The BNP is having another facelift. But its new poster boy Jack Buckby is just an old-school nationalist
British nationalism has got itself a brand new face. Jack Buckby isn’t exactly the boy next door, but he could be the hipster sitting at his laptop next to you in Starbucks (“working on a novel” – yeah, right). Young, educated, articulate, John Lennon glasses, excessive facial hair, ironic satchel: the only unusual things about him are a) his obsession with “Muslim paedos” and b) that he travels everywhere with a bouncer. The bad news is that he’s convincingly interesting enough to have landed an interview in the super hip Vice magazine (read their illuminating profile here). The good news is that he reveals himself to be a mouthpiece for racists and has probably destroyed his career before it’s even begun. But then nationalism has rebranded itself many, many times and every time it has failed to convince.
Jacks says that last July, just before starting a course at Liverpool University, he became enraptured by the idea of “culturalism.” Absolutely, definitely not fascism (his website’s slogan reads, “Love Culture, Hate Racism”), culturalism is a non-racial philosophy that has apparently “existed since the mid-1800s”. Here’s how he defines it:
In essence, culturism is the opposite of multi-culturalism. So it believes that diversity can only exist with culturism, because multi-culturalism doesn’t promote diversity, it brings too many cultures together and creates a world where every country is the same. Culture isn’t just transforming the way it always does. You’ve got to accept that culture does change, but it’s changed too drastically in one generation. We believe that differences in the world are important, so the British culture and the British identity should be preserved.
That doesn’t sound too controversial and could easily be construed as a small “c” conservative defence of the melting pot approach to immigration; “integration not ghettoisation” etc. And by talking about nationalism in philosophical rather than political terms, Buckby begins the interview with the air of intellectual legitimacy. He is not your BNP-standard shaved-ape-in-a-suit handing out leaflets about asylum seekers on Bradford high street. Rather, he’s a thoughtful young man who found himself intellectually drawn into a coalition with the far-Right. He adds, “I heavily oppose Nazism and I heavily oppose fascism.” That’s nice.
But, as the conversation rolls on and Buckby becomes more relaxed, the subject just can’t help but contradict himself. Slowly, the inner-storm trooper is revealed. It turns out that Jack “got involved” with the BNP while at school, which would be before he embraced culturalism rather than after. Vice presses him on the fact that he claims to oppose child abuse in general but only seems to talk about it in relation to Muslim offenders. But he really gives his game away when he articulates his views on the future direction of the BNP:
I just believe that every country should be populated predominantly by its own people. I do believe in the racial aspect of that. And, in my opinion, that’s not race hate, it’s just realism. What I would bring to the party is I’d take away this constant race issue, because I don’t think that’s the biggest issue in Britain. I mean, it is an issue, but there are other problems as well and I think the best thing for the party to do is to focus on culture.
So while Buckby begins the interview with the line that racism is bad and culture is something different and worth preserving, he ends it by confessing that, yes, he does believe that race shapes society but he would rather the BNP talked about culture instead because it’s a less scary word. The video lecture by Jack that accompanies the piece unwittingly underscores the point. Buckby states that young people despise nationalism (I wonder why?) so the far-Right needs to invent a more palatable synonym for it – “as long as we keep the ideology, it doesn’t really matter what word we use; it’s obviously all about spin.” He says that in search of that synonym, he happened upon the word culturalism as invented by a Tea Party supporter (so, no, it hasn’t “existed since the mid-1800s”). He liked the sound of it, so he stole it. Hence, culturalism is not a more thoughtful nationalism for a new generation, but old fashioned racism with hipster hair and John Lennon’s glasses. By the way, my advice for any politician trying to hoodwink the electorate in this way would be don’t make a YouTube video explaining your plan. “It’s all about spin” is never going to win many votes, dummy.
Here is the problem facing nationalism in a nutshell: it can’t escape itself. Nationalism has undergone many facelifts and taken many forms in Great Britain. It was predominantly anti-Semitic in the 1930s, anti-black in the 1960s and 1970s and anti-Islamic in the 2000s. Over that time you can chart a conscious strategy of semantic reinvention, from naked racism to a more sophisticated critique of multiculturalism today. But the peaks in support that accompanied each rebranding were followed by troughs as the true nature of the movement was exposed under media scrutiny. One key reason is the character of its membership, who can’t be interviewed for more than ten minutes without feeling the need to unburden themselves of their racist views (see Mark Collett). Strip away each layer of rebranding and they reveal a long, coherent intellectual tradition going back to the 1930s of which they are a) perfectly aware and b) rather proud. At the heart of their contemporary movement is that old conspiracy theory beloved of life’s failures: powerful Jewish interests are using capitalism, communism and immigration to destroy white civilization. In 1997, Griffin published a book called Who Are the Mind Benders? that put Jews at the centre of a plot to brainwash the British in their own “homeland.” Mr Buckby might insist otherwise, but the roots of today’s nationalism is Nazism. Buy any BNP member a pint of beer and he’ll probably confirm it for you.
There was a time when it looked like nationalism might be on the march in the UK. Griffin’s Question Time appearance and European election victory in 2009 suggested that his rebranding effort might have worked. But, today, the party is in tatters, insignificant in the polls and torn apart by infighting – all despite an economic picture that historically favours the Far Right. Part of what went wrong was that mainstream parties stole its issues and detoxified them. There is simply no need for people to “protest vote” for the BNP when they can cast a legitimate vote for non-racist Ukip instead.
But the bigger, simpler problem is that the BNP is run by thugs for the benefit of thugs, and thuggishness doesn’t sell well. Perhaps the finest example of the bathos of fascism is its own complex relationship with the paedophilia that it professes to hate. In 2005, Nick Griffin visited the US to raise money for the BNP and shared a platform with a man called Kevin Alfred Strom. Strom’s Hitler haircut isn’t as cool as Jack Buckby’s, but his politics treads similar ground. He campaigned for racial separation in schools and workplaces and described multiculturalism as a “sickness” corrupting society. How then to explain Mr Strom’s own sickness? In 2008, he pleaded guilty to charges of possession of child pornography. A movement that likes to define itself as the vanguard for order and civilization is populated by moral reprobates who whither under media exposure.
It has been ever thus: a sick ideology attracts sick people.