailed in 1994.
Greysteel Killer and C18
In July 2000 Stephen Irwin, a Loyalist convicted of the murder of seven people in a UDA attack on the Rising Sun bar in Greysteel, Co Derry at Hallowe’en 1993, was released from the Maze. It was Irwin who shouted ‘Trick or Treat’ before he opened fire. Just four months after his release Irwin attended a C18 ‘Remembrance Day’ event in London and was photographed shouting slogans and giving the Nazi salute. While in prison Irwin had corresponded with other fascists and sent out pictures of himself for their publications.
The Loyalist Volunteer Force website has the following ad in its merchandise section ‘Our best item by far yet is the Billy Wright CD Which has been produced by Blood & Honour Combat 18 & has been largely in demand, the CD consists of many songs by prominent Blood & Honour bands with songs dedicated to the Loyalist cause’.
There have been revelations in recent years of strong links between the LVF and Nazis in the North West of Britain. These include C18 members and supporters within the British Army. In May 1999 C18 members distributed leaflets at Blackburn’s football ground attacking Rosemary Nelson, the human rights solicitor murdered by Loyalists.
Ian Thompson, a former soldier of the Royal Irish Regiment, was the LVF’s main linkman with Combat 18, he organised the visits of British Fascists to Portadown. He was arrested in March 2000 on suspicion of involvement in the murder of Rosemary Nelson. The RUC found the personal details of Combat 18 leaders and scores of Nazi music CDs in his home in Hamiltonsbawn, Co Armagh. In 2001 Thompson was sentenced to 9 years for arms offences.
The internet guestbooks of many fascist groups contain support messages for the UDA, LVF, Orange Volunteers, Red Hand Defenders, etc. A support group called the ‘Loyalist Prisoners Welfare Association’ holds fundraisers and events in Britain.
The second leader of the LVF, Mark ‘Swinger’ Fulton, was found dead in his cell in Maghaberry prison in June 2002. A post mortem showed he had committed suicide. Within hours fascist websites carried tributes to him, including one from C18 which stated. “Mark Fulton. Rest in peace comrade, you were a loyal soldier and brave warrior in our struggle for freedom. You will never be forgotten. Valahalla will welcome such a great man with open arms! condolences sent from all C18 units worldwide! 14/88”.
In July 2000 the ‘White Nationalist Report’, a National Front newsletter, printed a report and picture of NF members selling their literature in the Sandy Row Rangers Supporters Club. The photo included Terry Blackham, their ‘National Activities Organiser’, who runs the NF anti-refugee campaigns in England. In 1994 Blackham was jailed for 4 years for attempting to smuggle sub-machine guns, a grenade launcher and 2,000 rounds of ammunition to the UDA in East Belfast.
British National Party
The British National Party [BNP] has also been active in the North in recent years. It sells a magazine called ‘True Brit’ at Orange rallies and at Linfield and Glentoran matches. It is based mainly around Newtonabbey and has also been involved in intimidation of Catholics in Kilkeel, Co Down. In December 1998 it held a wreath laying ceremony at the grave of George Seawright, the DUP politician best known for saying that ‘Catholics should be incinerated’. His brother, David Seawright, has been active in both the NF and the UVF in Scotland.
The Ulster BNP plans to run in South Belfast in the next general election in the North and say it’s platform will be a return of the death penalty and an end to ‘bogus asylum seekers flooding over the border into Ulster’.
Andrew McAlorie has recently reappeared as a BNP spokeperson in the North. McAlorie, a teacher, was last heard of in 1986 when as NI treasurer of the National Front he was jailed for two years for his involvement in the petrol bombing of RUC homes during the ‘Ulster Says No’ campaign against the Anglo-Irish Agreement.
Ulster Independence Movement
The UIM is a one man band led by David Kerr, formerly prominent in the Ulster National Front in the 1980s. The UIM supports the policy of the ‘Third Way’, an ideology that supposedly rejects both communism and capitalism. ‘Third Way’ is connected to the ‘International Third Position’ in Britain, a somewhat contradictory position as ITP leadership consists of traditionalist Catholics. The UIM also professes support for far right groups in America and sells pro-Confederate merchandise on its website. It also produces a magazine called ‘Ulster Nation’.
David Kerr ran as the ‘Ulster Third Way’ candidate both the General and local elections in June 2001. Describing himself as a ‘non-sectarian radical Ulster nationalist’, he gathered a less than spectacular 116 votes in West Belfast and a magnificent 28 in the council elections. His campaign may not have been helped by his stated policy of support for free over the counter sales of heroin and cocaine.
The political, paramilitary and criminal links between Loyalism and Fascism should be no surprise, given that both ideologies are based on extreme right wing supremacist ideas. The regular exposure of such links lead to denials or tepid condemnation by loyalist politicians, but no serious attempt to end them.’
The contacts between British racists and the British separatist minority notably coalesces around one of the more notorious assassinations in the history of the Long War, the slaying of the lawyer Rosemary Nelson. As the Guardian newspaper reported back in 2000:
‘The names, addresses and telephone numbers of members of the neo-Nazi group Combat 18 have been passed to detectives investigating the murder of the Northern Ireland solicitor Rosemary Nelson.
Details of Combat 18’s links with the Loyalist Volunteer Force – the organisation which placed the bomb under Nelson’s car – were found during a search of the home of Ian Thompson, a loyalist who has been charged with an offence connected to the solicitor’s murder.
Thompson was arrested at his home in Hamilton’s Bawn, a Protestant village outside Armagh city, more than a fortnight ago. Senior RUC detectives said police in England planned to arrest and question several Combat 18 activists about their links with Ulster loyalists.
Along with the personal details of Combat 18 members, including their leader Bill Browning, a former British soldier from south London, the RUC found scores of race-hate CDs. The CDs of racist skinhead bands were being sold to raise money in Britain for the LVF. Browning has a conviction for assaulting a gay man and another for distributing race hate material.
Thompson, also a former British soldier who served in the locally recruited Royal Irish Regiment, was the LVF’s main link with Combat 18. He went to Wigan for an event organised by Combat 18 in 1998 which almost degenerated into a war between rival factions of the fascist group. Members from North-East England protested at Thompson’s plan to take over an LVF-aligned flute band to play at the function.
The North-East branch of Combat 18, organised principally around a core of Sunderland soccer hooligans, supports the largest loyalist paramilitary force, the Ulster Defence Association. When they learnt that an LVF-allied band was to play, they threatened to disrupt the social. The invitation to the band was quietly dropped.
The investigation into Combat 18’s connections to the LVF will focus on a nucleus of English fascists based in North-West England, particularly a group in Bolton. They include a tattooist who comes to Northern Ireland regularly to engrave the image of murdered LVF founder Billy Wright on to local loyalists.
It was Thompson who invited Browning along with 24 other neo-Nazis to Northern Ireland last summer for the loyalist marching season. While the Combat 18 delegation were staying in Portadown, the LVF’s Mid-Ulster stronghold, members of the neo-Nazi group attacked a Chinese family living in the town’s staunchly loyalist Corcrain estate.
One of the UDA’s English members, who was arrested on arms charges in the early Nineties, was Frank Portanari. Now out of jail, Portanari heads a pro-loyalist campaign group in London called the British/Ulster Alliance.’
The power and influence of the British terrorist organisations in Ireland have fallen considerably since their heyday at the height of the conflict, a thirty-year period when they formed the cutting-edge of Britain’s counter-insurgency against the Irish Republican Army. Many have been abandoned by their old masters in the UK state (or been turned upon). Yet, through renewed links to racist and fascist groups in Britain, they continue to exist and indeed may be on something of a comeback.