Fascists seek recruits down on the farm

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The Independent Online
THE BRITISH National Party is targeting agricultural shows in a recruitment drive to increase its membership in rural areas.

Right-wing extremists have recently attended country shows in Cumbria and Wales. Supporters of the BNP turned up in force at the Cumberland Show in Carlisle, handing out fascist literature to the crowds.

The BNP is attempting to recruit from the ranks of disillusioned farmers in the wake of the BSE crisis and mounting unrest about over-development in the countryside and the crisis facing hill farmers. Incomes have fallen by up to 50 per cent in the past year, and the high value of the pound has seen the export market for lambs collapse.

Vanessa Vasey, secretary of the Cumberland Show, said of the BNP: "They certainly didn't book a trade stand and they were not there in any official capacity." She was horrified at their presence.

The BNP recruitment drive is part of a new strategy by British neo-Nazi groups to gain support in rural areas rather than in their working-class inner-city footholds. They targeted the Countryside March in London earlier this year, which saw more than 300,000 disgruntled people from the length and breadth of the country descend on the capital in a bigger demonstration than even the anti-poll tax rally.

Tony Robson, of the anti- fascist group Searchlight, said: "The BNP has been targeting rural areas. They attended a show in Wales recently. But once the rural population realise that they're just a bunch of right-wing thugs, Hitler worshippers, misfits, drunks and skinheads, they soon lose interest."

A spokesman for the Countryside Alliance said: "The BNP did threaten to attend the Countryside March but we sent them a stiffly worded letter saying they would not be welcome. Right-wing politics of this sort has no place within the Alliance."

In a more sinister twist, the local newspaper, the Cumberland News, received two letters following the show, signed by people who turned out to be bogus.

Nick Turner, assistant editor, said: "We received two letters from `locals' saying that they had bumped into these men at the show and what lovely people they were. They enclosed a copy of the latest edition of the BNP magazine British Countryman. The addresses were correct but the names given were fictitious.

The magazine is edited by Cambridge graduate Nick Griffin, who has a conviction for inciting racial hatred and owns a smallholding in the Welsh hills. He is believed to be running the recruitment campaign.

The BNP is the biggest self-styled nationalist party in Britain and fielded 56 candidates in last year's general election.