Documentary on London nail bomber highlights danger of far-right words becoming actions

A photo from a security camera showing one an explosion caused by the London nail bomber.

What happens when openly fascist and racist groups radicalise young men? We have seen the answer to this particular question time and again. From Christchurch to El Paso the consequences inevitably result in the deaths of innocent people. A similar type of attack has yet to happen in Ireland. But that doesn’t mean our homegrown extremists haven’t laid the groundwork for a future attack. Given what’s been taking place in far-right circles here for the last few years any attack shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Saying that, we can learn from the experiences of other countries. Across the Irish Sea our British neighbours can offer us lessons in what to do and what to expect when the inevitable finally happens. And a new documentary, Nail Bomber: Manhunt, now available on Netflix about the nail bombing campaign of a young, white extremist does just that.

The Irish case

Ireland’s far right has traditionally been confined to the sidelines. Over the decades its organisational capabilities have ranged from somewhat effective to shambolic. 

In 2021 things are much different though. It’s easier than ever before to organise and spread propaganda in the hopes of hooking new recruits, preferably young, disaffected men. Far-right talking heads on YouTube now serve the function that pamphlets, newsletters, and meetings used to serve. The recruiting can be done without anybody having to leave their home.

From here conspiracy theories about the “Great Replacement” and eventually full-blown antisemitism can be thrown at potential advocates of extremism. Social media such as Facebook and encrypted forms of communication like Telegram and Signal have made the far right’s ideological war on its targets easier to carry out. 

Dare to be remotely progressive or have the “inappropriate” skin colour and extremists of various kinds are likely to descend on you. Members of highly organised groups like the National Party and Síol na hÉireann act in concert. Other so-called lone wolves also play a part. Despite the monicker these individuals never act alone. At some stage in their development and in the lead-up to their almost assured action, others have been involved in their turn to zealotry.

A British example

The London nail bomber of 1999 could fit into this mould. A young white man who openly said that he “hated” those different to him was radicalised by far-right talking points. He ended up planting nail bombs in Brixton, Brick Lane, and Soho. His bombs murdered three people, including Andrea Dykes who was four months pregnant at the time, and injuring 140 others.

Although he claimed to have acted alone, the role of the British National Party (BNP) in whipping up racist hysteria undoubtedly played a part in the horror the terrorist unleashed on innocent people. A doctor tells viewers that the terrorist’s bombs were “designed to kill as many people as possible”. During the police interrogation of the subject we hear him say that he wanted to be “The spark that would set fire to the country”. In his own words, he wanted “To spread fear, resentment, and hatred”.

His choice of Brixton was no mistake. He selected it because, as one survivor of his bombing said, there “People work together. People live together”. And it plays an important part in the history of Black people who immigrated to London and made Brixton their new home. 

After the bombing the police were seen as not taking things as serious as they should have been. The documentary makes clear that tensions existed between them and the local community, a result of racism and racial profiling on the part of the police. As one community activist says to the camera, police arresting a friend and then releasing them with bruises on their face was not uncommon. 

Into this pot of systemic racism was added the ignorance on the part of the authorities. Nick Lowles, CEO of Hope Not Hate and former editor of long-running British anti-fascist publication Searchlight, points out that the police did not properly monitor the far right at the time. In fact, he reveals: 

there was a mindset at the top of the security services saying that the far right weren’t a threat. They just wrote about these things. They weren’t going to carry it out.

During the same interview he states that Searchlight had been warning about the far-right danger “for years”; a “guerrilla army” intent on “defending the  last stand” and “taking on the system”.

Having also targeted the Bangladeshi community with a nail bomb, the neo-Nazi’s next focus was was the LGBTQIA+ community. During his police interrogation he made it abundantly clear that he hated them. And this led to his planting of a bomb in The Admiral Duncan, a popular gay pub in Soho. His goal of inflicting as much damage as possible appeared to be succeeding.

Words and actions

Searchlight eventually played a role in the capture of the bomber. As detailed in the documentary, the organisation was approached by a man who offered to infiltrate the British far right for them and act as a mole. As he himself relates, it was a dangerous move. But it eventually saved lives as the intelligence he gathered eventually led to the police arresting the bomber.

What’s of particular relevance to the Irish case is the front that far-right groups put up. Pointing to the BNP, the mole highlighted that on the surface the party painted a somewhat presentable picture. But digging down into the wider movement, and attending regular meetings and rallies, he discovered hit lists that extremists were circulating alongside “overtly Nazi propaganda”. And, not only this, he said:

It was their dream that somebody would go out and blow up someone they’ve suggested to target.

For anyone who has paid the slightest bit of attention to Ireland’s rising extremism problem in the last few years this all sounds familiar. Some people find it easy to dismiss this as scaremongering or of giving the far right more credit than it deserves. After all, there are no overtly far-right parties or individuals sitting in the Oireachtas. But Irish extremists have distributed their own version of a hit list. We have had arson attacks on proposed direct provision centres. And these same extremists have attacked activists.

The far right here also tried to foment a race war in the aftermath of gardaí shooting and killing George Nkencho late last year. Racist zealots went online and did their best to goad Black people into taking their anger on to the streets and directing it at gardaí. As one of the admins in a Telegram channel told their subscribers, they were to “Be as callous as possible” to the Black community and activists. 

Some still see this and the clear uptick in far-right extremism in Ireland as an anomaly. But, if anything, the documentary shows us one thing: It’s all just talk and all just words. Until it isn’t.

Featured image via Youtube – Screenshot

Support The Beacon on Patreon!