Deep inside UK's neo-Nazi underground

Dave Rich reveals his role in catching the nail bomber


B52ABN Two people died April 1999 and dozens were injured when a massive nail bomb ripped through a gay pub in the heart of Old Compton Street central London

It was one of the Community Security Trust’s most secret operations ever.

Under our 1994 joint project to expose some of London’s worst far-right extremists, an anti-fascist informant — codenamed Arthur — infiltrated the British National Party (BNP) and spent the next decade distributing leaflets and attending hundreds of meetings, birthday parties for fascists, BNP weekend festivals and Blood & Honour concerts full of neo-Nazi skinheads.

Arthur reported all of it to us and the anti-fascist Searchlight magazine — which was also involved in the operation — as part of our effort to combat the extreme-right’s violence, bigotry and hatred. 

This is an area of CST’s work that we rarely, if ever, discuss publicly, but it is an essential part of our efforts to protect the Jewish community.

Fifteen years after the operation ended, Nick Lowles of anti-racism group Hope Not Hate has told the story of the operation — and CST’s involvement — in a book called Codename Arthur.

It describes how during that time, I would regularly meet Arthur in various hotel bars around central London and scribble frantically while he told me about what he had been up to. 

We would discuss upcoming activities and plan his operations. His information and insights were invaluable and allowed us to build a detailed, three-dimensional picture of the BNP’s activities in London

We knew all the organisers and main activists and we were inside their supposedly secret meetings. But more than that, Arthur helped us to get under the skin of the far-right and really understand the culture of this violent, racist, misogynistic world at its grassroots.

Arthur’s most important achievement came in 1999, when a series of nail bombs in London killed three people, injured 140 and struck fear and devastation into London’s minority communities. The perpetrator, David Copeland, was identified from CCTV images in the Evening Standard by a work colleague and also by Arthur, who, of course, uniquely knew all about Copeland’s far-right activities. 

We at the CST passed Copeland’s name and background straight to the police, while our security guards patrolled Jewish neighbourhoods in case of a further bomb attack.  Now Arthur’s role is rightly recognised in a new Netflix documentary called Nailbomber: Manhunt.

Antisemitism was central to this far-right world. Arthur obtained the first copies we had seen of Nick Griffin’s antisemitic booklet Who Are the Mindbenders?, which claimed a Jewish conspiracy was controlling the British media (Griffin became BNP leader two years later). 

He was present when the BNP hosted European antisemites such as  the French Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson and German neo-Nazi leader Günter Deckert, and joined BNP members supporting disgraced Holocaust denier David Irving when he unsuccessfully sued historian Deborah Lipstadt. 

The viciousness of the anti-Jewish hate that permeated the world Arthur moved in was chilling to hear, as was the casual violence that so many of his fascist associates would boast and laugh about.

This all took place in a pre-digital age, but CST’s work identifying potential terrorists who may harm our community has adapted to the challenges and opportunities of the online world. 

Last year, CST researchers identified 20 such people who we reported to counter-terrorist police, some of whom are now in prison. 

We didn’t shout about any of these at the time, because that is not CST’s way of doing things: as the Jewish community organisation that works closest with police to keep our community safe, we often need to be discreet about how we go about things. But it may be reassuring to know that this work goes on behind the scenes, day in, day out, as it has done for years.

Approximately half of the potential terrorists we reported to police last year were, like Copeland, far-right extremists, while the rest followed a violent jihadist ideology. As we know from bitter experience, antisemitism comes from all directions and it doesn’t only threaten Jews. Some of the potential terrorists who we report to police appear more likely to attack other targets, but terrorism endangers all of us, whatever our background, and protecting the Jewish community helps to build a stronger society for everyone. 
Arthur is one of the unsung heroes who has made a major contribution to this effort, and he deserves our thanks.

Dr Dave Rich is Director of Policy at the Community Security Trust. ‘Codename Arthur: The true story of the anti-fascist spy who identified the London nailbomber’, by Nick Lowles, is published by Partisan Books

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