Note: I think, this time, Searchlight has gone too far. Here is a long and not grossly unfair account of the TBG conference – and not a word about ME! I thought I gave rather a good speech. The year before last, the hacks at Searchlight wrote a long and rather flattering essay about me. I don’t think, since then, that I’ve said anything particularly PC. Am I no longer right wing enough? Must I really put on funny robes and start chanting in Latin to be taken seriously? SIG?
The Traditional Britain Group is a curious phenomenon, and one of growing significance. Originally founded in 2001, and revived in 2010, the organisation is currently acting as a crucial ideological clearing house for the wider British far right, as well as for more radical conservative figures too. In recent months, Traditional Britain has not only run a significant conference, but also developed aspirations to transform itself into a national network by creating its own grass-roots activist organisation promoting ideas of a ‘traditional’ British identity.
‘Tradition’ in this sense is a useful catchall term for a variety of religious, and even pagan identities, that gravitate around a rejection of the political mainstream. The ideas swirling around the group also include a potent opposition to immigration, steeped in coded ethno-nationalist themes, and a strident Euro-scepticism too. Moreover, its intellectual roots lay in a curious mixture of European neo-fascist ideology, combined with British anti-European Conservatism. As such, the Traditional Britain Group can be characterised as an emergent pressure group within Britain’s far right scene, one that is much deserving of closer scrutiny.
Traditional Britain gained a small level of public notoriety in the summer of 2013, when journalists noticed the group’s Facebook page advocated the deportation of Doreen Lawrence, along with ‘millions of others’, following her elevation to the peerage. The media coverage over the summer of 2013 was also embarrassing for Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, and for others such as journalist Simon Heffer, who have both addressed Traditional Britain dinners in the past. Rees-Mogg now clearly dissociates himself from Traditional Britain, and felt drawn to them through a lack of awareness of their true agenda, rather than because of a common sense of conviction with their core aims. Oddly, he has become persona non grata within Traditional Britain, yet the group still use pictures of him to suggest that he agrees with their ideals. Nevertheless, there is a lot more to Traditional Britain that this minor furore.
New Directions within the British Far Right
Indeed, the group continues to muster a base of interest, and potentially its focus on ‘tradition’ is becoming central to reframing ideology within the British far right. This is an arena, of course, still adrift in the wake of the collapse of the neo-Nazi British National Party and the more ideologically hazy, Islamophobic English Defence League, both of which are organisations that are a shadow of their former selves. Within the resultant space calling for new ideas among those who describe themselves variously as patriots, traditionalists, traditional conservatives, and the like, Traditional Britain is gaining traction. It styles itself as a grouping that will not replace a larger political party, but instead will put pressure on others, such as the ascendant UKIP, whose 2012 conference it attended.
A flavour of Traditional Britain’s mixture of old-school Conservatism, combined with elements clearly flirtatious with continental fascism, was found on the day the world learned of Nelson Mandela’s death. On its Facebook pages was a strong commentary styling Mandela simplistically as a communist terrorist, while suggesting Traditional Britain followers should remember him as a man with the blood of innocent people on his hands, not as the icon of the liberation of Black people in South Africa, and human rights more generally across the globe. As a historian, I am happy to acknowledge some greater complexity with the history of Mandela than simple hagiography, but what was really odd was the comment on Traditional Britain’s Facebook page which read: ‘Peacemaker Rudolf Hess was jailed for 46 years and murdered in prison, no concerts for his release, no gushing from the media upon his death!!’.
Make of this what you will. It is, after all, only one posting from one follower of the group. But it is indicative of something more extreme than simply radical Conservatism within the group. So what is Traditional Britain? What ideas animate it? And why is it becoming more important to the wider British far right?
Scanning over its Facebook page certainly reveals some other interesting reference points within the everyday discourse of its activists. Strikingly, here we find much commentary on both the Conservative Party and UKIP, both of which it views with a degree of ambiguity. With the former, postings tend to present the ‘moderniser’ David Cameron in particular as betraying an authentic brand of British Conservatism of yesteryear, and even if they decry the Conservative Party there appears to be some hope of impacting on the activities of the Tories themselves. Nigel Farage and UKIP are also discussed, and Farage is broadly seen as a high profile political figure closer to the ideal of an authentic British conservative politics, though he is criticised in places too.
We will come back to the group’s own position on politics, and how it sees its role, in a moment. But for now we can note that it places itself as a more radical grouping than these two, and sees the restoration of ‘tradition’ as its core objective. Where does this interest in ‘tradition’ come from, and what does this mean?
The Conservative Revolutionaries
One useful concept for characterising the group, indeed an idea drawn on by Traditional Britain’s activists themselves in places, is ‘conservative revolutionaries’. This term is an echo of the Conservative Revolution movement that developed especially in Weimar Germany among a series of cultural conservative figures who rejected the new, democratic constitution created after the end of the First World War. Like the Nazis, Conservative Revolutionaries called for a national revolution based on a return to ‘authentic’ völkisch ultra-nationalist ideals, but unlike the Nazis the philosophers and intellectuals who formed the Conservative Revolutionary movement had a far more refined and intellectualised framework of ideas underpinning their activities. Some of the key figures in this cultural politics included the author Ernst Jünger, and the philosopher Martin Heidegger. And so it is in no surprise to find both these figures mentioned within Traditional Britain’s own webpages. They actively place themselves within this historical framework.
Jünger’s novels and other writing were noted in particular because they idealised the masculine, martial virtues of warfare found on the Western Front, and his various publications were lauded by the Nazis themselves. Never a member of the NSDAP, but active in other paramilitary groupings in Germany, increasingly Jünger tried to dissociate himself from the Nazis’ appropriation of him in the 1920s, and wrote subtly critical works about the regime in the 1930s. The Traditional Britain Facebook page, meanwhile, also cites a lengthy extract from an essay by Jünger, where he praises the idea of a nationalist, Prussian form of socialism. This is an idea that, the Facebook commentary introducing the quote stresses, was vital not only to Germany’s Conservative Revolution, but also is still deemed relevant as it remains vital for distinguishing between ‘the true Right’ from a ‘false’ right.
Another key figure among the German Conservative Revolutionaries was the philosopher Martin Heidegger, who developed a much more complicit relationship with the Nazi regime. He openly promoted the Nazis in the early days of Hitler’s rule, though his profile as an active Nazi, as well as a professor, declined during the lifetime of the regime. Heidegger also saw links between Nazism and his own philosophy, which promoted the idea of finding an authentic way of living, or ‘being in the world’, that rejected the materialism of the modern, capitalist milieu.
So, from this perspective, the vision of the Thousand Year Reich promoted by the Nazis seemed highly appealing to the philosopher Heidegger. While Heidegger probably came to find the Nazis’ methods too brutal, he certainly found a connection with the idea of their revolutionary form of anti-liberal extreme nationalism, one replacing democracy with an authoritarian state run by a self-appointed elite who saw their role to guide the nation to a higher, somehow more ‘authentic’, form of existence. Moreover, echoes of all of these themes are also found in Traditional Britain’s discourse.
The Romanian Connection
As well as identifying with Heidegger and Jünger, both seen by academic analysts as examples of interwar German fascists who also developed complex relationships with the Nazi regime, we see some other curious figures from interwar European fascism mentioned on Traditional Britain’s Facebook page too. For example, for many, Corneliu Codreanu is not a household name, yet he is cited positively on the Facebook page of Traditional Britain. We should remember that Codreanu was the highly charismatic leader of the interwar Romanian fascist grouping, the Legion of the Archangel Michael. This was a violent, Christian fascist organisation steeped in an ideology that drew heavily on Romanian Orthodox Christianity, hence its title.
This extremist movement, which veered between being a legal and a proscribed grouping in interwar Romania, was noted for two things. Firstly, it developed a support base via its engagement with local peasant communities, where it carried out genuinely supportive work for local people. Secondly, while romanticising Romania’s peasants, it is remembered above all for its profound antisemitism, which styled Jewish people as the corruptors of the national and a pure incarnation of evil. It developed a paramilitary offshoot, the Iron Guard, which carried out a series of extreme actions, including murder, in the later 1930s. After Codreanu was killed in 1938, the movement briefly found itself in coalition power in 1940, and here it launched a crusade against Romanian Jewish people. Its endgame came when it tried to stage a frenzied, violent coup in 1941, which was eventually suppressed by the Romanian state. Identifying with Codreanu’s ideology is every bit as crass and tasteless as identifying with Hitler’s.
Similarly, a series of antisemitic conspiricists inspired by Nazi ideas of race, and neo-fascists, from the post-war era, crop up on Traditional Britain’s webpages. One can find references to ideologues such as Francis Parker-Yockey, who in the late 1940s called for a new form of European fascism in the wake of the defeated Nazi regime. His ideas are also steeped in antisemitism, for example claiming that after 1945 America had become the country most dominated by Jewish influence, as a result of Roosevelt, who he referred to as ‘the monster’.
Another more significant reference point, a figure that the group cited very regularly on their webpage and who crops up throughout other material developed by Traditional Britain too, is Julius Evola. Again, among the mainstream press, Evola is a remote figure in many ways, and his ideas do not immediately resonate with the wider public as ones indicative of an interest in fascist politics. But for those who know the post-war Italian neo-fascist milieu, the relevance of Evola is clear. Again the name resonates with political violence, and tellingly historian of fascism Roger Griffin describes Evola’s impact on far right terrorism in Italy as ‘profound’. Griffin stresses Evola’s continuity with themes found within the Conservative Revolution tradition too.
As with Heidegger, in Evola we find another complex thinker who has written several philosophical texts that critically reflect on what contemporary human existence consists of, and calls for a radical alternative to be established. Evola’s ideas, steeped in mysticism and esoteric reference points, once again promote the idea of a radical rejection of our current modern world, and highlight the need for a fundamental sense of renewal. He believed this could be achieved through a backwards-looking vision for regeneration, a return to ‘tradition’. Within this matrix, Evola dubbed his alternate world ‘Tradition’, a term he used as a proper noun to highlight its significance for his philosophical appraisal.
Broadly, Evola’s ideas included idealising the structures of various societies that existed before the impact of western modernity – such as the caste system in India, the Roman era in Italy, and elements of the monarchies of Europe. From his various writings, Evola claimed to have reached some level of objective understanding regarding what comprises an authentic sense of Tradition, though this was all steeped in an ambiguous, dense philosophical approach – leaving much room for interpretation by his variegated followers.
Again, Evola’s relationship with interwar and post-war Italian fascism, as well as the Nazis who he engaged with too, was complex. Moreover, usefully for those who cite him, Evola offers another fascist reference point that is not a household name. While identifying with, say, Mussolini immediately raises the suspicions of the public, mention of Evola’s name is not seen as a public relations issue, yet drawing on his ideology is very telling. Mention of Evola is not superficial either; his name is dropped in a variety of settings, speeches, webpages and so forth. One comment on a posting about Evola also highlights Troy Southgate’s book of essays on Evola as a good read too.
Other crucial figures that broadly fit within this European milieu of intellectualised far right, and often revolutionary, fascist ideas, also include Alain de Benoist, another standout post-war figure whose ideas are promoted by the Traditional Britain Group. One Facebook posting knowingly describes him ‘the founder of the European New Right’, and links to an interview with him by the far-right American Renaissance website. De Benoist’s ideas are clearly influential on a wide range of figures feeding into Traditional Britain who we will return to at the end of this article, especially the engaging Markus Willinger. Telling of its networking within New Right circles, the Traditional Britain Group helped to promote a recent conference that featured De Benoist as a keynote speaker, titled ‘The End Of The Present World Conference’. Held on 12 October 2013, the event also included Alexander Dugin another key figure within the New Right, and is revealing of the wider circles the group operates within.
Finally, there are some further curious figures cited on the Facebook page, some of which perhaps the movement ones do not quite have the full measure of. For example, one can also find a link to a publication on the theme of ‘Cultural Marxism’ put out by Lyndon Larouche’s Schiller Institute. More familiar territory comes with endorsements of the French Front National, a point that was developed in the media coverage of the group in the summer of 2013. As well as ‘liking’ the French far right party, there are also some more sustained, supportive comments, such as a posting reproducing some quotes from Marine Le Pen’s visit to Cambridge University in February 2013. Her words essentially state that immigration poses an existential threat to French traditions and their way of life, a view the Traditional Britain Group wholeheartedly endorses.
From their promotion of figures such as interwar writers like Jünger, philosophers such as Heidegger, fascist leaders like Codreanu, and post-war neo-fascist ideologues such as Evola and de Benoist we can see that the Traditional Britain Group have some weighty intellectual pretentions. Such voices certainly help to give a framework for criticising the combined impact of liberalism and socialism on western society since the eighteenth century. But they do not evoke a sense of Britishness per se.
Countering this issue, there are a series of more predicable British heroes too. Largely, Traditional Britain identifies itself with various radical tendencies within the British Conservative Party. For example, we can find images of, and quotes from, Margret Thatcher on its Facebook site. More strongly still, Enoch Powell is regularly featured, again in image form as well as in quotation. Tellingly, Powell’s infamous Rivers of Blood speech is a common reference point, underscoring the concern with immigration in particular as a driving feature within the group’s ideology.
Accentuating this idealisation of Powell, Dr Frank Ellis gave a talk to the group to mark his centenary year in 2012. To give a sense of the company the group keeps, Dr Ellis is a notorious former Leeds University lecturer who was forced to take early retirement in 2006 after making a string of outrageous gaffes, including agreeing to attend a conference run by American Renaissance to deliver a talk criticising the findings of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry. Later, he also vocally supported the idea that different races have varying levels of intellectual capacities.
Aside from idealising figures such as Powell, we also see identification with older figures within the development of British Conservatism. Centrally here, Edmund Burke is cited at various points on the group’s Facebook page. Again, Burke’s critiques of the impact of individualism, liberalism and the radicalism of France’s revolutionaries during the era of the French Revolution, overthrowing the ancien regime of Louis XVI’s monarchy, come across as particularly strong reference points. This episode in history is useful as it evokes the need for a restoration of ‘traditional’ ideals, and demonises liberalism and socialism as movements seeking to tear down traditional structures within society. As we will see, key activists in the group, such as Gregory Lauder-Frost, are regularly critical of liberalism as an ideology, seeing it as a force destroying an earlier, pre-modern Europe which they idealise.
Essentially, then, the Traditional Britain Group combines a variety of intellectual reference points. We can see that it is bringing together a complex set of ideas drawn from continental forms of conservatism and ‘traditionalism’, that develop both philosophical themes, and promote forms of revolution and, at times, political violence too. These are blurred with distinctly British reference points, especially icons of Conservatism such as Powell, to help evoke the ‘Britishness’ of the group. Such a combination is being moulded into a more coherent, programmatic ideology, one promoting what we can see as far right themes, but in a different and far more intellectualised manner than that found in parties such as the BNP, or in street groups such as the EDL. Yet the aims of Traditional Britain are not to form a new party in and of themselves. So what are the ambitions within the group?
The text found on the Traditional Britain Group’s Home and About webpages set out some core ambitions, and present the group’s overarching set of ambitions. This rubric also again decries the failures of modern Conservatives, and identifies the movement’s key enemies as liberalism as well as any form of left wing politics too. Essentially, it rejects the political mainstream, in order to battle for the renewal of what it perceives as ‘traditionalist’ perspective.
The Home page even sets out a lengthy, footnoted essay engaging with academic debates on the theories of nationalism, critiquing scholarly discussion on when it became a significant historical force. The main thrust here is to dismiss the ‘modernist’ argument among historians, which basically presents nationalism as a core identity for people that emerged as Europe entered into modernity, largely from the eighteenth century onwards. In place of this viewpoint, Traditional Britain claims that there does not need to be empirical proof for when nationalist ideals were first established, rather they should be understood as much older than academic historians suggest. Moreover, nationalism for the ‘traditionalist’ perspective is both a ‘higher’ ideal, one that is somehow intuitive and felt, while also being a core aspect of a human being’s identity.
These points about nationalism as being elemental to human nature, rather than any other forms of communal identity that have developed though the millennia of human experience, are, at best, contentious. But what is interesting about such discussion is the length to which the group feels the need to go to, in order to develop this point. Its activists feel it is important to take apart the work of historians such as Anthony D. Smith, and they even bother to cite, and critique, the Marxist academic Louis Althusser. All this is telling of the way in which the ideals of the Traditional Britain Group are set with a sophisticated level of intellectual engagement with even implicit opponents. Moreover, it underscores the point that its protagonists seem to have a very high sense of their intellect and assurance in their worldview.
On the About page, we find nine overlapping points setting out Traditional Britain’s core principles. Firstly, the opening point stresses the need to reject the political mainstream, an idea highlighting the group’s combination of conservative ideals with radicalism. Secondly, it sets out its opposition to any idea of egalitarianism, as, it claims, viewing people as equal is an ideal that holds back the ‘traditionalist’ cause. Thirdly, the need for flexibility: activists should to unite behind a commitment to ‘tradition’, though not get too hung up with the details about what this means. Fourthly, to be honest and ‘live Tradition’, which involves not merely avoiding talking about these ideals in a euphemistic way, but also building a community of support to cultivate ‘traditionalism’. Fifthly, to abandon institutions already deemed lost. This is a more fuzzy point but one again highlighting the embattled view within the group that contemporary political and social structures need overturning and replacing with a radical alternative. Sixthly, in a related point, that the restoration of ‘tradition’ cannot be fought by ‘traditionalists’ within existing institutions, as these organisations will silence truly radical voices, again highlighting the marginalised worldview being internalised by the group.
Finally, points seven to nine all gravitate around the idea of establishing a counter-cultural world, one which will promote the ‘traditionalist’ viewpoint. Point seven highlights the need to establish networks, and also a national vanguard, to direct operations. Point eight focuses on the importance of culture to evoke the ‘traditionalist’ worldview. And then point nine stresses again the need to be a ‘wide church’, an ideal which specifically does not proscribe activists from being involved in other, related organisations; indeed Traditional Britain encourages this.
Key Figures within Traditional Britain
Traditional Britain’s main website also sets out the core leadership of the group, which makes for an interesting set of descriptions of its core activists. President of the Traditional Britain Group is Lord Sudeley, who, according to the website, possesses a formidable knowledge of the British constitution, while his other major qualification is his work preventing the export of historical manuscripts. A victim of the cull of hereditary peers in 1999, Sudeley is styled as a clear evocation of the ‘traditional’ British culture the group feels it is trying to defend, aristocratic, superior, and under attack by all variety of modernisers. It is worth noting that Sudeley was also a leading light in the Monday Club. In sum, we are given a sense of his cultural authority, links to established power, and also his intellect. This is very much how Traditional Britain activists like to present themselves.
Three Vice Presidents are listed. The first is John Kersey, who took on this post following the group’s 2013 conference. Among Kersey’s qualifications listed are his work as Director of Cultural Affairs with the Libertarian Alliance, as well as his talents as a musician and independent historian. Again, we are left in no doubt that he is a very clever man from his brief biography. Next is Christopher Gillibrand, described as a leading Catholic intellectual, who again sees the need for fundamental change in the current political system. And finally, Gregory Lauder-Frost, whose online biography stresses that he holds a PhD, defends his recent comments attacking Doreen Lawrence, and sets out that he still holds to the Monday Club policy of ‘encouraging government-assisted voluntary repatriation’. Lauder-Frost is also listed as the founder of the Traditional Britain Group, in 2001.
A National Movement?
We should be careful when drilling down into how a group presents itself via its website; this is far more a reflection of how it sees itself, rather than how it actually operates. The Traditional Britain Group’s website makes claims of already having in place a national network structure, optimistically dividing Britain into twelve regions, each of which has already been given its own Facebook page and, supposedly, has its own, active grouping. Only Northern Ireland seems to be waiting for a regional subdivision to be set up.
When linking through to these regional Facebook pages, we find that they are closed sites but do still list members. Most have about ten members, aside from the Facebook pages for London, the North West and East Anglia, which each have around fifty members – some of whom are clearly activists for parties such as UKIP and the English Democrats too. So establishing anything resembling a truly national infrastructure remains at the stage of ambition, and is certainly not currently a reality.
Traditional Britain’s website also discusses what is required of regional and local groups, and suggests the network must be established first regionally, and then locally too. Interestingly, the description of the qualities that local organisers should possess stresses that they must be able to use Facebook, indeed literacy in social media is seen as a core to the skill-set required. The national organisation holds a great deal of power over who runs these local groupings. They are expected to meet monthly, and hold their own annual general meeting, if they are to remain a valid sub-group.
The Traditional Britain website sets out what is expected from local meetings, which have a focus on establishing a common ‘traditionalist’ culture within the locality. It suggests that pubs may serve as useful free venues to begin with, and then groups can move on to using cheap seminar rooms if they grow in size. The core point of local meetings is to ensure they are regularised, and that ideas that somehow evoke the notion of a ‘traditional’ Britain are engaged with. This might be through a film night, organising lectures, promoting local historical visits, and so forth. Members are also expected to share any skill sets they may have, and to back each other up if attacked by ‘the liberal-left establishment’. They are even encouraged to give each other employment if possible. Finally, as well as engaging in targeted activism within local political settings, we are told that Traditional Britain members should develop leadership skills, preparing them for future national leadership.
There is an assumption that local groups should remain limited affairs though. They should not create their own formal accounts, and ought to try to run their organisations on a tight budget, at least initially. Meetings are expected to be ‘public facing’ too, and specifically the group does not want to shroud itself in secrecy as it tries to grow. Should there be security concerns, the local members can liaise with the national organisation for advice. Finally, local groups are expected to market their events, via social media as well as via more old-fashioned techniques, such as leafleting. Any larger events, such as keynote talks, will be able to draw on the skills of the national organisation for help.
This network of nationally linked groups is very much in its infancy, and as in any setting getting such communities off the ground is extremely difficult. Despite this, since the attempt to nationalise the group was set out a couple of months ago, we can note that some advertised local activity was already developing for November and December 2013. This period included a formal launch of the London grouping, and another for a Hampshire grouping. In Essex, meanwhile, a local grouping was due to attend a local Mass (denomination unclear), before going to a pub afterwards. Norfolk also boasts a small active group who are also gathering for a monthly book club among other activities, which again include a regular church ceremony. Finally, Leeds was advertising the launch of a provisional chapter in December too. So there seems to be some growth, but overall the organisation is a long way away from creating the national network it hopes to foster in the coming years.
These rather small and humble activities perhaps seem innocuous enough. But they should be viewed as a vehicle for promoting the underlying political ideas found within Traditional Britain’s discourse. As we have already seen, these are quite radical, once unpacked, and the group’s activities help to channel extremist positions developed internationally, while also rebranding them so they become a new set of reference points for British ultra-patriots and nationalists.
We can gather a clearer idea of current debates bubbling around the group from their annual conference, which had as its theme ‘The Future of the Nation State’ and was held in London on 19 October 2013. This conference was interesting in the way it set out a range of ideas for the group to engage with as it tries to emerge as a national organisation in the coming months. Most of the proceedings are available online, either as transcripts or as YouTube videos, on the group’s various open source websites. So the themes we can develop from the group’s conference are not hidden or secret, indeed they are quite happy to talk about them.
In sum, my own reading of these talks, especially as a collective piece, is one of a careful and nuanced articulation of the idea that Britain should become an ethically ‘white’ state, yet preventing this eventuality from emerging are the activities of mainstream politicians, including Conservatives. Therefore, some form of revolution, both cultural and political, is necessary at some point in the future, suggestive of a more radical, far right and at times even fascist, politics. Moreover, the more immediate task of activists for now is to consider themselves a political and cultural elite pursuing a long-term goal of revolution, while the wider point of networking activities is needed to start to develop the cultural support base for achieving the goal of establishing Britain as an ethnically ‘white’ state.
We can see the theme of the need to ‘return’ to a white-dominated society in the 50-minute talk delivered to the conference by Gregory Lauder-Frost. Lauder-Frost is a veteran of the British far right scene, active not only in the Monday Club but also in small pressure groups such as the Western Goals Institute from the late 1980s into the late 1990s. During this period he also served a one-year prison sentence for defrauding Riverside Health Authority.
In his speech, Lauder-Frost began by presenting the idea that a somehow authentic form of ‘traditional’ Britain existed before the emergence of liberalism as a political force, and that liberal ideas should be seen as just as destructive of truly ‘traditional’ ideals as later socialist principles. For Lauder-Frost, his politics is framed as one promoting a ‘structure’ under attack. He sees ‘tradition’ as an unmoving hierarchy found in a hazy understanding of the medieval and early modern periods in British history. His speech was a bit woolly in the exact detail here, but he was certain that the more modern political forces of liberalism and socialism formed the two key enemies, always undermining ‘tradition’. Liberalism was largely to blame too, as he felt that socialism only became established in Britain after the Second World War.
Lauder-Frost’s talk also developed some themes around the biological makeup of Europe, its DNA, as he saw it. As with other national identities, he reflected on how Britishness developed firstly from a shared genetic heritage over a period of centuries, from invading and settling Vikings, conquering Teutonic Knights, intermarrying Anglo-Saxons, and so forth. From this shared, and notably white, European DNA there emerged from about 1500 a distinct cultural sense of identity based around Christianity and various forms of high culture, according to Lauder-Frost. He stresses that when British people, and other Europeans, travelled around the world from this time onwards the (non-white) people they met were also totally alien to them. And so this binary between a European (white) ‘us’ and a non European (not-white) ‘them’ becomes central to his story of the development of what an authentic British identity is, and therefore the ‘tradition’ that is under attack.
Unsurprisingly, then, as he moves into the twentieth century, Lauder-Frost decries non-European migrants as irrevocably culturally alien to ‘our culture’, and stresses, in typical ad hominem fashion, that non-European migrants are only interested in claiming benefits. His brief history of immigration and identity focuses much attention on Muslims as terrorists, but he did leave space at the end for stressing some viewpoints critical of Black people too. Indeed, Lauder-Frost closed his talk with commentary reflecting on the Monday Club’s history of engaging with the politics of race in the early 1980s, and again arguing that repatriation was rightly then seen as the correct policy solution to racial tensions in Britain. All in all, this was a ranging, and at times muddled talk, but its core message was clear: Britain should become a ‘white’ country.
The call for a Conservative Revolution
Another of the group’s Vice Chairmen also addressed the conference, John Kersey. Here we find some clearer discussion on the need for a full-scale revolution in British politics and society. Populating the future with an image of overthrowing the existing order of things is crucial for revolutionary activists, and we do find this sort of mythology developed in the confident talk by Kersey.
Ominously, Kersey began by stating his core argument: the British nation had declined to an extent that ‘ordinary measures would not be sufficient to restore it’. He developed several important themes to unpack this statement. Firstly, he talked about the relationship between the emerging ‘traditional conservative’ elite, which the movement seeks to promote, and the masses. He stated that ‘the masses’ in society are experiencing life through the lens of a deluded worldview, from which they could not critically assess the impact of liberalism in economics, and its impact on national traditions. The masses swallow what he sees as a paradox, the modern world is always evolving, and for them accepting this sense of a changing world can bring comfort and security. But for Kersey, such change only breeds profound insecurity, and so all forms of modernisation should be rejected. This is what ‘traditionalism’ is all about.
Moreover, a counter-establishment elite, a vanguard of the ‘traditionalist’ cause, that rejects forms of modernisation of society is now needed, especially as the masses are, apparently, incapable of seeing for themselves the horrors that surround them. Without an enlightened elite forwarding revolutionary ideals, and telling the masses what is required for the future, Kersey claimed there will be no hope of revolutionary change.
Kersey also talked about the corruption of existing institutions, and identified this trend not only in the Conservative Party, which he suggested was itself erroneously pursuing a modernisation agenda, but also in academia. This was another world where once noble men, scholars in this case, were undermined by modern ways, and which had lost its earlier gentlemanly culture. Indeed, he painted a picture of academics as now all speaking with one voice, and once again failing to identify the underlying destruction of British society that animates Traditional Britain. As ever, in woolly fashion this was all the fault of ‘the left’, which, simplistically, will not tolerate any significant dissent. Kersey went on to style this fight with the dominance of the political left as a ‘culture war’, and argued that there needed to be a cultural revolution in Britain to overturn the impact of the left, not just in academia but across all British institutions.
Another reference point for ‘traditionalism’ for Kersey was the Catholic Church, and he set out his horror at some of the modernisation agenda that developed within the Church at the end of the nineteenth century. For him, this created a number of disastrous developments in modern Catholic history, but he also used this theme to praise the fact that some were working as bastions of a traditional form of the faith too. Here, he picked out Bishop Williamson – a Catholic on the record denying the Holocaust – as a figure resisting modernisation worthy of specific praise. Opposition networks developed to resist Catholic modernisation were also discussed by Kersey, in order to describe the aim of Traditional Britain’s own grassroots campaign: to work in a local, and decentralised way, and alongside other cognate groups where possible, around a common ideal of promoting tradition.
As he brought his talk to a close, Kersey explained that the conflict with the left was going to be a long one, and that a truly ‘traditionally conservative’ government would not come about for quite some time. Before this could occur, there needed to be a radical shift in the hearts and minds in Britain to accept an authentic, traditional conservatism, otherwise the cause would simply fail. Change from inside existing political structures was deemed impossible. He also claimed that existing laws were designed to enforce the left’s agenda, and so were set against them.
The task ahead was, he stressed, to work within the framework of what is legally possible to promote a new, counter-conservative set of ideals. Activists needed to bring on board the wealthy, and encourage their philanthropy, to help establish the resources to promote the new, ‘traditional’ culture. Traditionalists needed to have big families too, and draw upon tactics employed by other minority interest groups to work out strategies to develop an impact. Traditionalists must also use the internet, and reject the mainstream media, which is in the hands of either the left or the ‘quisling right’.
Kersey concluded by speculating that, should this network be created, its moment will come in the future, though probably beyond his own lifetime. Dissent will eventually spill over, he claimed, as he evoked an image of the coming revolution. At this point, the energies of the activist network created by Traditional Britain and related groups would be able to seize the moment, and channel dissent onto developing a new order. Specifics were unclear, and the issue of whether he was endorsing a level of violence in the final overthrow of the current socio-political structure was left ambiguous.
It is important to stress that the voices who contributed to the event were diverse, and in many ways Kersey’s call for a broad range of ‘traditionalists’ was epitomised by the British-based far right ideologue Alex Kurtagić. His activism largely takes the form of artistic expression, and his output includes a novel, Mister, published in 2009, alongside several albums, original artwork for covers for books published by the Arktos publishing house, and a range of essays in extremist publications such as Alternative Right, which he also used to co-edit. As such, Kurtagić epitomises the intellectualised, transnational trends within this milieu, and has contributed to an array of edited books, and most recently an article in the counter-cultural journal Radix. This special edition of Radix is titled ‘The Great Erasure’, and its contributors argue that ‘white’ culture used to dominate the world, but now is decimated by ‘black and brown’, who are the new colonisers destroying ‘white’ traditions.
His talk at the Traditional Britain conference, titled ‘Wanted: A Moral Critique of Egalitarianism’, again underscored the themes raised by the politics of the Traditional Britain group. In a sophisticated delivery, he concluded that activists did not need any more facts or statistics to prove them right, but rather they needed to feel morally righteous in their convictions, and had to start to act fearlessly. Intriguingly, this would enable a new society to undertake what he described as a ‘good dose of roundup’, after which something new could be planted – a point that got a good laugh from the audience.
He continued by stressing that all this was not about degrading people, but rather was simply about fully promoting respect for difference and uniqueness. This phrasing, typical of De Benoist’s differentialist racism theme, is quite typical of the New Right. Unsurprisingly, then, the slick Kurtagić is known within the more radical, neo-fascist circles of the IONA London Forum too, a gathering he addressed earlier in 2013.
Kurtagić sits within a wider grouping of figures that use a cultural discourse to promote essentially white supremacist themes, albeit in a more coded, nuanced manner. Another such figure here is Richard Spencer, Director of the National Policy Institute think-tank, based in America, and founder and former co-editor, with Kurtagić, of Alternative Right. Spencer spoke to the Traditional Britain conference on ‘Why We Need Europe’. Echoing Lauder-Frost earlier in the day, his talk also concluded by evoking the idea of a continuous ‘race’ of Europeans, consisting of Germans, Slavs and Latin people, a force which is in a constant, organic state of growth and development that stretches back millennia. Moreover, from this he stressed that race is how ‘we’ should make ‘our’ ‘friend and enemy’ distinction. For example, he suggested that Muslims are attacking ‘us’ not because of any other reason than the fact that ‘we’ are ‘white’. So, he surmised from this, if you accept that your ‘enemy’ sees you as an enemy race, then this legitimises your own racial awareness.
Intriguingly, Spencer’s solution was to develop a common European identity, not in the model of the European Union, but rather in a more intellectual way. He suggested forging a commonly held sense of European identity, one that recognises that figures from European high culture, spanning Dostoyevsky, Plato and Shakespeare, are part of a common attitude that by definition is also white. He even concluded by suggesting, wilfully provocatively it has to be said, that the current generation of Eurocrats might even be ‘useful idiots’, who are capable of setting up a broad infrastructure for a ‘racial and civilizational super state’ that could then be seized upon by traditionalists.
A more worrying reference point than Spencer’s frivolous conclusion came with the address by Markus Willinger, leading light of the Generation Identity movement. I have discussed the politics of the charismatic Willinger in the last issue of Searchlight. Willinger, still a student, was a less impressive performer at this conference, losing his place at several points during his speech. But he had a fair hearing and people liked his ideas and clear passion. Usually, he is a more fluent talker, such as when addressing a recent London IONA Forum event. He ended by talking about the inspiration that can be drawn from the direct action carried out by the Generation Identity movement.
His basic question was: what must young people do now? To address this, he talked about the need to develop a new form of politics by drawing on the ideas developed by the radical left, and epitomised by the 1968 generation. He also evoked the ideas of Antonio Gramsci, and like Kersey highlighted the need for creating a cultural consensus for radical change before promoting a politics to achieve this ultimate goal. This employment of Gramsci’s ideas for establishing a culture sympathetic to a revolution is another hallmark of the New Right, pioneered by De Benoist.
More so than other contributions, the language here was also very one much of not merely defining enemies, but also fighting them directly. These enemies were primarily the political left, who all European ‘traditionalists’ should unite in opposing in any way possible. His talk evoked how such ‘traditionalists’ genuinely believe they are surrounded by enemies, and so feel the need to attack in response. He also, interestingly, highlighted his frustrations with the achievements of far right politicians in landing punches on the enemy, as he sees it. He critiqued his home country of Austria, and its experience of having a series of leading far right politicians, such as Jörg Haider. Yet despite this political success, Willinger stressed that the Austrian Freedom Party and its breakaway grouping had achieved next to nothing substantive. Immigration still occurred.
He concluded in stirring fashion, and highlighted that ‘we are in the same sate as the left was fifty years ago’. Drawing lessons from the 1968 generation, he claimed that they felt the need to be radical, attack, and march through the existing institutions, in order to fundamentally change them. Drawing on this legacy, he too promoted a street politics, one of action. He gave the examples of the occupation of the mosque at Poitiers in 2012 by the French Generation Identity movement, to cheers from the crowd, followed by its storming of the French Socialist Party’s headquarters in 2013. He made clear that the UK lacked a fully-fledged Identity Movement, but he hoped that the conference and the Traditional Britain group could help him develop the cause in this country.
A sense of political theatre ended the proceedings, and Willinger’s talk concluded with him unfurling a flag for the Generation Identity movement, to much applause from the audience. The flag bore the logo used on shields in Ancient Sparta, so now evoking pagan memories of Greece as part of the theme of ‘tradition’. Members of the audience under 30 were even invited to come up and touch the flag.
The Radicalising influence of Generation Identity
A sense of the radicalism underpinning Generation Identity, even among its small base of UK activists, can be found on postings on its own Facebook site. Here, among other telling material that underscored the radicalism found in this group, one clearly related to the Traditional Britain organisation, one finds a video setting out the need for a revolution in Britain. Tellingly, it is also reproduced on the Stormfront message board.
This piece of Generation Identity propaganda again evokes themes entirely compatible with the views of Traditional Britain, albeit in a more radical tenor. The video is voiced by an ominous sounding narrator, and presents the left as seizing cultural and moral power in the west in the early post-war period, while also decrying the impact of immigration. It concludes in rather an overblown way by claiming that ‘We must awaken our spiritual identity, that undefeatable power that binds us together as a race and as a nation’.
This quasi-religious theme of a spiritual rebirth of the race is central to fascist ideology, and indicative of the extremism fizzing within the Generation Identity movement. It continues by claiming that contemporary society, ‘languished in the material filth’ while we ‘neglected our souls’. As a solution, it stresses that the movement wants a revolution to ‘do away with both capitalism and socialism’, and claims that these forces are ‘used to make a whore of Britannia’.
The Future for Traditional Britain
What to make of Traditional Britain? This is a difficult question. On the one hand, they have some powerful ideas, and some dedicated activists too, such as Lauder-Frost. On the other, they have set themselves high ambitions, and developing a national counter-cultural network will not be easy. Though we are not likely to see this ever fully come to fruition, what is more plausible is for the group to develop into a more sustained organisation in certain hot-spots, which currently seem to be London, Essex, Norwich, and potentially the North East. In its more established settings, potentially it will be able to extend its reach, and help feed radical ideas, such as the genuinely fascist themes espoused by Generation Identity, into such localities.
Moreover, the group wants to be more than an inward looking network. Rather, it wants to develop links with existing organisations, which is a sensible aspiration if it is to develop a wider impact. Aside from its links with Generation Identity, and telling of this inter-connectivity with broadly similar groupings, it is worth noting that Robin Tilbrook of the English Democrats also gave a talk at the group’s October 2013 conference.
Yet such linkups can draw out differences too. Tilbrook’s promotion of Englishness seemed to be at odds with Traditional Britain’s focus on Britishness. To unpack this, Tilbrook in his talk suggested that it is the English, not the Scots or the Welsh, who are the most Europhobic. So they should be targeted to develop an anti-EU political agenda. Tilbrook’s was a far less ideological speech than others, and was actually quite dull, focusing on examining various forms of survey data to draw out his core theme of the English as uniquely anti-European, and therefore to be lauded by the Traditional Britain Group. So the presence of Tilbrook, who is personally friendly with Lauder-Frost, offers us an example of the networking within other nationalist groupings that occurs at such conferences, and is actively encouraged by Traditional Britain as it tries to develop its impact. Moreover, its ambiguous relationship with UKIP is also interesting to consider here. Potentially, we could see the group emerging as one holding an informal sway over localised sections of the more radical activists found within UKIP’s support base.
A Very British Extremism?
Only time will tell whether Traditional Britain will survive and grow, or wither on the vine. It has stumbled largely unnoticed for over a decade, but seems now to want to emerge into something grander. As it does so, it may find it creates a relevance for its small network by establishing itself more fully as a clearing house for radical ideas being developed internationally, which can then be fed into British ultra-patriotic politics. On the other hand, the group’s engagement with complex, mystical thinkers like Julius Evola, or its praise for extreme antisemites such as Corneliu Codreanu, may result in a reputation for a pompous – and often when pushed conceptually weak – intellectualism that many pragmatic British activists may well find more alienating than inspiring.
To sum up, it is also worth stressing that what Traditional Britain is up to is nothing new. The historian Dan Stone wrote a book called Breeding Superman, exploring the theme of what he dubbed ‘the extremes of Englishness’, a phrase he used to focus attention on various, largely marginalised ideologues who formed intellectual circles for importing radical, continental ideas, such as those of Nietzsche, into early twentieth century Britain. Here, Stone stressed that, despite developing a wide variety of non-English reference points, such protagonists were also figures blending continental radicalism with markedly British traditions, to evoke sweeping new perspectives, the ‘extremes’ of Englishness. In practice, many of these fringe ideologues were often very close to continental fascism too. The Traditional Britain Group is a sort of modern day incarnation of this phenomenon. It blurs British and European trends in neo-fascist, ‘traditionalist’ and conservative ideology, but tries to offer a genuinely ‘British’ variant of these ideas too.
While it may remain a talking shop, some of the ideas it helps to promote are more radical than others. Indeed, as we can see with the influence of Generation Identity on the group, this includes the idealisation of an aggressive, targeted direct action politics steeped in a culture romanticising violent and symbolic confrontations with existing authority. If this more extremist strand within the counter-culture generated by Traditional Britain takes off, then it could come to have a more significant role to play in the upcoming political fortunes of the far right in the UK.