- Exit Guest
Moving Beyond Hate
As people get older, we often think about the things we have done and in doing this there is a chapter of my life that I seldom speak about these days, because it hangs over me and it weighs me down like nothing else.
It is a source of shame. Some people know about it, and they hate me for it. Others know and are too polite to mention it. There are others who don’t know and would be horrified if they found out, and I'm truly thankful that I have found some people whom it doesn’t matter if they know or not, they accept me for who I am now and don’t hold anything I did twenty-something years ago against me.
So, let’s set the scene. About twenty years ago I lived on a council estate as many good people do, but I had a drink and drug problem, I was angry at the world, but I also had a burning desire to make the world a better place. I didn’t really know how to do this and was searching for an answer I could understand and embrace.
Today I like to think that I do now, but back then I was jumping on one populist issue after another and a few issues I embraced really broke my heart.
One was the War against Iraq, back then I thought the government of the day had lost the plot and decided to take us into an illegal war, there were claims which gave the impression that Saddam Hussain had got weapons of mass destruction such as nuclear weapons and that he could launch them with just 45 minutes notice and this made me worried and I thought, like many others, our country was in grave danger.
My Dad is a good man and had clear ideas on many things including Iraq. Looking back, I can remember being a little kid and seeing the first gulf war news update on TV, and my Dad saying how he was against it and he made lots of good points about what was wrong with that war.
As a young adult, when the gulf war was starting, I used the reasoning skills my dad had taught me and like many others at the time, I came up with the idea that the war was bad, I felt the media was lying and the government of the day were being dishonest. Now looking back with hindsight and taking into account that over one million people suffered, I think my senses about the war being wrong were right. But I didn't really know where to channel my protest and the mistrust and low opinion I had of the government and the media began to ferment.
I live and have always lived in a northern mill town, twenty years ago there was an issue in this country that no one wanted to discuss – Grooming Gangs and it caused me to look for answers. Personally, I know a number of victims of grooming gangs and this angered me. Knowing girls who have had their lives destroyed and also the fact that some of them are now dead, hurt and at the time I wanted answers.
In the early 2000s, I believed that the police, social services, local and national newspapers all knew something was happening, but were doing nothing to stop it.
It is a national scandal and I thought something needed to be done, so with more and more news reports of grooming taking place in areas like - Rotherham and Rochdale, Halifax, Bradford, Keighley, Oldham, and more I wanted answers and started looking at what I could do to make this country better.
Twenty years ago I wanted a scapegoat and I blamed the people doing the grooming, and as many of the groomers looked the same, I didn’t just blame them, I blamed everyone who looked like a Pakistani Muslim, it didn’t really matter if they were involved in any criminality, or even if they were a Pakistani Muslim, simply having brown skin was enough for me and I blamed them all, just the same.
Now I know how awful this is and how wrong I was, but back then I didn’t, and I wish someone would have sat me down, listened to why I was angry and offered me alternatives, but no one did and I became involved in extremism, based on my emotional reaction to awful acts.
When I look back on this time I shudder with shame. If I had known back then what I know now I could have made a difference, but in a different way perhaps. But alas, all I did back then was drive a wedge between different communities, who were all suffering and made my own life harder.
Seeking to get justice and protect people, I tried to speak out about the issues and got nowhere, then I discovered the far right, and all of a sudden, I had other people who like me understood what was going on in the world and wanted to do something about it. Together we shared views, they welcomed me with open arms, and they gave me an identity, which back then was what I wanted and needed.
I know some people say they are groomed into the far right and for many years I thought I was an exception to this and that I went down the rabbit hole of my own accord. But looking back with a keen eye and a deeper understanding, I was groomed just like everyone else, I just didn’t realise that it was happening.
Sold a lie, like so many other activists, sadly I groomed others into the far right, at least one of the people I brought into the fold has been jailed for his actions and while yes they were HIS actions and I had no part in them, I feel deep guilt about where my recruitment has led him and wonder if he would have done the actions he did, if I hadn't had brought him into the fold?
Honestly, I don’t know the answer, but I feel a deep sense of guilt & shame over what has happened to him, and I feel responsible in some way because I am.
The route I took into the far right was by joining the British National Party. A legal political party, I thought would give me a place I could voice my opinions and create positive change. They said all the right things and I think their manifestos from the early 2000’s was probably kinder than many policies being advocated today.
Looking back, the opposition that I encountered back then was based on some kind of bogeyman idea that all extremists are monsters, and this is something I never encountered while I was in the BNP. What the opponents of the party were saying didn’t matter, they were irrelevant. But I guess, neither was the Manifesto which I believed in at that time either.
When I was in the BNP, I had a close friend and we travelled together to meetings all over the north and midlands. I met lots of interesting people who were speaking words which at the time made a lot of sense to me. I made lots of friends and it felt good.
While involved the BNP leader and youth leader were put on trial for saying things, I felt at the time the government didn’t like and this just made me more angry. Finally acquitted it felt like a victory for the BNP and for free speech and this empowered me to do more. Back then I was really into free speech, I wanted people to be able to say whatever they wanted, no matter how terrible it might sound, and I was happy to cause offence too and I enjoyed it.
Meeting leaders and activists across the country, they never seemed like the media made them out to be, I felt the media was lying and the people around me were good. But I was wrong and the reality of involvement in extremism needs to be talked about and this is what I will do today.
I lost my identity and my friends, I’d pushed away my old pre-BNP friends and found myself alone, sitting in a room with a pc and booze, getting absolutely paralytic while on the internet. Looking for answers, what did I find?
Walking away from the BNP and looking for more, found some new friends, they too had fallen out with the BNP, they understood, or so I thought that the fight needed to carry on, but in a different way. We shared a lot with each other and spent a lot of time together, not in person, but online through forums, i.e., Stormfront, VNN and a few others. I sent lots of money donating to people (I didn’t really know) to help them with their bills and in return I got a special badge on my profile, and made more friends including people in other countries and this led me eventually to get involved with the Ku Klux Klan and down the rabbit hole I went.
Forums became my life and it was like this for years. Many forums are big places and there are lots of potential ways to connect with other people from around the world, and connect I did.
Closer to home, there were real meetups consisting of current and former BNP people. I went to some of these and once I had been around a few years I became a trusted regular, but when I look back and say trusted, I don't think anyone was ever really trusted, but you feel trusted and that is what matters.
But like many involved, I was damaged and with many of us there is always something that is wrong, with me, I had a drinking problem and it was well known, but people didn’t care and never judged and that mattered.
So, what did we do? Well, a small group of us would meet up each week in a local pub, we took part in the pub quiz and were just general assholes, loud and obnoxious, we were not people you would want to spend time with, but it was good as I was with people.
Looking to grow we had the idea that if people could see what we stood for they might vote for us if we stood in elections people might join, but when you looked at us and saw what we were like, most would just be put off and who could blame them. We were not a happy or pretty bunch. A few beers in and our extreme views would come out and in states of drunken bravado, we would plot and scheme.
I can’t go into details, but sometimes these plans would include people talking about damaging property and more. For some it was a fantasy and a game, for others it was much more and when we look at the mainstream media, we can see how dangerous this is and for me, I knew it was a place no one should be and I moved away.
Moving on my circle of nationalist friends in the real world was shrinking, we’d get drunk, abusive and cause trouble, all of this being nothing to be proud of.
At some point along the way I decided I was going to go to university, a big step for someone like, me but one I wanted to take.
Being honest, I went but I didn’t like it, I didn’t fit in, I hated the people, and I hated the type of society it was promoting.
My prejudices were very strong at this time and my mental health was not good and as a result, I hit the bottle again.
Going deeper down the rabbit hole, I joined a small organisation headed up by a well-known activist from Sheffield, but like always the infighting and behaviour made this a short endeavour.
Occasionally I’d meet up with old friends who were not nationalists and we would take drugs together, it helped numb the pain and distracted me from the internet. But the internet has a strange allure and when I wanted to stop doing the drugs and the drinking, I went back on the internet, it’s a vicious circle.
back to stormfront, back down the rabbit hole. I didn’t have much else.
Looking for answers and moving from one group to another can cause issues and in various chat rooms I had people I thought were friends turn against me, it was a sign, but I didn’t see it. Loyal, I stayed strong and kept going, as I believed in the cause. Supported by some and hated by others, I carried on, but the paranoia was growing.
Around this time, I felt I was being watched by the security services and journalists, I felt my every move was being watched and it made me suspicious of everyone.
I even remember being suspicious of a visitor from the water company! Who at the time I was convinced was the Police, that’s how much involvement affects people.
Coming to terms with what was happing and where I had ended up, I knew I had reached breaking point and it was time to leave, so I did.
Speak to anyone who does this and you will hear of how hard it can be, walking away from people you would have done anything for and then having no one is life-changing, but it's something that everyone involved in extremism should do.
Leaving the far right was hard and over the first few years I would occasionally log in to the websites I loved to see what was going on, but now as I have learnt to accept my past, own it and reject it, that need to that weakened and now It's been a long time since I've done that, and I never will again.
Looking forwards, not backwards today I focus on the future not the past and leaving extremism was the best decision I ever made.
With hindsight, I know there is no need for anyone to go down the rabbit hole I and many others have done. I was lucky, and I genuinely think I was a few words away from spending a long time in jail, but I had the inner strength to realise I was wrong and make the decision to walk away and start again.
Having walked away from the far-right over ten years ago now, I know leaving it behind was one of the best things I've ever done and today I want to help others do the same and this is why I have shared my story with you.
If you are involved, leave, be honest with yourself and own what you have said and done, take the first step and decide today after reading my story and others here outlined in the Exit Hates blog and podcasts to say enough is enough and put yourself first.
It won’t be easy, but you aren’t alone, and Exit Hate is here to support you.
Just fill out the form here https://forms.gle/G26c2c15HoM5G4D4A and ask for help. Support is here, you just have to ask.
Robert – Northern England.
* Exit Hate would like to thank Robert for sharing his very personal story with us. Offering a safe space to talk, the subjects Exit Hate talk about is tough, but we believe by offering a safe space to talk and have open conversations will reduce the appeal of extremism and show people all extremism is wrong and the only way we solve issues is by talking, respecting each other and looking for answers together. If after reading this article you would like to get support either because you are involved yourself or have a family or friend involved, then complete the form above and one of our volunteers will contact you once this is reviewed.