Ask anyone who’s been to summer camp as a child and they’ll tell you the first day is definitely the worst. They’ll probably recall how on the journey to the campsite they desperately wanted to turn around and that they’ve rarely felt such jitters since.
Aged 28, I should have left those feelings well behind me. But as a Jew travelling up to Camp Excalibur, the British National Party’s youth camp, they all came flooding back. According to my religions law I should be in a synagogue this morning, observing the Sabbath. I shouldn’t be driving and I definitely shouldn’t be heading up the M1 towards a field near Bradford to break bread with a gaggle of far-right activists, some of whom deny the holocaust ever happened.
Whitney Houston once sang that she believed the children are our future. She wasn’t alone; the BNP entirely agree. That’s why for the last two years Mark Collett, referred to as a ‘rough diamond’ by party leader Nick Griffin, has been running Camp Excalibur for white youths aged 18 to 24. Naturally, worrying parallels have been drawn between this even and the Hitler Youth. As far as the crew-cut Collett is concerned, however, the unflattering comparison is all that can be expected from a mainstream media that is, according to him, ‘controlled by Zionists’.
Ever since the Cambridge University-educated Griffin wrestled the helm of the BNP from John Tyndall in 1999, his aim has been to turn the rag-tag association of racists, nationalists and Nazi sympathisers into what he considers to be a respectable political party. By all accounts he’s done rather well. Collet, a business economics graduate from Leeds University (despite attempts by the Anti-Nazi League to have him thrown out) is rumoured to be dating Griffin’s daughter. He is also considered to be a chip off her father’s block and a hot prospect for the emerging party’s future.
Picking him out from the crowd of skinheads milling about at Camp Excalibur is pretty easy – his voice is the loudest. Clutching the crate of Carling he has asked me to bring, I approach him. ‘You’re not as weaselly –looking as I thought you would be,’ he says, to the amusement of his cohorts. ‘That’s a compliment, y’know.’ I smile weakly: ‘Thanks.’
Collett is colleting subs from everyone who has just arrived at the site – about £80 in all. For the very reasonable price of £10 per person, the Young BNPs will be treated to a weekend of outdoor activities including paintball, canoeing and five-a-side football. All good wholesome fun.
The campsite stands high up in the hills of the Queensbury, with a sweeping vista of Bradford down below. Bathed in the late-September sun, shaven-headed kids run after a pug-faced dog while their mum, wearing a Union Jack flag as a sarong, puts up the tent with her husband. Small groups of teenagers in combat clothes chat while politely queuing to hand over their subs. As one proud father (Mr White) clutching a toddler (White junior) hands over his tenner, Collett says: ‘That’s the whites paid for.’ Then, realising his pun, he adds, ‘And that’s exactly what we like to see at a BNP event!’ Everyone laughs. I pay my contribution, wincing inwardly as I imagine winging its way to the BNP coffers.
Maybe it’s the fascist overtones of the skinheads and army fatigues that makes this harmless activity seem rather more ominous, or perhaps it’s the fact that one of our number, Nick Griffin’s right-hand man Tony Lecomber, is a convicted nail-bomber terrorist.
Paintballing with political extremists is a less than savoury experience. Maybe it’s the fascist overtones of the skinheads and army fatigues that makes this harmless activity seem rather more ominous, or perhaps it’s the fact that one of our number, Nick Griffin’s right-hand man Tony Lecomber, is a convicted nail-bomber terrorist.
We start off with a quick game called Capture the Flag in which two teams compete to rescue the Union Jack and return it to their base. The first round is easily won by Collett’s team. ‘The Key to paintball,’ says the victor to an audience of keen youngsters as he reloads the pump-action rifles, ‘is not to fanny around in your base, but to come out and do something. That is also the philosophy of the BNP,’ he adds.
Soon it’s my team’s turn to face Collett’s and I find myself guarding our base. The game starts with a flurry of activity. Suddenly, from the thick of the melee, the leader of the Young BNP emerges from behind a hillock to confront me. Locked in combat, we rattle off countless rounds at each other until one of my paint pellets finds its mark, splattering his chin with fluorescent yellow paint. Despite accusations of ‘cheat!’ from those watching on the sidelines, he ignores the hit and goes on to win the game for his side. Rules are not going to get in the way of Collett’s desperately ambitious bid for victory.
Later on, back at the campsite, while everyone is warming themselves in front of a bonfire fuelled by Anti-Nazi League leaflets and banners, Collett’s tongue has been loosened thanks to a couple of my Carlings. ‘Martin Luther King had a dream,’ I say to him, ‘that one day black and white children might get along like sisters and brothers…’
‘Martin Luther King didn’t have any dreams’ spits Collett in retort. ‘He was no great man: he was a communist agitator who repeatedly slept with whores. I have a dream.’ he says, finding his rhythm. ‘I have a dream of seeing a healthy white British Britain. I have a dream of putting the “Great” back into Britain. That’s my dream.’
It’s going to take a lot more than a paintball to stop Mark Collett.
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