Robbie Mullen knew that if he relayed Jack Renshaw’s plans to kill Rosie Cooper MP to HOPE not hate’s Matthew Collins his life would change forever. He understood that we would have to immediately inform the authorities. His National Action colleagues would instantly consider him “a rat” and he would forever have to look over his shoulder for fear of retribution. He didn’t hesitate. He made the call, and a murder plot was foiled.
“Whatever happens to me in my life, I know that I have saved the life of an MP” Robbie would later reflect proudly.
No-one can prepare for such an eventuality like the one Robbie faced when Renshaw told his NA comrades about his terror plans. We talk through the risks with all our moles but until it happens it is an academic, even alien, conversation.
Over the following few weeks Robbie’s life changed forever. He was told to pack a bag and be prepared for the call telling him he had to be moved. When it came, on the morning of the arrest of six alleged National Action members resulting from his information he had provided to the authorities, he had only minutes to get himself together. He wasn’t just moving house, he was basically walking out of his previous life.
The police initially played hardball, refusing to offer him any guarantees of protection from prosecution in return for giving a statement that might implicate himself. He stood his ground. We stood our ground. It was a tense standoff during which we were all threatened with arrest. Eventually, after the intervention of the Attorney General, the police offered him immunity from prosecution.
This might have solved one problem, but for Robbie the biggest tests were still to come. They were more psychological and emotional. Alone, reflecting on what has been and uncertain to what the future would hold. The situation was only made worse by the fact that despite his agreement to give evidence, his name was flagged as an extremist on police data bases. That made it impossible for him to get a job.
The transition to civilian life has not been an easy one for Robbie. While he originally came to HOPE not hate in April 2017, a few months after the group was proscribed, because he was worried about the violent direction of the now underground group, years of involvement had given him a warped outlook on life. He still believed in many of the conspiracy theories he had been indoctrinated with while a member of NA. He was not used to being around people very different to himself.
It would take time for anyone who was a hardened member of an underground Nazi group to adjust to normal life. Robbie’s transition has been made even harder by the fact that he has had to keep his location and back story secret. But that he has come through it – or at least is navigating his way through it – has been a testament to an amazing young man he is.
Robbie’s story might be extreme but it reflects the difficulties many people have as they try to leave the far right behind.
Over the years HOPE not hate staff have helped dozens of people leave the far right. Every person is unique. Everyone has a different story and different problems. For some it is quite straightforward, for others it is a much more complicated journey. Many have associated problems, be it with violence, crime or the inability to maintain relationships. Some have guilt, some display anger. Others simply refuse to accept that they should apologise for their past.
Helping people leave the far right is a part of HOPE not hate’s work that receives very little attention, but it is a part of our mission. With more and more people drawn into the far right, it is also work we will need help to expand over the coming years.
Linked with this is our support for schools. We focus this work in areas our data suggests that young people will be susceptible to far right narratives.
Now that the National Action trial is over, Robbie will be working closely with our Director of Education, Owen, to produce materials to support teachers and students alike. This support will include a new video and lesson plans that use the National Action story to warn of the dangers of the far right. We will not moralise or telling young people what to think and not think. Our approach is to make use of the personal testimony of someone who got snared by the violent far right and the detrimental impact it has had on his life to show people what to avoid themselves.
Thousands of people are now being attracted to the far right. For many it is just a passing phase and leaving is fairly easy. But a growing number are getting more heavily involved. The increasingly violent and conspiratorial mindset that dominates the more hardline groups means it is not easy for people to leave once they have been sucked in. Our goal is to encourage people to walk away from these violent groups before they hurt people or even hurt themselves. That means we have to make the journey out of the far right as easy as possible. We have to provide the very real moral and emotional support that is essential to make escape possible.
Robbie Mullen might be an extreme case, but the difficulties and hurdles he has experienced acclimatising to ordinary life are the same difficulties and hurdles shared by many others we have experienced over the years.
In Robbie’s story, and in the journey he has taken, I feel an overwhelming sense of hope. His journey isn’t over yet, and will possibly include hurdles, and stumbles. But from a place that was very dark, Robbie has shown that people who are faced with a dramatic and hugely consequential choices, with support and a helping hand, can make choices that save lives – including, ultimately, their own.