Philosopher George Santayana once famously said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Watching the results of the European Parliament election this week, learning that across the Atlantic, the votes of the British people once again gave odious, boot-stomping toad Nigel Farage reason to celebrate, we’re reminded of this old quote.
As a Brit myself, this writer knows full well the country should know better. World War II is still relatively recent history, and we grew up learning about the weight of it. Every November 11th for Remembrance Day, we wear poppies in memory of the soldiers who gave their lives fighting the nazis. Winston Churchill was no angel — indeed, he was terribly racist towards the Indian people in particular — but he was a rock in the face of a terrifying foe. When Italy sided with the Germans, when France lay down, Churchill’s Britain fought and fought. (And yes, America stepped in and helped too.)
383,700 British soldiers died fighting the nazi threat, plus 67,200 civilians. That’s over 450,000 people dead. So it’s basically obscene that, just thirty years later in the mid ’70s, the National Front rose up. A spin-off of the British Union of Fascists, which had been created by Oswald Mosley, a disciple of Mussolini, in 1932, the National Front was founded in 1967 by the equally wretched A.K. Chesterton.
Here’s where we can draw a direct line to today. The National Front and, later, the British National Party played the same head-games with the British people that Nigel Farage, the UKIP Party and now his Brexit Party play (a tactic Americans living under Trump know only too well): Preying on the fears of immigrants, of multi-culture, of religions that people are perhaps not utterly familiar with. To perpetuate false narratives about violence and disease spreading as a direct result of immigration. That’s what Hitler did. It’s what the National Front and British National Party did. And now, would you believe this shit, it’s what Farage, and Trump, are doing.
“And now, would you believe this shit, it’s what Farage, and Trump, are doing.”
In the mid ’70s, when the British punk movement was born, there was a disturbing trend among some of those with the highest profile to wear swastikas for the purposes of shocking the older generation. Sid Vicious was guilty, as was Siouxsie Sioux and, a little later, Wattie Buchan of The Exploited (who got a tattoo). It was a stupid idea, something that wouldn’t wash at all today. Their claims that they were never racist but were simply doing anything they could to get a rise out of people have pretty much been accepted but, still, it was dumb.
But there were other punk bands around the same time who genuinely did support the disgusting spoutings of the National Front. A significant number of bands within the skinhead and Oi! sub-scenes sporting the utter hypocrisy of a Union Jack tattoo on one arm and a swastika on the other. And there was one in particular who became the official band of the National Front.
Skrewdriver became synonymous with the white power skinhead punk movement in England, and beyond. Originally around between 1976 and ’79 as an unspectacular punk band without any overt political affiliations, Skrewdriver reformed in 1982 with shaved heads and let their fascist flag fly. Frontman Ian Stuart Donaldson was the catalyst, a nasty piece of work who denied his white power leanings for years before eventually coming clean. Skrewdriver played a lead role in the Rock Against Communism (RAC) concerts that took place around that time (don’t read too much into the misleading name, RAC had more to do with antisemitism and general racist nastiness than any grand gesture about Chairman Mao).
Skrewdriver also helped raise money for the National Front, releasing singles with titles like “White Power” and “Voice of Britain,” while their White Rider album featured an image of the KKK on the cover. Hey, they even covered Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” despite probably never having set foot in Alabama in their damned lives.
“…this is a man who gave distress and pain to the world. He didn’t leave a hole worth filling.”
Donaldson founded the Blood & Honor neo-Nazi music promotion network with Nicky Crane (Crane’s story is an ugly and fascinating one — a notorious racist and gay basher, he came out as gay before dying of an AIDS-related illness in ’93). Donaldson himself died in a car crash in ’93. He’s probably missed by his family and it’s probably wrong to wish death on anyone, but this is a man who gave distress and pain to the world. He didn’t leave a hole worth filling.
Skrewdriver were and are undoubtedly the most notorious of the British white power punk bands but they weren’t the only ones. The RAC movement included Newcastle cretins Skullhead and London pricks No Remorse. They’re only worth mentioning so that they can be avoided.
“It’s perhaps worth noting that all of these bands, Skrewdriver included, were absolutely terrible.”
It’s perhaps worth noting that all of these bands, Skrewdriver included, were absolutely terrible. Like, almost unlistenable. This is only important because nobody was coming to these bands, wearing the shirts etc. because they liked the music and were indifferent to the politics. Wearing a Skrewdriver shirt was and remains a hateful political statement. Don’t fall for that crap. If people are listening to these bands, wearing the shirts, they are neo-Nazis or they’re aligning themselves with that movement.
That is why what is going on right now with Nigel Farage is so dangerous. England, having been through WW2, already saw a wave of fascism in the ’70s and ’80s, and it was horrible. The National Front and British National Party are a blight in the UK’s history — it’s a burden we have to humbly bear. But to see those sentiments resurface, to see anti-immigration policies come back thanks to UKIP and Farage and his Brexit Party, is terrifying. Because it means we’ve learned nothing.