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Jihadists and white supremacists share the same apocalyptic vision, and both groups have attacked London

Ten years on: 7/7, terror, and extremism

It is 10 years since the London Tube and bus bombings. Since we’re all going to be playing the “where were you?” game, let me start: I was on a train, coming into London Bridge from Gatwick. We were held for a very long time outside London Bridge, with vague reports of a fault on the line. By the time we were able to embark, what had happened had become more clear, though we were still unsure of the details. Rumours abounded of bombs in different places.

I had a work meeting that afternoon, at my office near Russell Square station. We decided to go ahead with it because...I have no idea really. For something to do, I suppose. As I passed the station, volunteers from the nearby Church of Scientology were outside the station, offering free counselling. After our meeting we went to the only nearby pub that was open, ordered beers and joked dryly and nervily about “not letting the terrorists win”.

Meanwhile, on the other side of town, the original founders of  the radio show that begat this website were similarly pub-bound, and speculating on how long it would take for certain sections of the British left, and indeed the British right, to begin spinning the tale that the bombings were the fault of Tony Blair, or capitalism, or “the neocons”. Answer: not very long at all.

The temptation to rationalise jihadist violence on our own terms is extraordinarily strong. It is difficult to come to terms with the idea that some people could have such utterly different views and aims to our own. When one encounters someone so utterly cast loose from one’s own notions of the world, it can be an extraordinarily strange experience. A friend, who spends more time than is healthy thinking about extremist movements, once summed it up nicely: “For years,” he said, “deep down I thought they were only doing these things to wind me up.” They must be disingenuous, surely? The aims of jihadists are so beyond most people’s idea of achievable or desirable goals as to be incomprehensible.

This is what ultimately separates jihadist violence of 7 July 2005 from that of the IRA, which plagued London in the 1980s and 90s. The aims of republicans  a British withdrawal from Northern Ireland  were not immediately likely, but at least eminently conceivable. It was quite possible to be a normal, respectable member of society and believe in the aims of the IRA, if not the means. It is difficult to say that of those who believe in the aims of the jihadists.

"I wanted to cause a racial war in this  country"

Yet in the interim between the end of Provisional IRA attacks in London in the mid 90s, and the 7/7 attacks, London got a glimpse of what was coming: not from a jihadist, but from a neo Nazi.

In April 1999, David Copeland launched a nail-bombing campaign across London, targeting Black, Asian and gay people in Brixton, Brick Lane and Soho. The one-man campaign was horribly successful, killing three people and injuring over 150. When tracked down, Copeland immediately admitted that he was responsible for the attacks. He was convicted of murder and planting bombs, and remains imprisoned. Copeland’s stated aim was to bring about a race war. In his confession, he cited The Turner Diaries, a 1970s novel written by American neo-Nazi leader William Luther Pierce, and a favourite of Oklahoma Bomber Timothy McVeigh among others:

“If you've read the Turner Diaries, you know the year 2000 there'll be the uprising and all that,  racial violence on the streets.  My aim was political.  It was to cause a racial war in this  country.  There'd be a backlash from the ethnic minorities, then all the white people will go out and vote BNP.”

Much like the jihadist, the neo Nazi’s aim was Armageddon: a final reckoning.

A fascination with violence

Flash forward to Wales in 2014, and the trial of Zack Davies. In testimony before his conviction for the attempted murder of Sikh dentist Sarandev Bhambra, racist Zack Davies admitted to a fascination with “Jihadi John”, the UK born poster-boy of Islamic State.

This courtroom exchange with prosecutor Sion ap Mihangel , published by the Western Mail, is worth reading:

“You were fascinated by violence.”

Davies: “At the time, yes. I had been following Isis for a long time.”

Prosecutor: “You had a keen interest in Isis?”

Davies: “I was absolutely fascinated.”

Prosecutor: “Did you agree with their methods?”

Davies: “The concept of no compromise was interesting.”

“You are a racist at the end of the day.”

“I don’t think it is that clear cut. I had contradictory extreme views, especially with my interest in Isis and National Socialism.”

Dr Bhambra’s family insisted after Davies’ conviction that, had he not been white, Davies’ attack would have been classified as terrorism.

As with Dylann Roof in South Carolina, it’s difficult to argue against that.

Davies had shouted “White Power” as he assaulted Dr Bhambra. He owned National Action paraphernalia, as well as a copy of Mein Kampf, and The Turner Diaries.

It is not yet known what the extent of Davies’s association with National Action is. National Action, like many a Nazi group before it, is mainly concerned with homoerotic cosplay, its propaganda videos all black shirts and balaclavas and men getting sweaty and intimate in the name of “training”. Much of NA’s website is devoted to rather well-designed posters and leaflets, which must help distract from the quotidien boredom of being a neo-Nazi, with your Saturdays spent staging “actions” against provincial Nando’s knock off joints that serve halal chicken. (The sheer tedium of being a British fascist is well described in Matthew Collins’s HATE: My life in the British Far Right)

National Action’s leader Craig Fraser has apparently encouraged his group to watch Islamic State training videos, telling fellow “nationalist” Kai Murras: “One of the videos we’re going to show at the next Sigurd camp, we’re going to get a projector up and project jihadis training for ISIS over in Syria, showing them how they train.”

The ideologies of losers

Davies may have believed that his interest in both ISIS and national socialism made him complicated, but really, there’s barely a cigarette paper between the movements. Aside from the obvious (dressing up in black, pornographic violence, anti-Semitism), there is the fact that they are ideologies for losers.

By losers I don’t mean underprivileged, poor or oppressed. I mean resentful, bored, and self-important. And normally male.

A recent documentary by Deeya Khan, shown on ITV, interviewed former jihadists as well as young men who had been close to “radicalisation”. What shone through with most was the sense of self-importance that being part of the struggle, or near to the struggle provided.

That much is an obvious link: accompanying it, and associated, is apocalysm: for Nazis, there is the coming “race war”, for Jihadis, the actual apocalypse. There will soon be a final reckoning, and these people will be on the right side.

That’s the future, but there is also a nostalgia. In this perhaps, the loserdom is most clear. Neo Nazis and Jihadists alike are utterly convinced that something glorious has been literally been lost and must be restored  by them: for the Nazis, that is racial “purity” and white superiority: for the Jihadists, it is the Caliphate. These are both nightmarish absurdities. But just as Nazis managed to make rather terrifying progress in their programme in the last century, in this century Jihadists appear to have achieved something that some are claiming is an actual caliphate: and that is going as well as can be expected.

It will most likely, eventually, be destroyed.

And perhaps, when eventually it is broken, Jihadism will limp on in the way neo-Nazism does, not a genuine force, more an odd curiosity that can ocassionally – and more and more through “lone wolves”  muster a spectacular, a la Roof, or Copeland.

London will always be a target

This is essentially the answer to why stories on neo-Nazi terror and Jihadist terror are told differently: put simply, Jihadist terror is much more of a threat than neo-Nazi terror. Jihadism is in the ascendence: it has land, it has tanks, it has rocket launchers, it has money: modern neo-Nazism, by contrast, appears to be a pathetic relic of a movement that had its moment a long time ago: it is easier to classify its violent adherents as loners and losers because that is what they are: people who join jihadist movements are at least involved in something that’s going places. They may be losers too, but they can attach themselves to a winning cause.

The western far-right is going absolutely nowhere: it is a shell, peopled by shells of human beings. A hangover from the 20th century. That is not to suggest it shouldn’t be fought: a bad, dangerous idea is a bad, dangerous idea, whether it has one or one million adherents.

Neo Nazis dream of being able to pull off the kind of horrendous acts we saw this summer in Tunisia, Kuwait, and France, Kobane and Jos, and in 2005 in London. They dream of being in the ascendency. 

London will always be a target for extremists because of what it represents at its best: diversity, cosmopolitanism, culture, art, and a laissez-faire attitude to how people live their lives.  These are all traits to be proud of. If some people hate us for all these things, that's their problem. But if we don't stand up for our better values, then it's our problem.

Padraig Reidy is the editor of Little Atoms. He is Director of Editorial at 89up and has written and ghostwritten for The Evening Standard, The Guardian, The Observer, The Irish Times, The Daily Telegraph, The New Statesman, The Sun, and The Irish Post.