Andy Bell marks the passing of a dedicated anti-fascist
It’s not unheard of for men – it is usually men – who have become embroiled in far right politics to see the error of their ways. Most often they just drop out or drift away. Sometimes, they decide to make amends to some extent or other, and begin passing information to the enemy – usually Searchlight magazine which has been doing the work of combatting fascism for over 50 years and is known to welcome intelligence on the far right. Such defectors have inflicted enormous damage on the far right over many years.
Taking that course is an act of great courage. Such informants know that, if discovered, the consequences could be serious. It invariably involves huge personal costs. When I made a couple of investigations into the right wing terror group Combat 18 for World In Action back in the 1990s, I worked with three such people. Two of them had to move abroad after their true roles were revealed.
But the case of Ray Hill, who died earlier this month, is even more extraordinary. Not only did Ray undergo a profound change of heart, and not only did he then provide damaging intelligence to the anti-fascist movement, but he waged a relentless campaign of disruption and destruction inside the organisations of the far right, determined to inflict as much damage as he possibly could. And he succeeded.
Ray’s involvement in the far right began in Leicester in 1966. He had just married and had a young daughter. But jobs were few and life was a struggle, and Ray made that equation that fuels working class racism the world over – if there were fewer immigrants, there would be more opportunities for the likes of him. He joined a local branch of the Anti-Immigration Society (AIMS).
He didn’t realise, however, that AIMS was little more than an entry point to extreme right politics for those who, ordinarily, would probably have nothing to do with it. It was the beginning of an insidious grooming process. From AIMS he was nudged towards the Racial Preservation Society (RPS), based in Brighton and run by former Blackshirts. There, the politics were sharper, more far right-focused.
In the RPS he first encountered the idea of a conspiracy, designed to destroy Britain through race mixing and usher in a system of world government. Before, immigration had been inexplicable to him, so this made a kind of sense. Then he was introduced to the writings of the neo-Nazi leader Colin Jordan, and in particular a book called Fraudulent Conspiracy. This marked the real turning point; he learned that the force behind this conspiracy, and the root of all his problems, was the international system of finance capital. And that was run by the Jews. He bought it. Now a convinced neo-Nazi and anti-Semite, Ray Hill joined Jordan’s British Movement.
Ray brought a lot of natural talent to the party. He was clever, brave, physically imposing, and a charismatic, some might say demagogic, public speaker. Soon he was on the organisation’s national council, had been appointed Leicester organiser and served as Jordan’s bodyguard. In 1969 he was Jordan’s election agent in the Ladywood by election where they polled a remarkable 4% of the vote, despite campaigning openly with Nazi symbols and slogans.
Then an altercation with some anti-apartheid students in 1969 led to criminal charges so, to avoid possible prison, he and his young family packed their things and took off to South Africa where they lived for the next ten years. But there events conspired to erode his far right beliefs.
First, when his family were having financial difficulties one of a group of workmates put his hand in his pocket and bailed them out. Ray was taken aback when he learned, only later, the man was Jewish. Then, as a leading member of the South African National Front, Ray was heavily involved in a campaign putting pressure on the government for stricter enforcement of the racially-based Group Areas Act. The SANF were targeting areas like Hillbrow in Johannesburg which had become racially mixed simply by default because there were not enough white tenants to take up all the available rented accommodation.
Walking in Hillbrow with his young daughter one Sunday afternoon, Ray happened upon an Indian family, just evicted from their home, sitting in the street surrounded by their possessions, desperate and destitute. When he realised that their predicament was directly linked to the campaign he had been running, he was mortified beyond words. It was his Damascene moment. That night he resolved that he had done with extreme right politics. But he also resolved to make amends. Back in England a few months later, he approached Searchlight and with them began a five year journey as one of the most damaging ‘moles’ ever to operate inside the far right.
The stories of Ray’s successes have now been told many times: how he helped expose gun running by the British Democratic Party; how he split and bankrupted the British Movement; how he prevented a neo-Nazi bomb attack on the 1981 Notting Hill Carnival. Not surprisingly, when he revealed his true role in a Channel 4 documentary in 1984, the response from his erstwhile comrades was one of uncontained fury. He received abuse and death threats and even had to suffer potentially lethal attacks on his home.
And yet, he was undeterred. He spent much of the rest of his life campaigning relentlessly against the far right, speaking especially to young audiences in schools and colleges. From very unlikely beginnings as a young neo-Nazi, Ray Hill became, without doubt, one of the most important anti-fascists of the post-war era.
Andy Bell was an investigative journalist with World in Action and former deputy editor of Panorama and a former editor of Searchlight. He is co-author with Ray Hill of The Other Face of Terror. He is on Twitter at @andybell2000.
Image by Andy Bell
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