May 30, 2009

Nazi salutes and burning crosses ... now the BNP sets up Scottish youth camps

It's a nightmare political vision: burning crosses, Nazi salutes and extremist indoctrination. This is the dark heart of the British National Party - an organisation now setting up "youth camps" in Scotland.

The controversial far-right training regime was launched last month in Wiltshire and immediately drew comparisons with the Hitler Youth and Islamic jihad boot camps Now, campaign groups fear a return of the fascist and white-supremacist symbolism seen at previous Scottish events. An outdoor event held in Scotland several years ago saw BNP activists joking about concentration camps and burning a wooden cross in an undisclosed Highland location.

Scott McLean - one of the most senior BNP figures in Scotland - was filmed giving a Nazi salute, and other BNP members were recorded shouting "one-two-three-Auschwitz" before grinning activists gave Hitler salutes to the camera. At one point a man was cheered as he threw petrol on to a burning cross towering over a group of initiates.

At the new brand of camps unveiled last month, children as young as 12 are trained in shooting air rifles and in self-defence, and they learn an alternative version of history as sanctioned by party leader Nick Griffin, who has repeatedly claimed that the Holocaust never happened.

In between shooting lessons, children are instructed in the art of making dangerous weapons from everyday objects. "Dutch Arrows" are manufactured from string and sharpened garden canes, and the BNP website reports that one 13-year-old boy was able to launch an arrow more than 150 metres. Police have confirmed that the darts, if used outside the supervised campsite setting, could constitute offensive weapons.

The BNP told the Sunday Herald that it will roll out camps across Scotland within the next year, and adult activists are using social networking sites such as Bebo to recruit youngsters to the BNP's hardline nationalist cause.

BNP youth leader Mike Howson, a former soldier, said: "We eventually plan to have camps in all the regions. We've achieved our targets for youth recruitment in Scotland. We'll be doing camps there within the next 12 months."

The BNP has applied for government funding to pay for the camps, he added, but has so far been unsuccessful in its bid for state cash. Applications are now being made to charities.

Despite its claims to be a mainstream party, the BNP has faced censure in the past for its alignment with European fascist groups and the Nazi overtones of some of its actions.

Publicity material for the camps is designed to appeal to youths by offering a sense of inclusion and strength. An advert on the BNP's Bebo site promotes the organisation as a "big brother" to its young target audience. It boasts: "Only the YBNP and its big brother the BNP can secure a future for the indigenous children of this land."

Though party leaders say the youth camps are about "moral training" and education, they also aim to lure children with the promise of powerful roles within the adult wing of the party. "The youth wing can only get bigger and better, with older members already being fast-tracked into positions within the party," a BNP statement said.

Campaign groups responded furiously to news of the party's planned expansion among Scottish children. A spokesman for anti-fascist organisation Searchlight said: "Their attempts to politically indoctrinate Scottish youth with their messages of prejudice and division are sickening. There is no place in Scotland for these camp sites of hate."

The recent surge in BNP youth activity has been driven by a conference of European nationalists earlier this year, which brought extremist groups together to "preserve our shared white European heritage". Skinhead delegates from hard-right Czech and German youth groups joined their hosts from the Swedish National Democratic Youth movement.

Revelations over the training and political schooling of children will come as a blow to the BNP, which is struggling to assert itself as a legitimate political force in Thursday's European elections.

Party leader Griffin was convicted in 1998 of inciting racial hatred. He has also referred to the Holocaust as the Holohoax'. Griffin has long sought to emulate the mainstream success of Jean-Marie Le Pen, the right-wing leader of France's National Front. Despite his ambitions, the BNP has been thwarted in recent years by a string of high-profile scandals and exposés.

Senior officials have been caught on camera making bigoted remarks against non-Christians, non-whites and homosexuals, and the party has failed to find any success outside of a few English heartlands.

A message left on Griffin's mobile phone asking to discuss this article elicited the one-word text message response: "Priceless!"

Sunday Herald

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