The truth about Britain First – the one-man band with a knack for Facebook
Beneath the publicity stunts and the hoodwinking of innocent Facebookers, is a far-right minnow desperately hitching its wagon to Ukip
Paul Golding, the de facto leader of Britain First since its founder, Jim Dowson, quit. Photograph: Johnny Armstead/Demotix/Corbis
Last year, my organisation Hope Not Hate, produced a report into the activities of the new far-right kids on the block: Britain First. Britain First began hitting the headlines after a series of well-publicised stunts, invading (in its own words) mosques or driving military armoured cars up and down Brick Lane to no apparent purpose. Its thugs then swayed outside the East London Mosque in Whitechapel, swigging cans of lager under the auspicious mantle of countering Anjem Choudary’s “Muslim patrols”, with their own “Christian patrols”.
So it’s no surprise to see them popping up in the news for complaining about the Channel 4 drama Ukip: The First 100 Days. From the beginning, Britain First has been active about creating a presence on social media. On Facebook the group had around 500,000 likes, making it the most liked political party in the United Kingdom on that site.
Its colourful memes had a habit of popping up all over the place – against dog fighting, against child molestation, loving British soldiers, enthralling people to click “like” if they were wearing a poppy this year, and so on.
The main problem was, few people actually knew what this group was or who was behind it. Its rapid growth on social media gave the impression that there was some kind of massive street movement afoot in the United Kingdom and that every man and his dog had blindly climbed aboard. Or, as happened late last year, people had simply clicked “like” on a picture of recently departed Bisto mum Lynda Bellingham.
Our report, however, showed that Britain First is not just some group of simple-minded patriots with too much time on their hands. Instead it was founded by a Belfast-based businessman with a rather canny knack for building up protest groups and movements on the basis that it was your Christian duty to follow his work.
That man is Jim Dowson, a firebrand Protestant preacher and anti-abortionist who is a former member of the British National Party.
Dowson formed Britain First in 2011, as the English Defence League (EDL) and BNP went into a nosedive. He began billing it as some kind of sober and moral alternative to both groups. In reality, it was a hybrid of both, and Dowson had his troops turning out smartly in paramilitary uniforms and preparing for an imminent religious meltdown whereby his highly trained cadres would protect good Christians (of any colour) from the marauding interests of militant Muslims. The best way to do this, thought Dowson, was by flooding Facebook in pretty much the same way the EDL had previously done.
Dowson’s main problem, though, was that his “Christian” vanguard actually knew very little about his biblical protestations. As Dowson was mostly out of Britain (stuck in courts in Northern Ireland because he was central to that country’s violent “flag” protests) he was quite unaware of the rather heathen-like behaviour of his supposed adherents. The leader of Dowson’s gang was, and is, Paul Golding: a former BNP high flyer.
It wasn’t long before Dowson realised he may have made a mistake in his choice of who to lead God’s green-jacketed army. As well as accusations that supporters of Britain First were falsely portraying themselves as collectors for forces charity Help for Heroes, some – including the mother of murdered soldier Lee Rigby, whose name was used on its publicity and election materials – were upset by the party’s actions, particularly with regard to its campaign against radical Islam.
Dowson quit the group in July of last year, claiming that he was shocked to discover that Britain First was full of “racists and extremists”. Since Dowson quit, it has been going downhill for the group. Golding seems to have decided that Britain First is to be the self-appointed defence force of Ukip. There’s not really a lot that Ukip can do about that, as it seems Britain First has just the sort of people that Ukip’s politics attract. Dowson himself even previously offered to send Britain First’s armoured vehicles to protect Nigel Farage’s party.
Meanwhile, the world – well, those on the internet at least – seems convinced that Britain First is some kind of massive organisation. In November last year, the Sun newspaper printed Golding’s assertion that the group had 6,000 members, despite that fact Britain First only managed to muster 60 people on a march through Rochester in Kent in support of its candidate a week previously (the candidate herself got 56 votes).
So Britain First has now attached itself to Ukip. Admittedly, it runs a much slicker Facebook operation than Ukip (and most other parties). It now has a potential reach of some 20 million social media users, but yet only manages to get around 1,300 of those people to fill in an email complaint to Channel 4 (that was already written for them). That, as much as anything, tells you all the “truth” you need to know about British far-right bad boys.
From The Guardian . Report by Matthew Collins. 25.02.15.