A former far-right political activist and prominent neo-Nazi who dramatically revealed he was both gay and of Jewish heritage has said he became involved in radical nationalism for a “sense of belonging and identity”.
Kevin Wilshaw, 58, promoted white supremacy over 40 years, becoming “deeply involved” with far-right groups British Movement (BM) and the National Front (NF), primarily around his home county of Cumbria.
Currently on police bail, Mr Wilshaw was arrested this year under the malicious communications act — he was also arrested for vandalising a mosque in the early 1990s.
In an interview with Channel 4 last month, he disowned the far-right, as he publicly discussed his Jewish heritage and homosexuality for the first time.
Speaking to the JC, Mr Wilshaw said that his desire for acceptance as a teenager made him “vulnerable” to the influence of neo-Nazi propaganda.
He said: “If you’ve got no friends at school, if you’re not a member of any organisations and you do want to be social in life you’ll latch onto something like that. It gives you a sense of belonging and identity.
“I just wanted to belong to something. Unfortunately I chose the wrong thing to belong to.” He added: “You used to find that a large section of people who joined the far right and these organisations have fractured lives. They have something missing in their lives — they may have lost their job or have been found guilty of some various petty offences.
“They need somebody to blame and there are scapegoats galore out there. My experience differs from the norm, because I was brought up on a fairly affluent background.”
However, Mr Wilshaw did reveal that he suffered beatings at the hands of his “overbearing, disciplinarian” policeman father.
He was initially introduced to neo-Nazism after sending off for books on the Second World War and finding them stuffed with propaganda leaflets.With no established Jewish community in rural Cumbria, Mr Wilshaw said that his groups mainly targeted “coloured post-war immigrants”.
But he found in the more “esoteric” far-right magazines and newspapers, such as Spearhead, antisemitic articles, including those which promoted Holocaust denial and Jewish ritual murder myths.
He himself also wore armbands and badges adorned with swastikas, and collected items of Nazi imagery, despite admitting to the JC that he had known from childhood that his great-grandfather, a Yorkshire miner who emigrated to South Africa, had been Jewish.
He added that he once “binned” an application form to the World Union of National Socialists because he would have been forced to disclose that his mother’s maiden name was Benjamin.
He said: “We wore armbands, swastika badges, and that was the time of the skinhead craze. There were lots of skinheads. We were totally politically illiterate. I think we wanted to shock people, and we were attracted to the violence of it.”
After some fellow members of extremist groups suspected his homosexuality, he began to receive abuse online which, along with his arrest, encouraged him to denounce extremism.
Now living in the south-east of England, Mr Wilshaw said he wants to be remembered for “continuing to do something constructive”, and wants to learn more about his Jewish heritage.
And this week Jemma Levene, deputy director of Hope Not Hate, arranged for Mr Wilshaw to meet with a rabbi at a north London synagogue, where he also said a prayer for his mother.