The arrest last week of Michael Heaton, or ‘Wigan Mike’ as he is better known, for “soliciting murder and using threatening, abusive or insulting words likely to stir up racial hatred” has unpleasant implications for far right internet users. The charges relate to the Aryan Strike Force (ASF) website. Heaton has a long history of Nazi activities and has also been involved with the English Defence League (EDL). His co-defendant Trevor Hannington was accused of “possessing information likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism and disseminating a terrorist publication.” He was remanded until the new year and faces a dismal Christmas dinner. Heaton was arrested and then bailed which sparked suspicion on the VNN forum. Joey Owens initially expressed surprise that Heaton was bailed whilst Hannington was remanded but this has apparently been ‘explained’ to the moderator although there has been little posted since to substantiate the claim. Another poster worried that “If they can get Mike for what he has said on the net then they can get all or the majority of us I would wager.” Following the arrests Liam Pinkam, posting as Pino88 on VNN, wrote: “the BFF will be releasing a statement about it either today or tomorrow” which clearly implies an intimate connection between ASF and British Freedom Fighters. There has been no statement so far. Pinkham was arrested with Heaton earlier this year following an incident at the BNP rally in Blackpool.
These charges have a precedent with the recent Nazi cause celebre of Sheppard and Whittle who were jailed for their website outpourings and “publishing racially inflammatory material, distributing racially inflammatory material and possessing racially inflammatory material with a view to distribution.” They are currently appealing their sentences. Sheppard and Whittle had legged it to the States in 2008 hoping to evade the charges but they were extradited and forced to stand trial.
The issuing of death threats is not an uncommon tactic on the far right: many are made ‘having strong drink taken’ and, given the anonymity that the web provides, they are all too easy to make. Some can be discounted but others, like the current case involving BNP West Wales organiser Roger Philips, who threatened and abused film maker Mark Watson on the phone, initiate police investigations. It is a sad day for freedom when one cannot issue death threats anonymously and get away with it!
Heaton has been involved with a colourful array of nutty grupuscules and has been associated with the Aryan Strike Force, the RVF, the BPP and the EDL. What they all stand is fairly similar: these kind of groups tend to vary little in ideology or extremism and then fracture, assimilate or dissolve in accusations of state complicity.
Aryan Strike Force
The charges against Heaton are connected with the extremist ASF website which according to him “encourages unity, and with our alliance with the RVF, the ASF, welcomes like minded people.” Aryan Strike Force were cited in the case of Ian Davison who was arrested earlier this year under the Terrorism Act 2000. His son was also charged with possession of a “manual called "The Poor Man's James Bond" which contains information and instructions on the use and preparation of firearms, explosives and chemicals.” Some on the far right relish the outrage and extremity of such paramilitarism whereas others are more sceptical: “it is just not worth it. Besides that, there is no place for armed struggle in the movement, yet anyway”; “Aryan-Strike-Force? Another crackpot name” and “only morons [are] likely to be incited or inspired by nutcase titles such as Aryan Strike Force … So who is it aimed at?” There are always suspicions that the more rabid organisations are state set-ups designed to monitor and contain Nazis, as C18 was accused of being.
Racial Volunteer Force
According to its website “The RVF is an International Militant Pro White Organisation” and although sympathetic are not to be confused with Combat 18. Many believe that C18 had been compromised by the state following the murder of Chris Castle by Charlie Sargent and Martin Cross in 1997. It consequently fragmented into pro- and anti-Sargent factions. The RVF appear to be a similar racist grouping involved in unspecified covert activities. On their website they say:
“we consider the Muslims to be the enemy of the British RVF … we say that the Pakis, Afghans and many other races who are Muslims have stated that they are (quote) “Fighting to create an Islamic/Muslim state in Britain.”
Like the ASF, the RVF also attracted suspicion and criticism from others on the far right. In 2003, after the RVF launch, one poster expressed a common sentiment: “is it the government/security services trying to attract impressionable teenagers with extreme rhetoric, guns and swastikas? … There seems to be an overlap of C18/RVF.” To which someone replied “ This is the kind of thing I would be into when I was 15-17 yrs old … informers and nut cases run rampant in such outfits.” Not everyone agrees with the state influence: “Anyone who happens to be at odds with your point of view is a 'state asset'.
The British Freedom Fighters are an openly Nazi organisation although they do not do anything ‘illegal.’ Their website, chock full of dreadful White Noise bands and rhetoric, states that the main enemy is actually white people: “we have the commies, the reds, Antifa, most are white, and there [sic] a minor threat, but our biggest threat is ourselves, so called comrades, nationalists, the infighting is amazing.” The BFF admonish the factionalism and fallouts of the far right then post a link to a website called Watmough The Liar. Kevin Watmough is the founder of Redwatch, part of C18 and a member of the tiny BPP (formerly the WNP). The site accuses him of going out with a Gypsy “Yes a proper gypsy” and of being “A Liar, A Cheat, A Rapist and long time Agent Provocateur.”
The EDL (Again)
For someone like Heaton not to be involved with the EDL would be surprising. This is the kind of street activity that the likes of ASF, RVF and BFF encourage: whipping up racial hatred in provocative demos serves their purpose well. It seems Heaton is dissatisfied with the electoral strategy of the BNP, admires the militancy of the Ulster Loyalists and aligns himself with the confrontational elements of the EDL. Heaton has a number of clips on YouTube where he posts as NSMike266. Along with footage of his dog there are also several clips he has taken on EDL demos in Wrexham and Nottingham that imply his support (he also recently ‘favourited’ a film of a Rottweiler attacking a cop). His mate Pinkham has also been photographed on the EDL demos.
The arrests of Heaton and Hannington and the convictions of Sheppard and Whittle over web content have serious implications for the Nazi sites and there is more than one case where this is implied. Recently, there was a spat between BNPer Tommy Williams and NF leader Eddie Morrison. Williams ran the Covert Undercover Nuisance website which took great delight in slagging off anti-BNP critics and especially certain members of the NF. Following an argument over the NF membership list, Williams went up to confront Morrison who complained to the cops (naughty!) and the Covert website has been down ever since, case pending one assumes. That websites can be used as evidence in court cases is now established and Williams must be worried over the contents of his site coming back to haunt him. The same goes for Heaton and Hannington. Despite being cowardly, online death threats and overtly violent content leave a trail back to the sender that is easy to follow and now that these are admissible in court we may be witnessing a new era of Nazi self-censorship as they bite their tongues whilst Heiling their Hitlers.