The British National Party has set up a branch in the United States – nine years after it abandoned a fundraising drive across the Atlantic amid controversy over its links with American white supremacists.
The far-right party described its new US "unit" as simply a social networking organisation designed to help expatriate BNP supporters stay in touch with one another, and the party, while working abroad. But the Government last night accused the BNP, which has been hit by internal strife following poor general election results, of looking overseas to promote "hate and intolerance".
The new US branch has signed up 90 sympathisers, while a Canadian branch has 60 members. The party is also trying to boost its presence in Europe and the Far East. The American operation is being co-ordinated by an IT worker from Croydon, Adam McArthur, who recently moved to the US to take up a job. Mr McArthur, a BNP officer since February, lives in Berryville, a small town in rural Virginia just over an hour's drive from Washington DC.
The move follows the collapse of American Friends of the BNP, based in Virginia, which was set up to raise cash for the party and was addressed by Nick Griffin, the party's leader. Members of the group included David Duke, the leader of the Ku Klux Klan at the time, who was photographed with Mr Griffin. James W von Brunn, the white supremacist who shot dead a guard at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington last year, attended two meetings.
The organisation was run by Mark Cotterill, a veteran figure on the far right, who drew inspiration from the IRA's success in raising money in North America in the 1990s. It folded amid claims that its fundraising activities were illegal under American law. Mr Cotterill returned to Britain and has left the BNP.
In January, Mr McArthur registered under American law to reactivate the party's presence in the country. According to US government documents, he said the branch would "organise US-based members, so that we can develop social networking campaigns to increase votes for the BNP in the forthcoming local and general elections".
He also said he would advise the party's supporters on how to vote in British elections. The move was part of efforts co-ordinated by the BNP's overseas liaison officer, Andy McBride, to forge links with sympathisers around the world.
Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Communities, told The Independent: "This just shows there's nothing British about the BNP. It's a sign of the party's own weakness that it has to look outside Britain to try to peddle their messages of hate and intolerance."
Mr McBride said the new branch would be carefully monitored to prevent extremist sympathisers of organisations such as the KKK from joining.
"People are told that if they come into this party because they hate people, or hate the colour of their skin, it's the wrong party for them," he said. Mr McBride added that the party did not encourage donations from members living abroad because it involved completing "immense" amounts of paperwork.
Meanwhile in Britain
The British National Party is struggling under a weight of debts estimated at more than £500,000 and has suffered a series of resignations of prominent activists. Its cash crisis has arisen because of unpaid bills to suppliers and the cost of fighting legal actions with Unilever over the use of an image of a Marmite jar in an election broadcast and with the Equality and Human Rights Commission over its constitution.
Nick Griffin fought off a challenge to his leadership and has promised to step down in 2013. Last May, he said he wanted to "make way for a younger person" and focus on getting re-elected to the European Parliament in 2014. But infighting has continued to destabilise the party, with Eddy Butler, its former campaigns director, and Richard Barnbrook, the BNP's sole London Assembly member, both recently expelled.
Last week, Wiltshire's only BNP councillor, Michael Simpkins, quit the party over the scale of its debts and said he would sit on Corsham Town Council as an independent. He said he knew of two local printers that waited six months for the BNP to pay its bills. Meanwhile, Jim Dowson has said he will be stepping down as the BNP's chief fundraiser. He has faced accusations of making inappropriate advances to a young female activist. He has denied the claims and said he is the victim of a dirty-tricks campaign.