The Tommy Robinson contempt of court row has brought the rising profile of the far-right into even deeper focus in the UK.
Jailed in May after pleading guilty to prejudicing a rape trial with a Facebook Live video taken outside a Leeds court, Robinson, real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, inspired an inescapable campaign, dubbed #FreeTommy, to petition for his release. He was released on bail to face a re-hearing after his conviction was quashed today (Aug 1) at the Royal Courts of Justice.
The rise in far-right prominence has also been seen outside the UK – in fact, Hope Not Hate reported that 35 per cent of the #FreeTommy tweets were from places such as Australia, Canada, Germany and New Zealand. French National Rally leader Marine Le Pen and Dutch populist Geert Wilders also mounted strong election bids last year.
And across the the Atlantic, 2017’s Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville beamed images of torch-toting white supremacists all around the globe.
But a British former neo-Nazi is now fighting for a new cause – to help disillusioned far-right extremists to leave movements and groups across the UK.
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Posted by Small Steps Hub on Wednesday, April 25, 2018
Nigel Bromage joined far-right group Birmingham Against the IRA when he was just 14 in 1981. Angered by coverage of IRA killings and keen to “show his patriotism”, the then-schoolboy was set on the path when he was handing a leaflet simply reading. “Do you think terrorism is right or wrong?’. He went on to join other groups like National Front and Combat 18 joining in marches, leafleting, recruiting and attacking anti-violence demonstrations for two decades before his views finally cost him his marriage and more.
“After 20 years I came to my senses,” says the 53-year-old. “I was a patriot and thought that I was standing against terrorism but in the end was about hate and violence. There were a lot of threats and it was really difficult mentally to deal with it. I had developed as a person and I left and moved to London for a year to get away. Then I came back to Birmingham and started to feel really guilty about my past so I threw myself into community work to try and make up for the stuff I’d done.”
Making amends came in the form of Small Steps, a consultancy delivering training, mentoring and counselling to help others take the same path as him – transforming their lives by leaving far-right groups.
The sessions go on across the country and deal with all ages, whether it be school children, frontline services professionals and community leaders, spreading word of the dangers of extremism, radicalisation, racism and violence.
The Big Issue has inspired the launch of 120 street papers globally, including sister titles in Australia, South Africa, Japan, Taiwan and Korea.
Small Steps has worked alongside a small network of like-minded groups under the banner of Exit since 2015.
Based in the UK as well as Sweden, Germany and the US, the groups work together to challenge far-right views.
“It is crucial to have good web optimisation because we want people to spot us on Google when they are having doubts about being in far-right groups and googling it,” says Nigel, who works with two others on Small Steps.
“Then it’s really long-term counselling and advice that starts with email. We talk to them about the groups that they are in and what the doubts they are having are so we can get to the bottom of why they are having them.
“We never say that anyone’s views are wrong and we try not to be judgemental. But we do try to get them to see things from another perspective, for example, we may say that we understand the patriotism but in 1939 to be patriotic was about standing against racism and fascism.
But if we don’t talk about it, how are people going to know? It’s life-changing
“We often find that people can often see things from that perspective. Things then move on to their personal situation and how that might be affected and how leaving can be done.”
The work is not without its challenges. Nigel has faced a backlash from the very people he used to call friends and comrades.
But he believes that it is just a part of the job as Small Steps track the ever-involving far-right tactics, including targeting homeless people by offering pork meals to exclude Muslims.
And the consultancy is looking to expand its presence in major cities around the UK to do just that.
“I never thought that doing this wouldn’t have consequences and we have had emails and phone calls calling us everything from traitors to police informers, stuff like that,” says Nigel. “But if we don’t talk about it, how are people going to know? It’s life-changing.
“Now we are seeing that thing have changed and that the far-right are starting to make some strategic planning.
“Tommy Robinson brought lots of different organisations together and brought lots of people together but obviously he pled guilty to contempt of court.
“I think the big change has been the type of people coming forward in the last six to eight months. It’s not the working class like some may think – it is articulate young people who have been to university and are well-educated. It is difficult to challenge their viewpoint and get them away from these ideals but it something that we must do.”