The Strange Story of Combat 18 – Dan Woinsaker

Over the past 4 years Dan Woinsaker has kept his eyes and ears open to keep readers informed of developments in the Nazi music scene, and the most significant thing in Britain was Combat 18's takeover of Blood & Honour. As C18 tears itself apart this will undoubtedly have an effect on the future of B&H and so we have asked Dan W. to have a look at the strange story of C18.

Anti-Fascist Action received an unusual New Year's gift this year - a letter bomb. It was one of ten sent to targets in Britain by a Danish Nazi terror group which has links with the British Nazi group C18. The media covered the story but replaced the identity of the real targets - anti-fascists - with high-profile personalities in mixed race couples such as Frank Bruno, Sharon Davies, etc. Once again accurate reporting goes out the window when C18 are involved.

And then in early March the papers ran a new scare about the threat of Nazi letter bombs being sent to high profile public figures. Coming so soon after the January bombs this means either C18 are so thoroughly infiltrated by the State that their every move is known (and C18 either don't care or don't know!) or these deliberately misleading stories are in fact promoted in the media to serve another purpose.

There is a lot of speculation as to who set up C18 and why, but despite that, the organisation has operated since 1992. In the early 1990s the British National Party (BNP) launched a high profile campaign in London's East End around the slogan 'Rights For Whites'. In those days the BNP still had marches and public meetings which had to be defended, and AFA soon noticed the emergence of an organised group of fascist stewards. AFA responded to the challenge of the BNP forcefully, and the fascists were seen off on several occasions. This new fascist outfit was soon to become the 'dreaded' C18 - Combat Adolf Hitler.

At first C18 had a working relationship with the BNP, supporting their events, but they increasingly started to identify themselves as a separate group. They circulated a lot of 'leaderless resistance' literature which encouraged fascists to follow the methods of the American Nazi terror group The Order, as opposed to the respectable, 'electoral' road of the BNP. They argued that a racist attack was worth far more than a racist leaflet, especially when it was publicly claimed by C18 to create the impression of organisation and planning. They hoped to provoke random retaliation on whites from the victims of the attacks, which in turn would start a `race war'.

It is possible that C18 was set up by British Intelligence as a 'honey trap' -to attract and identify the potentially most violent fascists and monitor their links with similar Nazi 'terror' groups around the world. It is also true that since the end of the Cold War MI5 are keen to identify 'terrorist' threats to maintain -and expand- their influence.

Whatever the reason, by the end of 1992 C18 was producing its own propaganda, including magazines with 'hit lists' of their opponents. They did attack a few soft targets, a couple of left-wing bookshops and community centres, and were fond of leaving threatening messages on people's answerphones, but from the very outset they were promising more than they could deliver.

By 1993 the BNP had withdrawn from the 'public arena' due to physical pressure from AFA, but the new standard bearers of street-level fascism were proving almost as elusive. Probably the first possibility of contact between AFA and C18 came at the massive (but pointless) Unity Demo in October 93. C18 were located in a pub waiting to attack people dispersing from the march, but when approached by AFA they wouldn't leave the pub until the police arrived. This all seemed very familiar - rather than some new 'terror' group.

In January 1994 they made their most ambitious move to date, trying to put on an Ian Stuart Memorial gig in London. Remembering what happened at the Battle of Waterloo less than 2 years previously this was obviously meant to be a show of strength. Unfortunately for them it all went horribly wrong; they lost their original venue in Becontree, got attacked in a pub in Bow by AFA, finally got some of their people to another pub in Waterloo where they were sniped by AFA, battered by the Old Bill, and ended up rowing with their German 'comrades' who couldn't believe how bad it all was. And the gig never happened.

The next time C18 hit the headlines was after the trouble at the Ireland v. England game in Dublin, February 1995. The media built up C18 into an overnight international conspiracy, giving them publicity worth hundreds of thousands of pounds. To claim that an organisation with the dismal track record outlined above was capable of staging a major disturbance to wreck the 'Peace Process' was complete dishonesty and obviously part of a different agenda.

Shortly after Dublin, C18 organised 100 stewards for a Ulster Volunteer Force march through Central London, and despite AFA's credible record of dealing with fascists, Searchlight magazine decided that "because of the danger of serious violence Searchlight did not Inform anti-fascist groups of the march”. The following year, this the necessary information in place, AFA was able to successfully confront the Loyalists and their C18 supporters as they assembled for their march.

The damage done to C18's credibility at their failure to protect the London UVF march came just two weeks after another C18-backed UVF march in Bolton was stopped by AFA. With C18 getting turned over in Wigan a couple of months earlier, once again AFA, the frontline of anti-fascist resistance, had completely exposed their media-created reputation.

C18 have actively built links with the Ulster Loyalists, collecting money for their prisoners and putting on a couple of Blood and Honour gigs in the north of Ireland. Their support has obviously met with some approval, for example a letter last year in the C18-controlled Blood and Honour magazine states, "We the Loyalist prisoners on East Belfast UDA wing H-Block 2, are dedicated to keeping Ulster British and white ... Hail the UFF & C18".

On the football front C18 placed a lot of emphasis on recruiting from the football firms, "Getting all the football fans, or firms, mobs, whatever and getting them all behind a Nationalist cause as one, that's when we start to progress" was C18's publicly stated aim. In reality, once again, they have achieved very little.

Obviously encouraged by all the glowing tributes after the Dublin trouble, Euro 96 was being forecast as one long hot summer of fascist violence. Despite the media's build up, C18 either lack ambition or ability, because they failed to organise any political activity off the back of the European Championship. Because C18 actually do very little they have to keep their supporters onside by inventing incidents.

According to C18 when Man United played Chelsea in October 95 "two neighbouring public houses were packed to the roof with neo-Nazi Chelsea supporters ...in view of the promise of Man Utd's lefty rabble showing up. Who true to form didn't." Absolute nonsense! So if it’s not the media or the State building them up then C18 have a nice little line in fantasy journalism to keep the myth going. That only leaves AFA, as anti-fascist militant activists with our feet on the ground, to assess the real size of the threat and work out a counter strategy accordingly.

Probably the key area of their work, and it would seem their downfall, has been the successful takeover of the Nazi music organisation Blood and Honour. The B&H founder Ian Stuart died in a car crash in September 93 and almost immediately C18 took control. The music fanzines connected to B&H were brought under their political control and most importantly the finances were taken over.

It is now claimed that C18 fuhrer Charlie Sargent nicked £80,000 and his right-hand man Will Browning pocketed £40,000. Whatever the exact figure there is no doubt that the opportunity to nick large sums of money was high on the agenda for a number of leading figures in C18. This certainly didn't go unnoticed by fellow fascists. The British Hammerskins described C18's brand of National Socialism as "nothing more than blatant capitalism!" and C18 successfully ripped off plenty of people - from bootlegging Skrewdriver albums in America and selling them as imports, to robbing over £10,000 worth of CDs from Viking Sounds in Holland.

Once B&H had been brought under control, the National Socialist Alliance was created in 1994 to unite a number of small, openly-Nazi groups like the KKK, British-Movement, B&H, etc. all under C18's guiding hand. At the same time international links were established with like-minded groups in Europe and North America, and a virtual C18 monopoly existed in the Nazi music scene. For a short period their political influence and income was considerable, but inevitably their stranglehold didn't last long, and by 1996 the discontent they had created by ripping people off and attacking fellow fascists could no longer be kept under control and erupted into open rebellion.

Once the influential Resistance and Nordland magazines came out against C18 the floodgates opened, and one of the most popular quotes circulating the Far Right is from David Lane, often quoted as an inspiration by C18 who is now serving life for his part in the American Nazi terror group The Order. He says "the leadership of C18 are obviously Zionist agents or they are so ignorant and dangerous that they might as well be. It can no longer be tolerated. At the appropriate time the enemy amongst us will face a night of the long knives."

At the same time the BNP moved into open opposition with Tyndall writing a five-page attack on C18 in Spearhead, the BNP magazine. An anonymous pamphlet (in fact it came from the BNP) was also widely circulated posing the question, “whether Charlie and Steve Sargent are MI5 agents or just poisonous shit-stirrers and completely fucking stupid can be argued about".

C18 are in serious disarray having lost control of the Nazi music scene, massive corruption exposed, and with three leaders getting jailed at the Old Bailey for race hate offences in March, the situation looks potentially terminal. Never one to miss a trick, Nick Griffin, a former NF leader and previous opponent of Tyndall, is now gaining influence in the BNP and openly arguing that the C18 elements should be readmitted "Woe betide the nationalist movement that imagines it can do without the street activists". Seeing as how the BNP are embarking on the biggest fascist electoral campaign since the 1970s it would seem logical that they would want protecting on the streets, and in some parts of the country it seems C18 are once again working with the BNP.

The latest twist is that the falling out at the top of C18 has turned to violence and a leading C18 member has been charged with murdering a member of the "rival faction"! Despite these serious setbacks to C18 there has always been a physical force element on the extreme-right, whatever it calls itself, and sometimes it is diplomatic or tactical to separate the different ‘wings' of the movement. Another option is that a more political element might take control of C18 now that the corruption of its leaders has been exposed and with the added opportunity of them being in jail. So were the New Year letter bombs a sign of things to come or another failed attempt to restore some credibility to the name of C18?

One thing is certain, those who deliberately exaggerate the threat posed by C18 are hostile to the anti-fascist movement. The media portray C18 as larger than life characters, to be feared, unstoppable, and when they do mention the anti-fascist opposition it is only as victims. As the C18 slogan goes “let them hate as long as they fear”. No mention of AFA's successes against C18. And while the middle classes may find these stories shocking, there are disillusioned working class people, abandoned by Labour, who may be impressed.

Certainly the fascists appreciate the stories because the reprint them word for word in magazines as evidence of their growing influence. As an AFA spokesperson said after the second World In Action C18 spectacular, "Black propaganda that can be exploited by its target is of dubious value, and nine times out of ten counter-productive."

Behind all the publicity lies the real purpose of promoting C18, and that is the call for more police and MI5 powers to deal with the problem. The successes of militant anti-fascists must be written out of history, the fascist threat must be exaggerated, and then the only thing that stands between us and a fully blown 'race war' are the suitably strengthened forces of 'law and order'.

And once the State, which is moving rapidly to the Right itself, increases repression against the Extreme Right, how long before that attention is then transferred onto groups on the Left?

The role of Searchlight has been significant and completely at odds with AFA's strategy. As the source of most of -the information that appears in the media about C18, Searchlight have played a key role in promoting C18 as more influential than it is, and have often argued that anti-fascist movement is incapable of dealing with them.

The actual evidence completely contradicts this, but Searchlight have insisted that MI5 must lead the fight against C18. To suggest that MI5 and C18 are 'natural adversaries' is curious - partly because it is extremely likely that MI5 are actively involved in the running of C18, and also when you look at how the British intelligence agencies have armed and controlled the Loyalist death squads in the north of Ireland - it is far more likely that MI5 would use Cl 8 to further their own reactionary agenda than actually destroy them. Whatever the outcome, AFA will continue to fight the fascists both politically and physically, but it has to be said that the deliberate misreporting of C18 has worked against anti-fascist militants on the ground and only served to strengthen the hand of the State.