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Wednesday, July 15, 2009 

The neo-Nazi "threat".

What are we to make then of Neil Lewington, the latest in a string of neo-Nazis to be convicted of terrorism offences? There is one constant between Robert Cottage, Martyn Gilleard and Lewington, which is either reassuring or worrying, depending on your view: despite their world view, whether it be imminent race war, or the intention to try to start one, all were only interested in "small" explosive devices. Gilleard had film canisters with nails wrapped around them, intended to be used like grenades; Lewington went instead for tennis balls which he "converted" into shrapnel bombs. Neither was suddenly going to become the next David Copeland, although it appears that Copeland was someone that Lewington admired, along with the Unabomber and Timothy McVeigh, the latter being the most "successful" of the three.

Lewington was arrested, somewhat fortuitously on his way to meet the latest woman he had contacted either over chat lines or the internet, having verbally abused a train conductor and then urinated on the platform at Lowestoft station. In his bag were two of his converted tennis balls, which were deemed "viable" explosive devices. Whether he was actually intending to attack somewhere with them is unclear; other female witnesses said that he had boasted to them of making such devices. He might just have been taking them along on his date to show them off, and his refusal to answer any questions has not shone any light on anything in the case at all.

While much about him is shrouded in mystery, what does seem clear is that he was the archetypal loner, a social failure, an alcoholic, who probably blamed everyone other than himself, especially the "non-British", while he fulminated in his room, still living with his parents at 42, although he apparently hadn't spoken to his father in 10 years. Unlike Islamic extremists, where the internet has been key, both in providing them with information for bomb-making and the kind of social encouragement and moral support which leads to them putting thoughts and prejudices into action, Lewington doesn't appear to have had a computer at home, although he may have had a laptop at some point, and must have used the internet elsewhere to meet some of the women who gave evidence against him. Indeed, he also doesn't seem to have been an actual member of any far-right or neo-Nazi organisations (there appears to be confusion over whether he belonged to the National Front), although he had some material from the Blood and Honour grouping, which mixes music with white nationalism. The other main find was the "Waffen SS UK Members Handbook", which doesn't seem to be recognised by anyone with any expertise on neo-Nazis, and may well have been of Lewington's own creation, even if the material within bore resemblance to some of the manuals distributed by the likes of Combat 18.

Most puzzlingly of all, it doesn't even seem that his defence bothered to put much of one up. They called no witnesses, produced no material, and Lewington himself didn't give evidence. David Etherington QC seems to have simply depended on the "lonely, pathetic fantasist" angle, which might well have washed prior to Copeland and prior to 9/11 and 7/7, but not now. It makes you wonder whether perhaps this was to protect others that Lewington was associated with, yet there was little to no evidence that he was connected with anyone. Again, this depends on perspective: are the loners the most dangerous, or is it those who have connections with formed organisations that provide the crucial confirmation that their views aren't lonely or strange?

Whatever the case, and however serious Lewington was, few are going to quibble with the custodial sentence he is undoubtedly facing. More worrying is that, as pointed out, this is only the latest in a series of such prosecutions. While mainland Europe in the past had problems mostly with left-wing terrorism, something that we avoided, having our fill provided by the IRA, we now seem to face twin threats from jihadists, and although they are diametric opposites in ideological terms but actually have much in common when it comes down to it, race war baiting neo-Nazis. In essence, they want the same thing but target the opposite communities: jihadists want Muslims in Western countries to face isolation, humiliation and suspicion to such an extent that they themselves become radicalised; neo-Nazis aim to get a response from those they target similar to that which triggered the race riots of 2001, fomenting the race war which they believe they will emerge triumphantly from. Both are deluded, both are dangerous, but we only focus on the former rather than the latter. That ought to change.

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In my dealings with neo-Nazis I find them far more alarming than any trists I've had with Islamic extremists and although the threat can be overplayed, as they are mostly all mouth and no trousers, it is a worrying development.

Hmm so just out of curiosity if he'd been a member of the Conservative Party (or any other main stream) would they still be prosecuting under the Terrorism Act for a "threat [that] is made for the purpose of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause"?

Starting to seem that the Terrorism Act is the first port of call for prosecutions whenever it could possibly be used.

I'm not sure there are that many Tories who think they can help start the race war by throwing exploding tennis balls at people...

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