A hand landed gruffly by my neck. I snapped my head around to see a balding, 30-something man behind me, pint in one hand, my shoulder in the other. He cut quite a figure in his animal rights t-shirt; a committed vegan, he also happened to be a proud member of the National Front.
“I know he’s your mate, right, but this little prick just asked me for coke.” He jabbed his finger in the direction of Joel Ellis, a young Generation Identity (GI) activist who was now scampering towards the rest of our group. Clearly insulted by the request, the two National Front members pursued him as GI’s leadership looked on in stunned silence.
It fell to Charlie Shaw, GI’s North West lead, to defuse the situation. “Is this what Generation Identity are like?” shouted the vegan, struggling to get to Joel. “It’s pathetic!”
After a few minutes, the two National Front members stormed off. Joel returned from some way down the pavement, his mouth still glued shut in terror.
“Fucking hell!” screamed Charlie. “Do you know who they are? They should be in prison!”
We were at a chic bar in South Kensington, celebrating the successful execution of the second-ever UK conference of Generation Identity, a pan-European far-right organisation. Last year’s attempt at a conference went disastrously wrong after anti-fascists got wind of the venue location. This time, however, things had gone exactly as planned – until one of the speakers decided to invite his old friends along.
Charlie was furious that Thomas Rowsell, a YouTuber had invited the two men, who were National Front.
Rowsell, although just a few feet away, was drunk enough that he missed the whole discussion and was still oblivious to the unfolding drama.
This event was made all the more shocking by something I had uncovered earlier in the night. As I sank pints on the deckchairs outside the bar with Kenny (Kenneth McCourt), a Scottish member with a beard at least a decade older than his baby face, he boasted of his friendship with neo-Nazi musician ‘Eternal Reich’. But Kenny was not just a committed far-right activist – he was also a serving member of the Royal Navy.
As the night wore on, Kenny gradually divulged more and more details of his role in the Navy. He had been recruited into GI by his friend Mike (Mike Lynton), who serves alongside him in Plymouth and is active in both UKIP and GI. In fact, I had been told that GI’s Austrian co-leader Martin Sellner considers military personnel to make the best activists.
From my conversation with Kenny, it became apparent that he and Mike were apparently not alone in their views. Kenny boasted that some officers on his base were also racist. Political correctness, he claimed, had only reached the highest rungs of the Navy, and consequently they had sent down diversity officers to fix the issues with the lower ranks.
I was there as an informant for HOPE not Hate, part of a months-long infiltration of the extremist group. This was meant to be a long-term, factfinding project. By this point, however, I was having doubts about remaining undercover. We couldn’t allow a far-right activist with potential terrorist links to be serving in the Royal Navy. But what Kenny revealed next changed everything: he would soon be relocated to a new posting, where he would take up a position as a sonar engineer on board a Trident-armed nuclear submarine.
With two committed far-right activists serving in the Navy, and one due to spend months onboard a Vanguard submarine armed with nuclear weapons, I knew it was impossible to continue the infiltration as planned – we had to sound the alarm.
Through my familiarity with video-editing, I was given unprecedented access to the group’s social media operation. Although they like to appear large and active offline like their European counterparts, there were only a few real-life meet-ups during my five months as a member. Every meeting that did occur was leveraged for maximum social media exposure to give the appearance of a large organisation, and protests were planned entirely around the social media posts that would follow. Regional branches were inflated with outside activists to appear larger. The group’s leadership even created fake Twitter accounts to write positive replies to their own tweets, and attempted to coordinate the mass-reporting of online critics. New members were recruited using “patriotic” Facebook pages that don’t mention they are run by GI and the infiltration of UKIP chat-rooms.
GI’s UK leader, Ben Jones, describes them as a “water-tight metapolitical project”, meaning that their goal is not to win power in political institutions but to shape public debate. In particular, GI hopes to seed public discussion with ethno-nationalist ideas and thereby win support for their end goal – the ethnic cleansing of Europe.
One part of this normalisation strategy has been replacing traditional far-right discussion of race and genetics with the language of culture and identity. As one activist wrote in a private chat: “Saying it [genetic differences between races] publicly won’t do us any favours… Now, pushing the cultural differences is a more subtle way of implying that there’s very real differences between the people who were originally here and the people who are now coming here.”
Most notoriously, GI have been instrumental in spreading the far-right conspiracy theory of ‘The Great Replacement’. The Great Replacement is a rebranding of the century-old ‘white genocide’ conspiracy theory, which alleges that white people are being deliberately erased through immigration and racial mixing.
Under its new branding, the theory has seen a revival in popularity. Two massacres this year, in Christchurch and El Paso, cited the Great Replacement as their primary motivation, while Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik was heavily influenced by similar ideas. Prior to his attacks, the Christchurch mosque killer donated €2,000 and €1,500 to GI’s French and Austrian branches, respectively. Despite his earlier denials, Austrian co-leader Martin Sellner was found to have engaged in sustained email correspondence with the killer, even inviting him to Austria for drinks.
Under their veneer of respectability, which has seen them branded “hipster fascists” by the media, what I found was a group of men expressing vulgar racism and willing to ally privately with the most extreme elements of the far right.
The conference took place in an upmarket hotel in South Kensington. Gathering awkwardly around the hotel bar, a few dozen men talked in hushed tones. GI leader Ben Jones had instructed us to avoid any mention of the conference in earshot of the hotel’s staff as the room had been booked under ‘Ben’s birthday’.
Security was tight, with the location kept strictly under wraps. Despite this, conference organiser David Wright trusted me enough to task me with taking photos of the event. Immediately taking him up on the offer, I was astonished that, despite all their security precautions, they had tasked a HOPE not Hate infiltrator with taking photos of the event and its attendees.
The bar-side chatter stopped as Anne Marie Waters entered the hotel lobby, surrounded by senior members of For Britain, her far-right anti-Muslim party. Indisputably the headline speaker, Waters and her company passed through the crowd in silence to claim a space of their own in the corner. Waters’ speech was billed as a major event – the first British politician to speak about the Great Replacement and a confirmation of her conversion from what one founding member described as “Islam-bashing” to identitarianism.
GI members were deeply critical of what they saw as For Britain’s excessive focus on religion at the expense of race, but were clearly excited about the new direction being taken by Waters. Closer cooperation between GI and For Britain had been teased for months, and members were finally about to see the transformation that had taken place. Waters did not mince her words in support of the white genocide conspiracy, telling the audience:
“The only reason that the massmigration into white Europe is happening on the scale that it’s happening is to disempower white people, to make us a minority and therefore unable to wield political power.”
Waters’ shift to more explicitly racist and conspiratorial language clearly alarmed the two ethnic minority members of For Britain who had come to the conference, both of whom used questions from the floor to criticise GI’s ethnonationalism. A black member asked Ben Jones whether there would be a place for him in GI’s ideal society. Ben told him that a small number of “non-indigenous” people could live in the UK if they signed up to certain principles, although this would not be desirable.
Two other speakers, Tomislav Sunic and Colin Robertson (AKA Millennial Woes), meanwhile, used their speeches to attack Waters for still overemphasising the importance of religion over race. The mood in the smoking area after her speech was sour, with tension in the air between Waters, the other speakers, and her own members. Speaking to Robertson, Ben Jones criticised Waters’ anti-Islam focus: “Counter-jihad [an anti-Muslim movement that grew in the 2000s] is just so boring and ten years ago. It’s a dead-end, frankly.”
As it turned out, Waters would be the least extreme of the speakers. Tomislav Sunic, a Croatian-American academic and co-director of the white nationalist American Freedom Party, spoke on the importance of racial identity. Sunic also spoke warmly of his close friendship with Kevin MacDonald, the antisemitic conspiracy theorist who described Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik as a “serious political thinker with a great many insights and some good practical ideas on strategy.”
After a short break, attendees returned to the conference room to listen to the third scheduled speaker. I was asked to put away my camera, as Thomas Rowsell (AKA Survive the Jive) had asked that his attendance be kept secret. Rowsell took the stand for a long and rambling lecture on the ethnographic history of Europe, ending with a plug for his book of pagan children’s stories.
Rowsell’s energy-sapping speech, which was recorded against his wishes by GI and stored in their unsecured online Dropbox, belied his colourful history in the most extreme fringes of the far right. A former skinhead, Rowsell spent a short spell as a freelance journalist. In 2012, he began attending meetings of the far-right London Forum, where he became friends with Jez Turner and Stead Steadman, who even Ben Jones described as a “neo-Nazi”.
Rowsell gradually drifted towards the far-right pagan scene, founding the Frithgard Fellowship.
It was the final speaker, however, who attracted the greatest controversy. Scottish YouTuber Colin Robertson (AKA Millennial Woes) describes himself as “pro-slavery” and has called for the torpedoing of refugee boats.
Although he claims to reject violence, he frequently indulges in genocidal fantasies, once predicting:
“There’s a huge contingent of the Scottish population who will absolutely fucking mow down the Muslims when the time comes. I don’t doubt that for a second.”
In the same chilling video, he quotes a pro-migrant academic before saying: “I think we should be taking down names, because after the collapse I hope that people… I hope that certain people meet their just desserts. I hope that some people are punished, executed, as they should be.”
Although members were not formally consulted on the speaker invitations, the possibility of inviting Robertson was discussed and objections were raised on account of his virulent antisemitism – a potential threat to the group’s clean-cut image. Ben Jones consulted GI’s other European leaders, who told him not to invite Robertson – advice which Jones chose to ignore.
GI members themselves were not entirely immune to violent fantasies. One member joked about dressing like ISIS and kidnapping Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott, to which Ben Jones replied that they should blame it on Mossad.
At one point, members discussed organising selfdefence training. One suggested putting household ammonia in a water gun as a weapon. Ben Jones intervened, saying that the conversation was “bad optics”.
Another highly active member, with links to the British National Party and the white nationalist Creativity Movement, wrote in a private chat:
“The sooner our people get sick of Muslims, the sooner they will throw them out. If Muslims start to play nicer, our people might not wake up till the great replacement is already accomplished.”
The same member later suggested the neo-Nazi ‘14 words’ as a slogan for GI. When this was rejected, he suggested ‘White Pride World Wide’. Ben Jones told him to stay away from the word ‘white’ for optics reasons.
In the end, Robertson’s speech went smoothly. Reading from his phone, and under strict instructions to avoid controversy, at several points he ostentatiously scrolled through inappropriate parts of his speech.
After a few uninspiring speeches from Ben Jones and London regional lead Charlie Fox, the conference came to an unceremonious close. We were informed that the protest which had been planned for the afternoon had to be cancelled, as someone had gone missing with the GI flags. Instead, we took a group photo in the conference room with a banner, although this photo ended up being too blurry to use.
Once we got to the pub, members began to let their guard down. After one senior member, Ben Harrison, asked why I wasn’t using my real name, I told him I was concerned about possible leaks. Confusingly, he tried to calm my fears by pointing to various members and telling me their full names and places of work. It was at this point, too, that Kenny began, entirely unprompted, divulging his position in the Navy.
As Rowsell got increasingly drunker than everyone else, his two friends from the National Front arrived. I got talking to the one in the animal rights t-shirt, who regaled me with stories of his days in “serious activism”. He was no longer involved, he said. The “movement” had gone down the drain. I asked him what he meant, and he gestured disdainfully behind me. Two of the GI boys were wrestling on the pavement, and a glass smashed in the confusion. He sighed.
The atmosphere was decidedly masculine, with only two women present throughout the whole night. When someone brought this up, they were comforted that Martin Sellner says women only join late in a branch’s development.
This gender imbalance sometimes made for an uncomfortable environment, with members undermining one another in a manner not exclusive to but particularly common in far-right male circles. Members would make fun of Ben Jones’s unique facial hair, calling him “Wolverine”, and Ben would take this out on others. In particular, he would target his ridicule at one of the more socially awkward activists, who later told me he found this bullying extremely uncomfortable and degrading.
The night was winding down, and after a brief flurry of excitement over Joel’s failed coke deal, we said our goodbyes.
Colin Robertson’s attendance had provoked shock from GI’s European leaders, who had not even been told that their request had been ignored. In response, Ben Jones issued a statement, justifying the appearance as the “free exchange of ideas.”
In a furious private Telegram message to his fellow European leaders, Martin Sellner wrote: “Ben disregarded our common opinion, that GI UK should no [sic] invite the Youtuber Millenial [sic] Woes to their official conference.”
Sellner continued: “He does not care about our opinion at all. All european GIs are beeing [sic] held hostage by him and have to hope that his decisions are not hurting our cause too much. […] He does not act as part of our movement, so he cant be part of our movement.”
The European leaders resolved to publicly denounce the UK leadership on Twitter, and demand that they step down: “We will then reach out to other GI members and establish a different leadership that is cooperative, reasonable and not harming the european profile of GI, and sees himself as part of a greater organisation. If this not the case by tomorrow evening, we will have to disavow the english movement publicly and declare that it is no longer part of GI, demanding to change its Name and Branding.”
“Holy shit,” one UK member responded upon being sent the message in the Telegram group for UK activists.
Refusing to consider stepping down, Ben Jones immediately dug in and attacked the European leadership: “They are now basically trying to get rid of us it seems. Their view is that by inviting Millennial Woes we have damaged the brand. Now bear in mind, we know what the Germans and Austrians the French have been up to over the years. Martin Sellner is basically treating us as, I’m going to be frank, like dirt.”
George, a founding member of GI UK and a veteran far-right activist, called for reconciliation: “It was a bad mistake. No one can join us if they are a JQ-er [Jewish Question]. It is the bottom line.”
The leadership, however, refused to move. “There was no mistake, George” replied David, who runs the ‘Support Group’ for GI UK activists who stay out of the public eye.
“Really?” George responded. “He is a JQer. One cannot join if you are a JQer […] We are trying to get totally away from the shadow of the Old Right. We don’t do that by getting a JQer to speak at our conference.”
Another member, Xurious Music, wrote: “I did say, ahead of time, that there were big problems with allowing Woes to the conference, and urged David and Ben to cancel him.”
George fumed. “They do not listen. It’s that simple. […] If we have been thrown out by the rest of the movement, and if we cannot repair that break, then we have made a terrible mistake. The unique aspect of Generation Identity is that it is a pan-European movement.”
Ben, growing increasingly angry at the apparent insubordination, said: “With all due respect ladies and gentlemen, all of your regional leads and seconds made this decision. […] Set aside romance for a moment, what have [European GI] meant for us on a day-to-day basis? They’ve caused us media headaches and a coup attempt.”
“I have seen this sort of thing so many times before,” George said, “and always with the same basic causes – monumental egos in small (and tiny) groups and movements, and the work of saboteurs. I am now (just) in my seventh decade. I am too old for this. So, good luck guys, and au revoir from the old git; or should that be adieu?”
And with that, George quit.
“OK, well, I am sorry to see George go,” said David.
“I don’t think *you* are sorry to see George go, to be honest, David,” snapped Xurious. “We are under UK leadership only because we respect the chain of command. Once that is broken, everything falls apart.”
“Nothing’s falling apart,” David replied.
“Yes, it is, David. We just lost a very loyal and dedicated member. And we are looking to fracture the very organisation we all joined. This is what falling apart feels like. These cracks won’t stop here.”
The conflict had brought out long-simmering tensions between the European and UK branches, both personal and strategic. Ben saw Sellner as jealously guarding Austria’s dominance in the movement and as regarding the UK with contempt. He was hurt when the German leader referred to GI UK as an ‘artificial branch’.
However, the fundamental tension behind the split was not personality but strategy. The UK leadership made it clear that they saw it necessary to interact with more extreme elements of the far right for strategic reasons.
For instance, when one member raised concerns over possible cooperation with white nationalist news site Defend Europa on the grounds that the site’s UK leadership are antisemites and Holocaust deniers, David responded saying: “They do express some fruity views, but were kind enough to chat with [GI activists] Ben and Charlie recently, so we are on generally good terms. We all have to find common ground where possible and advisable.”
Ben Jones similarly expressed willingness to work with US identitarian group the American Identity Movement after one member branded them as extreme. “They’ve distanced themselves from the JQ types,” Ben promised.
In the end, the split was final. While the senior leadership celebrated the opportunities this would bring, it was clear that not everyone was satisfied.
Over the five months that I was inside Generation Identity, I uncovered some truly chilling examples of crass racism and violent rhetoric. In contrast to the slick, respectable image that the group works so hard to cultivate, it is clear that they are happy to associate themselves with the most extreme elements of the far right when out of the public eye. Most shocking of all was that two members of a group with such dangerous links, and whose openly-stated end-goal is the ethnic cleansing of Europe, could serve in the Royal Navy, one of them aboard a nuclear submarine.
The future of Generation Identity UK is far from certain. The schism with Europe has thrown the group into chaos – an organisation built entirely upon optics forced to rebrand wholesale. Having finally built a degree of name and brand recognition in the UK, the group will essentially be starting from scratch. Moreover, the leadership’s divisive strategy of deliberately alienating the UK branch from Europe and welcoming in more extreme elements of the far-right is likely to only fuel the existing internal divisions. As Xurious, a GI activist put it, “This is what feeling apart feels like. These cracks won’t stop here.”