My year inside the international alt-right

For the past year, Patrik Hermansson, a young, gay, anti-racist activist from Sweden has been undercover inside the alt-right for HOPE not hate. He risked all to go undercover in some of the most notorious far-right networks in the US and the UK, culminating in the violent clashes in Charlottesville.

This is his story.

Introduction

...as soon as I left the park a counter-protestor jumped in front of me and sprayed me full in the face with mace. Thankfully I was wearing sunglasses so my eyes were spared, but the rest of my face and arms began to burn. Later the sweat would drip the mace into my eyes and I lost my vision for about 15 minutes.

After returning to my hotel room to clean up, I headed out once more to the streets, thinking the day’s events were over. There was still a march going through the town so I headed over to take a look. That’s when I saw it: a car ploughing at high speed into a crowd of people. I saw someone’s shoes fly through the air. The panicked gathering began to disperse and I started to run, still unsure what exactly had happened.

When the emergency services arrived, I saw the paramedics pumping the chest of a woman before loading her into the back of an ambulance. Earlier that day I had been on the demonstration, just yards from the murderer, now I was stood in shock as his victims were driven away to a cacophony of bellowing sirens.

This sleepy university town had just entered the halls of infamy, thanks to the extremists from the alt-right: the name Charlottesville was soon on the world’s lips...

It was an evening in May 2017 and I found myself sitting at the head of a table for a three-course dinner at the Mandeville Hotel in central London. The occasion was the first annual dinner organised in honour of the notorious, now deceased, British far-right ‘intellectual’ and alt-right favourite, Jonathan Bowden.

Flying into London for the event were some of the most important alt-right figures from Europe and North America. Their arrival times were a closely guarded secret, but I had been trusted to meet one of them off the plane at Heathrow airport and accompany them to their secret accommodation in London. This figure was none other than Colin Robertson (aka Millennial Woes), the UK’s most prominent alt-right vlogger, who had been hiding around Europe ever since his real identity was exposed in January 2017.

The dinner itself was the most important far-right gathering to have taken place in some time.

The Croatian writer Tomislav Sunić, an important figure in the European New Right and author of the influential book Against Democracy and Equality, sat next to me discussing the prospect of mass-scale expulsion of non-white British citizens. He asserted that it was possible to “fly everybody home” and that a plane could leave Heathrow every three minutes!

At any normal dinner the prospect of forcibly removing all non-whites would be greeted with shock, but repatriation was a relatively uncontroversial topic around this table.

The rest of the night I talked with Brits, Swedes, Lithuanians and Americans. Some of these were super-stars within the movement, such as the never-before-photographed American alt-right figure, Greg Johnson.

Above the sound of clinking glasses men in rented tuxedos discussed eugenics, the coming “race war” and the supposedly ongoing genocide of white people. Smugly they congratulated themselves on managing to keep the dinner a secret, away from the prying eyes of anti-fascists. Little did they know, I was secretly filming the whole thing.

Getting in

For almost a year I’ve been at the heart of a world of extreme racism, antisemitism, Holocaust denial, esoteric nazi rituals and wild conspiracy theories. What I found was a movement that sometimes glorifies Nazi Germany, openly supports genocidal ideas and is unrelentingly racist, sexist and homophobic.

Becoming part of the London Forum, the UK’s most important far-right ‘think-tank’, was not as difficult as its reputation would suggest. I got my foot in the door by claiming to be a disillusioned Swede curious about the alt-right movement in the UK. I said I came to London inspired by Brexit and to get away from the “cultural Marxism” (a favourite phrase for conspiracy-minded, far-right activists) of Swedish universities.

Jez Turner, leader of the London Forum and one of the best known far-right activists on the UK scene, quickly invited me to meet up. Later, as paranoia about a mole increased, new members began to be thoroughly vetted and were required to provide letters of recommendation from trusted members.

Jez Turner, leader of the London Forum

Luckily for me, Scandinavian heritage and culture is fetishised by some within the UK far right, meaning interest in my Swedish background overcame most suspicion. At formal dinners, for instance, we sometimes opened by drinking from a ceremonial Viking horn, then raising it to the ceiling in a prayer to the mythological Norse god Odin.

One figure from the London Forum showed a particular interest in me as soon as I arrived. Despite being in his mid-fifties, Stead Steadman, a man of diminutive stature, was always dressed in a khaki shirt, khaki shorts and black walking boots; he looked like a cross between a boy scout and a member of the Hitler Youth. Little did I know at the time but this man was to be central to the whole project. Once close to him he opened doors to some of the most influential far-right figures in the world.

The first meetings with Steadman were brief. I was nervous, fully aware that one false step or mistake could end the whole project before it started. He quizzed me about which far-right people and groups I knew in Sweden and displayed an impressive knowledge. 

We usually met at the Nordic Bakery in Soho over a coffee and cinnamon bun. I listened to his musings on National Socialism and what he’d recently read, correcting his Swedish when he made a mistake. He was also very interested in my university studies, feeling that the “quality of people” in the movement was low and he wanted more people like me, young and university educated, to join.

Over time we talked more and more about the movement in the UK, as well as the Forum and the people he knew. Coming back from Stockholm after Christmas I brought him a rare book by the Swedish health writer Are Waerland that I acquired from the Swedish anti-racism magazine EXPO. Everything I did was about building stronger relationships and gaining more information.

Once the trust was built Steadman began openly discussing the London Forum, people they planned to invite and who he liked and disliked within the movement. The information I gathered helped HOPE not hate map the London Forum network and the movements of key activists with precision. We learned of international conferences in Lithuania, Italy and Sweden being attended by British extremists.

It even got to the stage where I was asked to sit in on the vetting meetings for new London Forum members. Steadman, Turner and I would meet applicants who wanted to attend meetings and question them on their background, politics and commitment to the cause. Soon there was almost nothing happening in the London Forum that I and HOPE not hate did not know.

London Forum: The power behind the throne

Everyone has always assumed that Jez Turner was the most influential person in the organisation: he was the public face and to the outside world, the key player. Originally, our plan was to get to Turner, through Steadman, but once inside a different picture emerged.

In reality, the Forum is almost completely organised by Stead Steadman and a close friend of his, Mick Brooks, but as both of them completely lack charisma Turner was strategically chosen as the leader. Turner supposedly doesn’t even have a computer at home and it is Steadman and Brooks who use their contacts within the domestic and international far right to organise speakers.

Brooks is a secretive character and it’s difficult to describe his appearance beyond saying he looks utterly normal, nondescript. He rarely opened up to me though he did like to brag about once being in the back of a Hungarian police van with American alt-right leader Richard Spencer after a demonstration turned violent. More recently Brooks’ long-running relationship with Arktos Media has soured after he backed the wrong side in a failed coup.

Stead Steadman and Colin Robertson (aka "Millenial Woes") at Heathrow Airport (captured on button camera)

With time, my relationship with key London Forum players began to open doors to the strange and sometimes extreme world of esoteric nazi rituals, bad poetry and conspiracy theories that makes up the far-right scene in London. Once inside it became clear that the organised political meetings were just one part of this world. Social events are as common as activism. They go to concerts, gallery openings and organise picnics. Some go to meetings on topics they are completely uninterested in, just to be around friends. For many activists their personal and political lives are inseparable.

But hate and violence are always present. These are people that stand up and clap when the Orlando massacre (the shooting at an LGBT night club in Florida that claimed 49, mostly Latinx, lives) is brought up and suggest that the best way to solve the catastrophe in the Mediterranean is with gunships.

In these groups, antisemitism is so ingrained that to suggest that the Holocaust actually happened is a joke you make over a pint.

The London Scene

While the London Forum sits at the very centre of the UK far-right scene, London is populated by a whole array of groups, all of which I worked my way through.

The Extremists Club is a small, strange discussion forum that holds monthly meetings of around 25 people in the upstairs room of the famous Old Coffee House in Soho. Here, the lack of moderation is what attracts the audience.

On the face of it the meetings are comical. A man in a long, white, curly baroque wig introduces two to three speakers per night covering topics such as gun laws, religion and the lack of freedom of speech, interspersed with poetry performed in Old Norse or Anglo-Saxon English.

Yet there is a dark side to this frankly laughable gathering of extremists. One night I’m having a smoke with Alison Chabloz, one of the UK’s most notorious Holocaust deniers, outside the pub. Discussion turns to her impending prosecution for online antisemitism.

“It’s a PR trick by the Zionists,” she says. Then, one of our number dares to ask whether anything would actually convince her the Holocaust had indeed happened, only to be met with widespread laughter.  “If you can show me any real evidence, I’ll change my mind!” Chabloz gleefully exclaimed.

In this world, Holocaust denial and conspiracy theories are commonplace, so much so that a whole group exists to cater specifically for them. I spent endless mind-numbing hours at meetings of the Keep Talking group, listening to speakers deny climate change, debate whether 9/11 was a false flag attack or if an ill-defined “they” sold birth-certificates on the stock market. Trestle tables at the edge of the hall were adorned with Holocaust denial books.

Also active in London are tiny Odinist groups, often with a healthy smattering of nazi adherents. One sunny afternoon a group of us gathered in the Barbican Centre, an iconic brutalist housing complex replete with green areas, for a ‘moot’.

Steadman, in his typical khaki shorts, lifted a horn to the sky and began to pray to the Nordic gods before taking a gulp of mead. Then he placed a Viking horn to his lips and blew, but instead of a bellowing blast echoing out a stuttered honk spluttered from his lips.

Sometimes being a mole in the far right was dangerous, nerve racking or scary but at other times it was surreal, ridiculous and frankly comical.

The Traditional Britain Group and Gregory Lauder-Frost

Founded by Gregory Lauder-Frost in 2001, the Traditional Britain Group (TBG) is a London-based traditionalist organisation that hosts far-right gatherings, dinners and conferences, often including international alt-right figures.

Alongside the London Forum it is a central networking and meeting point for the dissemination of far right and European New Right ideas in the UK, in part due to Lauder-Frost’s role as the UK head of the leading alt-right publisher Arktos Media.

The black-tie events have been addressed by the likes of European New Right thinkers Alex Kurtagic and Tomislav Sunic, former Arktos Media editor John Morgan (now working for Greg Johnson's Counter-Currents), Marcus Willinger of Generation Identity, and even the best-known alt-right figure of them all, Richard Spencer. Several Breitbart London writers are known to have attended, and UK-based alt-right organiser Matt Tait is also a regular.

However, unlike the Forum Network the TBG endeavours to maintain a more “respectable” image (for example Jez Turner, figurehead of the Forum Network, is barred from attending). This enables TBG to be attended by Conservative Party and UKIP members, and has been addressed by UKIP MEP Gerard Batten and Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg (who later apologised for his appearance).

When I sit down with Lauder-Frost in the Chandos pub near Trafalgar Square, I’ve hardly had a chance to touch my drink before he openly exclaims that black Labour MP Diane Abbot “is a n****r”. Beneath the feigned veneer of respectability, he is a gutter racist. As we drink he opens up about the increasingly acrimonious splits within the alt-right that resulted from internal fights in Arktos, the premier publisher of the movement. Being the UK head of Arktos he knew the ins and outs and explained how then-editor-in- chief John Morgan launched a failed coup and how Mick Brooks from the London Forum had backed him, resulting in him being pushed out as well.

Gregory Lauder-Frost

He doesn’t hold back and I can feel little drips of his saliva hitting my face as he speaks. He describes his colleague Brooks as a “common bloke” and how Daniel Friberg, founder of Arktos and a leading alt-right figure, is “not a big thinker”. Neither does Lauder-Frost like Richard Spencer. He tells me that Spencer, who has spoken at the TBG, is “naive” and “doesn’t understand Europe”.

By the time I leave the pub it is clear that an important split is emerging within the alt-right movement between some of the biggest players.

Breaking America

If you want to get to the very heart of the alt-right, all roads lead to America. While Europe has produced its fair share of prominent alt-right activists and big names from America regularly visit, it was clear that if I was to better understand the alt-right movement, the emerging split and generally to get closer to the big names, I would have to head across the Atlantic.

During Greg Johnson’s short visit to London I had got to know him well. In addition to the Bowden dinner and the conference the following day I had spent an afternoon at his hotel alongside Steadman. With Johnson being at the very heart of the emerging split in the alt-right, it was decided I should start the American part of my infiltration with him.

Johnson admired the London Forum so much that he replicated the concept in New York and Seattle with closed conferences of hard-core activists addressed by leading speakers from the far right. Recent events had been attended by big names, such as the internationally recognised antisemite and editor of The Occidental Observer, Kevin MacDonald, as well as the UK’s most well-known alt-right vlogger Colin Robertson (aka Millennial Woes).

One sunny Saturday in June, I joined the list of speakers at one of these forums in Seattle. I had intended to attend as a guest but one week before the event Johnson contacted me and asked me to give the opening address, removing any doubt in my mind that I was now accepted as part of this movement.

With delicious irony I opened the event by talking about the danger of anti-fascist infiltration.

The Seattle Forum is smaller than those in London but, having started just a couple of months ago, people tell me that it has grown considerably since. It’s organised together with a group called Cascadia, named after the mountain range that lies south-east of Seattle. It’s run by a group of young men who call themselves a “tribe” and to become a member you need to be white.

Jeffrey, one of their leaders, says that they’ve put the limit at 1/8th, meaning that you cannot have more than one-eighth “non-white blood” to be considered for membership and even claim that they require recruits to take a DNA test to prove it.

Hitler tea pots and BBQ food

The day before the forum I’m invited to an exclusive barbecue in a suburb of Seattle at the house of Charles Krafft, the infamous Nazi ceramicist. His home is a temple to National Socialism. Swastikas cover the walls and Mein Kampf sits on the bookshelf, alongside works by Mussolini, Evola and WW2 paraphernalia.

Most of the people there are men between 17 and 25 and most carry guns. “We’re all about the 14 words” a guy called Kato tells me when I ask about Cascadia, referencing the infamous white supremacist slogan (“We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children”). “Whites are going to be a minority in this country by 2040,” he adds before telling me about the impending “race war”.

Hitler teapot by Charles Krafft

The ultimate goal of Cascadia is to create a completely separate society where members interact with each other socially, economically and, should more women join, then romantically as well. It’s a way to preserve the white race (relationships with non-whites are not allowed) as well as a way of avoiding the backlash from “cultural Marxism”, a threat that they think increasingly permeates all aspects of American life.

Inspired by the Völkish movement in early 20th century Germany, they take a monthly fee from their members and plan to buy land somewhere in the eastern part of the state in order to create a separate, completely white society.

Visceral antisemitism permeates everything, as does homophobia and sexism. “Throw them in the oven” is a common joke throughout the night as are violent threats towards “race traitors”. For the first time, I’m genuinely afraid of being discovered.

Conscious of every gesture I make, I am sure they will notice that I don’t fit in. I try asking about their guns and begin to speak English with an even heavier Swedish accent than usual, hoping it will make them more forgiving. But it’s too late to back out now, so I take a deep breath, smile, sip my drink and laugh along as they joke about the mass murder of Jews.

Uncovering links to the White House

After the Seattle Forum I head to New York. The split between Counter-Currents Publishing and AltRight Corporation (the result of the Arktos row mentioned earlier) had got especially nasty. 

Having spent a few days at the heart of Counter-Currents, I decided I had to go get the other side of the story.

“We had connections in the Trump administration, we were going to do things!”

I manage to convince Jason Reza Jorjani, co-founder of AltRight Corporation and editor of Arktos Media, to meet for a drink. I’m sitting across from him in an Irish pub in the shadow of the Empire State Building. The first thing he said was: “You’re not in touch with Greg [Johnson], are you?”

I assure him I’m not, knowing he would leave if he ever found out I had spent the last month getting to know people on the other side of the split, some of whom had recently accused Jorjani of being a CIA agent. “It’s like the SA and the SS,” Jorjani said. “A Night of the Long Knives is coming though.”

Jorjani talks for hours, displaying a remarkable arrogance coupled with a tiring self-pity. He’s a remarkably extreme character, much more so than his public persona. He sees the world one day being run by a single strong leader and predicts it won’t be long before bank notes are adorned with images of Hitler.

I ask about AltRight Corporation and its aims and objectives and he explains how it is a “government in waiting”. But then, out of nowhere, as though it was no big deal, he says: “We had connections in the Trump administration, we were going to do things!”

I lean forward, praying that the camera I have hidden in one of my shirt buttons captured what he had just said. I can hardly believe it. In this small Irish bar in Manhattan, I am sat opposite one of the most prominent alt-right figures in the world – from the extreme racial nationalist end of the movement – as he explains to me that he was “the link man” with the Trump administration via Steve Bannon, former head of Breitbart News Network and, until recently, Trump’s chief strategist.

Some months after my meeting, in the wake of the bloody violence in Charlottesville, Jorjani unexpectedly resigned from the AltRight Corporation and Arktos Media, to commit himself full time to bringing about the collapse of the Islamic Republic of Iran (which he believes will be a major step towards his dream of a new Indo-European World Order).

Uncomfortably numb: Reflections on a year inside

Spending a year inside the far right numbs you.

The things I reacted to viscerally in the beginning began to almost feel normal. I soon noticed how little I would react to hearing such extreme racism. I became desensitised. Yet that is precisely what is so scary. 

Being undercover meant I couldn’t challenge their hateful ideas. Bit-by-bit, hate began to be “normal”.

This is the key lesson I learnt. Allowing these hateful ideas to go unchallenged allows them to become normal. It brings about the creeping acceptance of alt-right and far-right ideas in the mainstream.

Just look at Donald Trump’s failure to properly condemn the bloody events in Charlottesville. If we don’t stand up every time we see racism, sexism, homophobia or oppression of any type, we run the risk of it becoming seen as normal.

Overall, though, the sacrifices were worth it and the mission itself was remarkably successful. Once deeply inside the UK far right, I could feed HOPE not hate huge amounts of detail. We knew about every meeting, every location and who was involved. It even got to the stage where Steadman asked me to recruit speakers to the Forum, to vet new activists and even to speak.

I learnt a huge amount about how people and groups are connected, how the movement operates and what it was planning. I found out how the movement interacts internationally and how important the social aspect of activism is in radicalising and retaining members. These groups attempt to become all-encompassing organisations that go far beyond politics, into art, religion and social life making them incredibly difficult to leave. Tragically I’ve seen how social pressure inside these groups can make ordinary people support genocide.

The far right is often treated with complacency. Should we let them into the public debate?  Their views might be different, but aren’t they just other opinions

What’s obvious after a year inside the alt-right is that we cannot become complacent. These are not just opinions. These are organisations that actively foment hate and promote violence towards large groups of people. They are dangerous and their dangerous ideology must be confronted, wherever it appears.

Charlottesville

That’s when I saw it: a car ploughing at high speed into a crowd of people. I saw someone’s shoes fly through the air. The panicked gathering began to disperse and I started to run, still unsure what exactly had happened.

When I arrived, it felt like the town was split in two.

It was around 9.30 when I entered Emancipation Park and it was already crowded. We were surrounded by two layers of metal fences and a phalanx of police.

On the roofs looking down through binoculars were the National Guard, but most worrying were the heavily armed private militias with Confederate flags emblazoned on their bulletproof vests.

As the morning went on the temperature rose to a baking 31 degrees. More and more people entered the demonstration site with their flags and shields in tow. Confederate flags, Nazi flags, Ku Klux Klan flags and white power banners gave the event a sinister air.

Most of those on the inside were very young and almost all were men. Many had shields they had made at home and were wearing helmets and carried guns. This was a crowd prepared for violence.

The aim was to ‘Unite The Right’, so far-right groups of all stripes were in attendance. As each one arrived the crowd would part and ceremonially clap them in. Big players like former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke received rapturous applause.

Over the last year, I had got used to some pretty extreme racism but on that sweaty day in Charlottesville, Virginia I was taken aback. People spoke of sending all Jews to Israel and then nuking it and how they were “looking forward to bathing in n****r blood”.

I spoke for a time with head of Arktos Media and close associate of Richard Spencer, Daniel Friberg. He’s a Swede and I couldn’t help but think how surreal this all was. I was thousands of miles from home, surrounded by swastika-emblazoned flags and KKK members, and was having a conversation with one of the best known far-right activists from home.

The police ordered the crowds to disperse, so with trepidation we began to filter out of the enclosed pen. But as soon as I left the park a counter-protestor jumped in front of me and sprayed me full in the face with mace. Thankfully I was wearing sunglasses so my eyes were spared, but the rest of my face and arms began to burn. Later the sweat would drip the mace into my eyes and I lost my vision for about 15 minutes.

After returning to my hotel room to clean up, I headed out once more to the streets, thinking the day’s events were over. There was still a march going through the town so I headed over to take a look. 

That’s when I saw it: a car ploughing at high speed into a crowd of people. I saw someone’s shoes fly through the air. The panicked gathering began to disperse and I started to run, still unsure what exactly had happened.

When the emergency services arrived, I saw the paramedics pumping the chest of a woman before loading her into the back of an ambulance. Earlier that day I had been on the demonstration, just yards from the murderer, now I was stood in shock as his victims were driven away to a cacophony of bellowing sirens.

This sleepy university town had just entered the halls of infamy, thanks to the extremists from the alt-right: the name Charlottesville was soon on the world’s lips.