From The Archive: The Britons


CONTENT WARNING: This post contains quotes from and references to antisemitism published in the early 1920s. Some of the historical writing/documents in this article may be distressing to some readers.






In 1967, the historian Norman Cohen published Warrant For Genocide, in which he warned of the existence of:

a subterranean world where pathological fantasies disguised as ideas are churned out by crooks and half-educated fanatics for the benefit of the ignorant and superstitious. There are times when this underworld emerges from the depths and suddenly fascinates, captures and dominates multitudes of usually sane and responsible people.

These “pathological fantasies” are created and disseminated by, in the words of the lawyer and scholar Anthony Julius, an “anti-Semitic underworld” comprised of “Gangsters, hooligans, Holocaust deniers, defamers of Judaism, charlatans and buffoons, crackpots and autodidacts, faddists of ‘secret knowledge’, subscribers to the ‘underground of rejected knowledge’.”[1]

At times in the last few years, it has certainly felt like we are experiencing one of those moments about which Cohen warned, when the peddlers of pernicious “secret knowledge” emerge and once more make their voices heard beyond the confines of the gutter. This includes the painful and damaging Labour antisemitism crisis, which has seen conspiratorial antisemitism  – thought by many to be a marginal or historical problem  – gain prominence terrifyingly close to the heart of British politics. This also includes this summer as we watched the macabre evening briefings where politicians updated the nation on the rising COVID-19 death toll, and our social media platforms were flooded by dangerous conspiracy theories and misinformation. In this moment of international crisis millions of “usually sane and responsible people” around the world have shunned legitimate scientific experts and looked to antisemitic conspiracy theorists like David Icke for answers.

All too often when discussing contemporary antisemitism people understandably describe it as a “virus” or “poison”. Yet, as researchers at the Pear Institute for the study of Antisemitism have recently argued, it is better understood as “a reservoir of narratives and myths that can be taken as a resource in specific historical and social contexts.”[2] This understanding of the phenomenon of antisemitism calls on us all to dive back in time and explore the reservoir from which contemporary iterations have emerged.

It is with this in mind that we are launching a new series called “From the HOPE not hate Archive”, in which we will delve into our private collection of fascist and anti-fascist material and search out historical objects, publications, pictures, audio and video material that can help us better understand the challenges we face today.

British Antisemitism in the 1920s

Amongst the oldest pieces in the HOPE not hate archive are a series of publications from the 1920s produced by the notorious antisemitic organisation ‘The Britons’. They launched their first newspaper Jewry Ueber Alles in February 1920, changed its name to The Hidden Hand in September 1920 and then to the British Guardian in May 1924. Reports from Special Branch at the time suggest that the circulation of The Hidden Hand was just 150 copies per month, making the surviving editions in our archive extremely rare.[3] What is striking about this collection of antisemitic publications is just how similar they are to the sorts of conspiratorial antisemitism that we find today.

While much of the content seems familiar, however, the world into which The Britons published these documents was very different. Like most of Europe at the time, Britain was emerging from the horrors of the First World War with a kaleidoscope of conflicting national emotions. Coupled with the trauma of massive human loss was the relief of victory and the façade of imperial security. In 1919, following the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, the British Empire acquired an additional 1,800,000 square miles of territory and 13 million new subjects. Yet even before the red ink had dried on the enlarged map of the British Empire, crisis struck with revolts in Ireland, Egypt, India, and Mesopotamia.

Simultaneously, Bolshevism threatened to spread across Europe and ‘poison’ the minds of Britain’s war-fatigued proletariat. Compounding this was the impact of the notorious Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion; a Tsarist forgery alleging secret Jewish global control. The simultaneous challenge of Bolshevism, with its internationalist agenda calling for “world revolution”, and the Protocols false evidence of a Jewish-led plot for world domination, convinced many that “the Jews’ were indeed a hidden hand behind world events, making the 1920s fertile ground for conspiratorial antisemitism. As Anthony Julius puts it, the combination of Bolshevism and the Protocols, “encouraged anti-Semitic coteries to believe they could mount an assault upon mainstream political opinion.”[4]

The Britons

It was into this fertile ground that The Britons launched. Founded in 1919 by Henry Hamilton Beamish, the group predated any explicitly British fascist organisation lending further weight to the idea that, as argued by the recently deceased historian of fascism Zeev Sternhell, that “fascism, before it became a political force, was a cultural phenomenon.”[5]

Coming from a distinguished family – his father was a Rear Admiral – Beamish spent spells as a fur trader in Alaska and a tea grower in Ceylon before becoming a conspiratorial antisemite while serving in the Boer War. He then fought in the First World War before returning to England where he launched The Britons in 1919 with the well-known homeopath Dr J.H. Clarke.[6] Following legal problems, he fled the UK and “became something of a ‘travelling salesman’ for anti-Semitism, traversing the globe in the hope of raising public consciousness of the ‘Jewish peril’.”[7]

His groups motto was “Britain for Britons”[8] – eerily familiar to anyone au fait with the contemporary British far right – and their politics can succinctly be described as “anti-semitism, anti-socialism and a patriotic espousal of the cause of the British Empire.”[9] However, their real passion was hatred of Jews as made clear by the front page of issue six of The Hidden Hand:

There is no race, no nation, except for the Jewish race and nation, which wishes to interfere with England’s laws and England’s law-makers. There is no species of foreigner in our country, except the Jewish race and nation, which seeks to oust Englishmen from their homes, their trades, their lands, their jobs, except the alien race of Jewery.[10]

In reality, the group was little more than a “miniscule middle-class organization with a bee in its bonnet about the Jews.”[11] However, while very small, it attracted some well-heeled supporters, including the ex-Governor of Bombay and Victoria, Australia, Lord Sydenham of Combe, George Mudge, Professor of Zoology at the University of London and a host of senior military figures.[12] This group of self-proclaimed “Jew wise” held a “fanatical belief in the authenticity and argument of the notorious forgery, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion”[13] and the leading historian of British fascism, Richard Thurlow, argues that the group’s distinguishing factor was “its crude and obsessional anti-semitism”.[14]

Links with the Nazis

One of the most striking things about this collection of documents is the light they shed on the very early career of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party. Unlike many antisemites of the period who were, at the time, very anti-German in the wake of WWI, Beamish was enthusiastically open to collaboration with likeminded Germans.[15] In early 1923, he travelled to Munich to address a meeting of the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP), at that point a small antisemitic group preoccupied by the perceived injustices of the Treaty of Versailles, and led by the relatively unknown Adolf Hitler.

Beamish’s address was translated by Dietrich Eckart, “a mentor” to Hitler, who also ran the occult völkisch group, the Thule Society, which was “an important ideological tributary to the Nazi party”.[16] Later The Hidden Hand republished an extract from the Vienna based newspaper, Wiener Morgenzeitung, which stated that Beamish “appeared on January 18th with Hitler in the Krone Circus in Munich and made an anti-semitic speech in English.” The article also claimed that Hitler gave Beamish a “large sum of money for the purpose of founding a Nationalist Party in England”,[17] though the historian Gisela C. Lebzelter has argued that, “Given the financial state of the NSDAP at that time, this allegation does not seem very likely”.[18]

Whatever the case, The Hidden Hand carried stories about numerous early Nazi events, including in June 1923 when it reported on the formation of a new ‘ortsgruppe’ (local group) of the Nazi party being set up in the “little town of Murnau, in the Bavarian highlands’, showing their interest in what was at the time a small German organisation.[19]

Effect on British Antisemitism

In Britain, Beamish and his allies campaigned for the expulsion of all Jews from England and for the revoking of the Act of Settlement of 1700.[20] On the front cover of the April 1923 edition of The Hidden Hand they called for “The Second and Greater Exodus” and proposed the then-French territory of Madagascar to be the location for the “New Zion”. The proposal to send all the world’s Jews to Madagascar had been around since the late 1800s and was later proposed by fascists and Nazis in numerous countries, including Franz Rademacher, head of the Jewish Department of the German Foreign Office in 1940.

As well as calls for expulsion, The Britons disseminated conspiratorial ideas about secret cabals and plans for world government that are strikingly similar to the sorts of theories propagated today by conspiracy theorists such as Alex Jones of InfoWars or David Icke.

In a copy of The British Guardian from February 1925, The Britons talk of “The Secret Societies and Masonic Lodges in Italy, as on the Continent generally, are thoroughly revolutionary bodies who are actively working for the Jewish Kabal to bring about the construction of all nations and the world subjection at which they are aiming”.[21]

It was the production and dissemination of this sort of conspiratorial antisemitism that is the group’s real lasting legacy. They published the second British imprint of the Protocols, released as The Jewish Peril in 1920, which argued that WWI and the 1917 Russian Revolution were proof of a “Jew War” that represented “nothing less than the extermination of Christians and the destruction of Christian nationality”.[22]

The Britons Society only really lasted from 1920-1925, and Beamish died on 27 March 1948 in Rhodesia.[23] However, the group’s publishing arm, The Britons Publishing Society, lasted until the 1970s and had a profound and lasting effect on domestic antisemitism. By the time it folded it had produced 85 editions of the Protocols doing more than almost any other British organisation to keep the flame of conspiratorial antisemitism alive in the UK.[24]

The Britons argued that “One of the most potent means of helping the cause of England is in spreading our literature”,[25] and while today such pernicious ideas are disseminated via social media posts, memes, videos and podcasts rather than pamphlets, the hatred, tone and even the specific details of the conspiracy theories remains the same.

Looking back from a post-Holocaust world, this collection of newspapers in the HOPE not hate archive are a reminder of the speed with which hatred can consume a person, a country or even a continent. The fleeting details of small meetings in Bavaria organised by a handful of relatively unknown antisemites may just be words on the page of a dog-eared old newspaper, but when they were first published they were actually a warning of what was to come. Just a decade after the meetings mentioned in The Hidden Hand, Hitler was Chancellor and a decade after that the gas chambers at Birkenau went into operation.


[1] Anthony Julius, Trials of the Diaspora: A History of Anti-Semitism in England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 304.

[2] Ben Gidley, Brendan McGeever, David Feldman, ‘Labour and Antisemitism: a Crisis Misunderstood’, The Political Quarterly, 91:2, April-June 2020.

[3] Richard Thurlow, Fascism in Britain: From Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts to the National Front (London: I.B. Tauris, 2009), 41.

[4] Anthony Julius, Trials of the Diaspora: A History of Anti-Semitism in England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 305.

[5] Zeev Sternhell with Mario Sznajder and Maia Asheri, The Birth of Fascist Ideology: From Cultural Rebellion to Political Revolution (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994), 4.

[6] Graham Macklin, Failed Führers: A History of Britain’s Extreme Right (Abingdon: Routledge, 2020), 28.

[7] Graham Macklin, Failed Führers: A History of Britain’s Extreme Right (Abingdon: Routledge, 2020), 28.

[8] The Hidden Hand, No.6, Vol. IV., June 1923, 4.

[9] Richard Thurlow, Fascism in Britain: From Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts to the National Front (London: I.B. Tauris, 2009), 32.

[10] The Hidden Hand, No.6, Vol. IV., June 1923, 1.

[11] Richard Thurlow, Fascism in Britain: From Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts to the National Front (London: I.B. Tauris, 2009), 30.

[12] Richard Thurlow, Fascism in Britain: From Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts to the National Front (London: I.B. Tauris, 2009), 46.

[13] Richard Thurlow, Fascism in Britain: From Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts to the National Front (London: I.B. Tauris, 2009), 40. And Dan Stone, Responses to Nazism in Britain, 1933-1939: Before War and Holocaust (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillian, 2003), 125.

[14] Richard Thurlow, Fascism in Britain: From Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts to the National Front (London: I.B. Tauris, 2009), 43.

[15] Graham Macklin, Failed Führers: A History of Britain’s Extreme Right (Abingdon: Routledge, 2020), 28.

[16] Graham Macklin, Failed Führers: A History of Britain’s Extreme Right (Abingdon: Routledge, 2020), 28.

[17] The Hidden Hand, No.4, Vol. IV., April 1923, 5.

[18] Gisela C. Lebzelter, ‘Henry Hamilton Neamish and the Britons: Champions of Anti-semitism’, in Kenneth Lunn and Richard C. Thurlow (eds.), British Fascism: Essays on the Radical Right in Inter-War Britain (Abingdon: Routledge, 2016), 47.

[19] The Hidden Hand, No.6, Vol. IV., June 1923, 6.

[20] Richard Thurlow, Fascism in Britain: From Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts to the National Front (London: I.B. Tauris, 2009), 43.

[21] The British Guardian, No.7, Vol. VI., 20 February 1925, 51.

[22] Graham Macklin, Failed Führers: A History of Britain’s Extreme Right (Abingdon: Routledge, 2020), 27.

[23] Graham Macklin, Failed Führers: A History of Britain’s Extreme Right (Abingdon: Routledge, 2020), 55.

[24] Richard Thurlow, Fascism in Britain: From Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts to the National Front (London: I.B. Tauris, 2009), 44.

[25] The Hidden Hand, No.6, Vol. IV., June 1923, 7.