Ku Klux Klansmen marching on streets of Britain and drinking with NF

KK-UK: As Ku Klux Klansmen are pictured on British streets for the first time, DAVID JONES asks if this is the disturbing proof that the far-Right are on the march?

  • Eight men seen wearing pointy hoods with fists raised and arms outstretched
  • Ku Klux Klan group carrying wooden crosses in Newtownards, Northern Ireland
  • Photos of the group outside Islamic centre in County Down flooded social media 
  • Wetherspoons tried to stop entrance but pushed passed doorman on Halloween 
  • Posed for pictures with National Front in pub with fake blood stains on costume

Peeling back their curtains after hearing a rowdy disturbance, the residents of a usually quiet side-street were confronted by a spine-chilling scene.

Silhouetted by the glow of halogen lamps, a mob of at least eight people wearing the sinister uniform of the Ku Klux Klan cult — flowing white robes embossed with the Coptic Christian cross, and pointy hoods with slits for their eyes — were brandishing large crucifixes menacingly outside the local Islamic centre.

Before leaving, the faceless gang posed defiantly for a photograph, first posted on social media but quickly beamed around the world via international news outlets such as CNN and The Washington Post.

Though it has sparked waves of revulsion and outrage among the great majority, it has also provoked sickeningly approving messages from more malign quarters — just as the posturing KKK ghouls doubtless intended.

Yet the truly shocking aspect to this episode is that it didn’t occur in America’s Deep South, where the hate-filled bigotry of the white supremacist Klan first took root in the mid-19th century, and continues to simmer with periodically violent consequences. 

It happened just a few days ago in the small UK town of Newtownards, ten miles outside Belfast.

Gang dressed as Ku Klux Klan members outside a mosque in Newtownards, County Down. Recently the same Islamic centre came under attack after a pig’s head was left on the doorstep and graffiti was written on the walls

Furthermore, my investigation into the identity of these hooded hatemongers, and their motives, has uncovered the disquieting presence of Tony Martin, a notorious Right-wing extremist based in South London and recently elected as leader of the racist National Front party, whose HQ is not in Ulster, but Hull.

Martin, 41, and his English girlfriend, Sharon Mellor, 53 — a bottle-blonde darling of the British neo-fascist movement — admit to meeting the KKK gang in a pub, on the very night they paraded outside the Islamic centre, and even posing for photographs with them.

This week, some members of this traditionally white, working-class, Loyalist Protestant community have been at pains to dismiss it all as a harmless pre-Halloween prank. 

One local resident pinned the offensive photograph in her window below a sign reading: ‘Dressing up is not a crime. We support ’Ards’ Boys.”

Presumably this person hasn’t seen the recent Oscar-tipped Spike Lee movie BlacKkKlansman, which lays bare the horrific terror campaign waged by the KKK in pursuit of its dystopian ideological dream — to ‘purify’ America by purging the country of black and mixed-race people, Jews and Catholics, and create a country populated only by white Anglo-Saxons.

And perhaps they hadn’t heard about the lynchings and the torching of homes by the KKK in the U.S. over the years. 

Nor of atrocities such as the bombing of a Baptist church in Mississippi, in 1964, which killed four innocent little girls; and the murder of equally blameless Michael Donald, 19, abducted and taken to a lonely woods in Alabama, in 1981, then beaten to death and hanged from a tree.

However, worshippers at Newtownards Islamic centre — which is based in a converted, end-of-terrace house and serves the town’s few dozen Muslims — certainly grasp the threat behind last Saturday’s ghastly showpiece, and are now deeply concerned for their safety.

Sharon Mellor admitted meeting the KKK gang in a pub, on the very night they paraded outside the Islamic centre, and even posing for photographs with them holding a cross and beer

Given that a severed pig’s head was left outside the Muslim prayer centre last year, and its congregation claim to have been videoed covertly as they arrive for Friday prayers, their fears are understandable. 

The Northern Irish authorities, mainstream politicians, churchmen and anti-Fascist groups are also united in the view that the incident constitutes a genuine ‘hate crime’ and the police have made it very clear they will investigate it as such.

According to a new report by the Henry Jackson think-tank, Far Right terrorism and extremism — stoked by online radicalisation and violent rhetoric — have quadrupled during the past year in Britain and other Western nations.

Security sources have reportedly told The Guardian newspaper that they know of 100 violent neo-Nazis and Far Right extremists committed to waging racial and religious war in Britain. 

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And this week the BBC’s respected security correspondent Frank Gardner highlighted the rising threat from the Far Right, revealing four terror plots that have been foiled in the past year.

Investigating the mounting threat from the Far Right has become such an onerous task that the police are to relinquish the lead role to MI5.

So, were dangerously malevolent forces, rather than pranksters, behind the incident in Newtownards? My inquiries suggest it is entirely possible.

There is also compelling evidence to suggest that this apparent attempt to instil fear in the town’s Muslim community, and stir up hatred towards them, could be linked back to mainland Britain.

A video that has since emerged shows the mob making Nazi salutes as they march through town. 

The gang went to a nearby Wetherspoons and pushed past a doorman when he tried to refuse their entry to the pub 

‘If your car is black it gets stopped,’ shouts one of their number. From his threatening tone, he doesn’t sound as though he’s joking.

Furthermore, when rampaging through Newtownards pubs after targeting the Islamic Centre, the gang seem to have commanded far more respect — perhaps fear would be a better word — than we might expect had they merely been raucous Halloween revellers.

We might not think a burly pub doorman would be easily brushed aside, yet when the ‘bouncer’ at a Wetherspoon’s pub attempted to bar their entry, they simply pushed past him, according to a spokesman for the chain. 

More intriguing, however, is the presence of Tony Martin, whose repugnant NF party supports compulsory repatriation for all immigrants, and even their second and third generation, British-born family members.

It just so happens that Martin, a former soldier now working as a builder and living in Croydon, has been spending a lot of time in Newtownards of late.

He began visiting last February, when he started a relationship with Sharon Mellor, or ‘Shazza’, as she styles herself on a Facebook page littered with her expletive-ridden Right-wing rants. She lives in a block of flats barely half a mile from the targeted Islamic Centre.

This week, Martin told me how they met during a Far Right demonstration at the TUC’s London headquarters earlier this year, to protest against the presence of Gerry Adams and other senior Sinn Fein party members — whose Irish Nationalist politics they despise — at a conference.

Mellor, who hails from Gillingham, Kent, but moved to Northern Ireland 30 years ago to join the Ulster Defence Regiment, has boasted on social media of having tried to burn the Islamic centre down no less than three times. There is nothing to suggest this is true, and she now insists she was ‘joking’.

The gang dressed in pointy hoods and wearing white gown carrying wooden crosses drank in the pub in Northern Ireland 

Yet by sheer coincidence — as she and Martin would have us believe — they just happened to be drinking in one of the pubs visited by the white-robed gang, last Saturday evening. And, of course, they couldn’t resist being photographed with them.

Rashly, she might now think, Mellor posted a picture of herself cuddling up to one of the KKK mob — a tall, well-built figure, clutching a beer bottle and a huge crucifix — on Facebook.

Beneath it Mellor wrote: ‘Bumped into a few friends tonight … lol xxx’. Presumably she was joking again. The damning photograph was later deleted from her Facebook page. 

But not before it was seized upon by the anti-racism group Hope Not Hate, who placed it on their website.

Martin admitted to me that he also posed with the KKK gang, but said he had decided against publicising the photo in case it was ‘misconstrued’.

Both strenuously deny that they were in any way involved in the sick stunt, however, and insist they don’t know the hooded men’s identities. 

Mellor described them as ‘random strangers — a few blokes dressed up for Halloween’.

Ludicrously, Martin claimed their behaviour was no more offensive than that of the white man in Halloween fancy dress who made the news this week after being berated by a Tube passenger for wearing black greasepaint and an Afro wig to look like Jules Winnfield, the character played by Samuel L. Jackson in the film Pulp Fiction.

Under their frightening costumes one member of the gang was seen wearing bright red trainers as they paraded around the pub 

‘Obviously the KKK have killed people over the years, but one of the Black Lives Matter activists shot five police officers in Dallas, didn’t he?’ he said. ‘People could be offended by any costume.’

Artlessly, Martin then admitted that the NF stood to gain from being linked with the incident. 

‘Getting a lot of publicity from this KKK thing will probably help us get a lot more members, because although the chattering classes are offended by it, most people are not really concerned, and it just reminds people we are out there,’ he told me, declining to reveal the size of NF’s current membership, which is believed to be minuscule.

He also claimed the NF has a growing number of supporters in Northern Ireland, particularly from disillusioned Unionists, including hard-line Loyalist factions.

All this is highly suspicious, we might think. Not least because — as the town’s Alliance Party national assembly representative Kellie Armstrong remarked resonantly — the Islamic Centre in Newtownards is unmarked and off the beaten track, and anyone who wished to find it would require good local knowledge.

And because, as she also pointed out, the costumes worn by the gang can’t be bought in any fancy-dress shop in Northern Ireland, but appear to have been ordered from a specialist online store based in Dublin, which sells them — stained with fake blood, and complete with sword and chain — for 21 euros. ‘No, I don’t think this is a joke,’ she said flatly.

Assuming anti-Islamist fanatics did orchestrate the incident, the wider implications are worrying. 

Latest figures from the Police Service of Northern Ireland show that the number of racist crimes and incidents has risen. 

In 2016/17 they surpassed sectarian cases — which have halved during the past 13 years — for the first time.

Sharon Mellor with her partner, Tony Martin, who is chairman of National Front right-wing group in Hull

Though the Muslim population in Ulster remains tiny compared to Britain as a whole — about 8,000 among more than 2 million — and there are only a handful of mosques, community leader Dr Raied Al-Wazzan says physical and verbal attacks, unheard of when he arrived in the province 28 years ago, have become commonplace.

Meanwhile, again surely not coincidentally, Far-Right groups based in England are coming to regard Ulster as fertile ground and gaining a foothold in the province for the first time, according to Professor Peter Shirlow, Belfast-born director of Liverpool University’s Institute of Irish Studies.

‘They are a growing menace,’ he said. ‘The peace process has seen immigrants come to work in what was previously a society 90 per cent made up of white people born in Northern Ireland. 

‘They make a great contribution but tend to live in areas under housing and employment stress.

‘That has created the same sense as on the mainland — of British people being left behind and marginalised for far-Right groups to exploit.’

Nowhere is this truer than in the town of Ballymena, where Britain First — which morphed six years ago out of the busted-flush British National Party — is aiming to drum up support from people disillusioned by the arrival of Eastern Europeans, rightly or wrongly perceived to be placing a strain on housing, school places and jobs.

Significantly, perhaps, this party’s provocative tactics are redolent of those employed by the Ku Klux Klan. 

They include staging impromptu ‘mosque invasions’ and brandishing crosses on ‘Christian marches’ through predominantly Muslim areas. Whether they extend to posing outside mosques in KKK uniform is, of course, a matter for conjecture.

However, like the NF’s Tony Martin, the BF leader, former Sevenoaks BNP councillor Paul Golding, 36, also beats a regular path to Ulster — frequently brushing with opposing local politicians (one of whom has accused him of intimidating him and his daughter) and with the law.

Though the Muslim population in Ulster remains tiny compared to Britain as a whole — about 8,000 among more than 2 million — and there are only a handful of mosques

Having been jailed earlier this year at Folkestone magistrates court, along with his firebrand deputy Jayda Fransen, for harassing Muslims he wrongly believed to be involved in a rape trial, Golding now faces charges of inciting racial hatred at an anti-immigration rally in Ballymena. He is due in court on November 15.

But whatever the true identity of the men beneath those pointy white hoods, the photograph that emerged this week came as no surprise to the veteran anti-fascist campaigner Dr Gerry Gable, editor of Searchlight magazine.

For he knows from experience, of the neo-fascist underbelly that has long existed across the Irish Sea — pervading extreme Republican groups, as well as Loyalists — and of their close ties with like-minded groups on the mainland.

‘The Far Right have a history of using Ireland as a backdoor to Britain, and now they are gaining ground around the world it seems they are trying to do it again,’ he told me. 

‘That is why we would be foolish to pass this photograph off as a one-off stunt, and ignore it.

‘You don’t just suddenly decide to go to an Islamic prayer centre dressed up as the KKK. 

‘I think these characters will turn out to be hard-line fascists. Dangerous people deliberately out to stoke hatred. 

‘That’s why it’s so important that they are unmasked, and we find out who was behind those white clothes.’

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