10 things you should know about the BNP when you watch Question Time tonight

1. Nick Griffin is a convicted racist who said Hitler 'went a bit too far'

The man who will achieve a first for the extreme right-wing in Britain by taking his place on the BBC's flagship debating programme tomorrow is a convicted racist who once said that Hitler "went a bit too far" and fraternised with the former leader of the Ku Klux Klan.

Since attending his first National Front meeting at the age of 15, the privately educated leader of the British National Party has been imbued with the doctrine and practice of the far right from an early age. He read 'Mein Kampf' when he was 13.

The 50-year-old father-of-four has been assiduous in recent years to distance his party from the thuggish, neo-fascist image of the extreme right. But his insistence that neither he nor his party are racist sits uneasily with his past. In 1998, he was convicted of inciting racial hatred for articles that denied the Holocaust and given a suspended nine-month prison term. While in the witness box, he said: "I am well aware that the orthodox opinion is that six million Jews were gassed and cremated and turned into lampshades. Orthodox opinion also once held that the world is flat."

2. Party's constitution is committed to restoring white supremacy in Britain

After two decades in which the party actively excluded any members from ethnic communities, Griffin last week accepted a review of its governing rules to allow black and Asian people to join its ranks after a legal victory for the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

But the 12-page constitution of the BNP remains unashamedly a manifesto for an ethnically cleansed nation. It reads: "The British National Party stands for the preservation of the national and ethnic character of the British people and is wholly opposed to any form of racial integration between British and non-European peoples. It is therefore committed to stemming and reversing the tide of non-white immigration and to restoring, by legal changes, negotiation and consent, the overwhelmingly white make-up of the British population that existed in Britain prior to 1948."

3. Send the Olympics back to Athens – and other flagship BNP policies

Alongside its pledge to offer Britain's ethnic minorities voluntary repatriation and its leader's description of Islam as a "wicked and vicious faith", the BNP has tried to broaden its electoral appeal with a raft of new policies.

In the 2008 London Assembly elections, the party took its "send them back" theme a stage further by offering to repatriate the 2012 Olympics. Its manifesto read: "We... believe that the Olympics should be held in Greece on a permanent basis. That is their birthplace and it is wrong for athletes to be forced to roam the world like homeless vagrants looking for a new venue each four years."

Griffin has long warned of the risk of a civil war in Britain sparked by racial tensions. In 2005, the party's general election manifesto called for adults who had completed a certain amount of military service to be "required to keep in a safe locker in their homes a standard-issue military assault rifle and ammunition". To this list has now been added the return of the birch for juvenile offenders and hanging for paedophiles, rapists, drug dealers and murderers.

4. Billy Brit: mascot that glorifies Powell

"In 1912 a lion was born./Enoch was his name./A gentleman. A British hero./Through truth, the man found fame./He gave a speech called 'Rivers of Blood'./And never gave up the fight./Enoch Powell spoke for me and Enoch Powell was white".

So sings Billy Brit, the official mascot of the youth wing of the BNP, during a campaigning video for the 2009 European elections.

Aimed at children as young as eight, the flame-haired puppet features in videos posted on YouTube and the BNP website reciting a series of "educational poems". Children have been sent photographs of Billy or encouraged to download his picture along with a comic, 'The Comet', delivered to "all you eight- to 12-year-olds out there who love your country".

Youth members of the BNP are invited to regular camps where they discuss ideology and are encouraged to perform up to eight hours of "political activism" each month.

5. Encounters with the Ku Klux Klan in America

In 2000, Nick Griffin travelled to the US to address an organisation called the American Friends of the BNP. Members of the group included David Duke, at the time leader of the Ku Klux Klan, and James W Von Brunn, a white supremacist who killed a security man in an attack on Washington's holocaust museum earlier this year. During Griffin's visit, he outlined his blueprint for making his party electable by dropping its lexicon of "racial purity" and Jewish conspiracies: "The BNP isn't about selling out its ideas, but we are determined to sell them. Basically, that means to use saleable words such as freedom, identity, security, democracy."

Griffin continued: "Once we're in a position where we control the British broadcasting media, then perhaps one day the British people might change their mind and say, 'yes, every last one must go'. But if you hold that out as your sole aim to start with, you're not going to get anywhere. So, instead of talking about racial purity, we talk about identity."

6. Griffin's pride in his 'strong, direct link to Mosley'

With more than 900,000 votes cast in its favour in the European elections, the BNP insists it is part of mass politics. Founded in 1982 by John Tyndall, the party grew from a schism in the National Front, of which Nick Griffin was, at one point, national co-ordinator.

Griffin joined the BNP in 1995 and, by 1999, had taken over as leader, deposing Tyndall. Griffin, who was introduced to the works of the 1930s British fascist leader Oswald Mosley from his grandfather's bookshelves, is unabashed about tracing his political DNA back to an avowed admirer of Hitler. He told one interviewer: "There is a strong, direct link from Oswald Mosley to me."

7. The party membership that dare not speak its name

The BNP has been regularly rocked by internal disagreements and security breaches, including the leak of its entire membership list by a disgruntled former activist.

As part of the overhaul of its image – described by Nick Griffin as "put the boots away and put suits on" – and efforts to thwart entryists, the party adopted a system of secure emails and secret rendezvous points as well as embarking on a recruitment drive beyond its blue-collar heartland. The success of the campaign was revealed in 2006 when it was disclosed that Simone Clarke, the principal dancer of the English National Ballet, was a member.

Two years ago, a dispute over the actions of three senior party figures led to the resignation of more than 50 local and national officials. In November last year, the BNP suffered a further blow when its 10,000-strong membership list was published on the internet. The revelation led to the dismissal of at least three police and prison officers.

8. The Italian terrorist Griffin names as an influence

In August, Griffin cited Roberto Fiore – a convicted criminal and member of the Italian terrorist group implicated in the 1980 Bologna bombing that killed 85 people – as an important influence on the party. Mr Fiore was sentenced in absentia to 10 years in prison in 1985 for his membership of the political wing of the party. His conviction has since "timed out" under Italian statute of limitation laws, allowing him to return to his homeland where he is leader of far-right party Forza Nuova. He recently took up the European Parliament seat vacated by Benito Mussolini's granddaughter, Alessandra.

9. David Copeland: London nail-bomber and BNP member

In 2007, London nailbomber and former BNP member David Copeland was sentenced to a minimum of 50 years in prison for setting off three explosives, killing three people and injuring 139 others. Other BNP criminals include Ian Hindle and Andrew Wells, convicted of having sex with a child and engaging in sexual activity in the presence of a child respectively. Former BNP candidate in Coventry Roderick Rowley was sentenced to 15 months in prison after admitting to fourteen charges of making, distributing or possessing obscene images of children.

10. Some of those other members who have resorted to aggression

In 2006, Kevin Hughes, election agent for the BNP Redditch councillor David Enderby, was sentenced to 30 months in prison – reduced to 24 on appeal – for assaulting an Iraqi asylum seeker.

Earlier this year, pensioner John Jones was convicted of racially aggravated threatening behaviour after giving a Nazi salute on his way to a BNP rally in Derbyshire.

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