Nick Griffin claimed today that the British National Party was widely supported by rank-and-file soldiers after a group of former generals warned that the Armed Forces was in danger of being hijacked by the far right.
The BNP leader rejected their criticism of his party - suggesting they were "in the pockets" of the Tories - and insisted his views were being misrepresented.
Ex-military leaders wrote to The Times voicing anger at the BNP's tactic of using images of Winston Churchill and wartime insignia during recent European election campaigns.
The letter, signed by former heads of the Army General Sir Mike Jackson and General Sir Richard Richard Dannatt among others, said far-right groups were "fundamentally at odds" with the values of the British military.
"We call on all those who seek to hijack the good name of Britain's military for their own advantage to cease and desist," they said.
"The values of these extremists - many of whom are essentially racist - are fundamentally at odds with the values of the modern British military, such as tolerance and fairness."
General Jackson specifically attacked the BNP for using the Army's image.
He told the Times: "The BNP is claiming that it has a better relationship with the Armed Forces than other political parties. How dare they use the image of the Army, in particular, to promote their policies. These people are beyond the pale."
But Mr Griffin, who was elected as an MEP earlier this year, told Sky News that his party was popular among the forces rank-and-file.
"I'm the one who talks to the families of young squaddies and large numbers of ex-servicemen and they all say that almost everyone at the coalface, fighting in Afghanistan, vote for the British National Party," he said.
"The generals might not because some of these generals are now in the pockets of the Conservative Party, who used to be able to take Armed Forces votes for granted but now can't."
Mr Griffin dismissed claims that he wanted a white-only military, but admitted that the Victoria Cross-holding black corporal, Johnson Beharry, would not be allowed to join the BNP.
"What this campaign is saying we believe and what we actually do are two completely different things," he said.
"They have fallen hook, line and sinker for a pack of far-left lies about us."
The row came as a document apparently listing thousands of BNP members was posted on the internet today.
They included former senior members of the military, doctors and professors, according to the spreadsheet posted on the WikiLeaks website.
The document gave names, addresses, home and mobile telephone numbers of apparent party members.
A BNP spokesman said the leak was "suspicious" so close to the controversial appearance of Mr Griffin on BBC1's Question Time this Thursday.
The BBC has rejected a call from Cabinet minister Peter Hain to drop Mr Griffin from the panel.
Mr Hain, a long-standing campaigner against apartheid, wrote to BBC director-general Mark Thompson, warning that he could face legal action if he allows Mr Griffin to take part in the flagship political show.
The Welsh Secretary argued that the BNP was currently "an unlawful body" after the party told a court last week it would amend its whites-only membership rules to meet discrimination legislation.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission had issued County Court proceedings over concerns that the membership criteria were restrictive to those within certain ethnic groups.
In a letter to Mr Hain, Mr Thompson responded: "According to the advice we have received, the British National Party is not prevented from continuing to operate on a day-to-day basis and its elected representatives continue to sit on councils and in the European Parliament.
"It remains the BBC's obligation to scrutinise and hold to account all elected representatives and to do so with due impartiality.
"We are also advised that if there were to be any election - local or national - tomorrow, the BNP would still be able to field candidates.
"We therefore do not agree that the developments in the Central London County Court proceedings legally inhibit the BBC from allowing Nick Griffin to participate on the Question Time programme and our position remains as set out."
Mr Griffin is due to appear on Question Time alongside Justice Secretary Jack Straw, representatives of the other main parties and black writer Bonnie Greer.
The BNP later denounced the leaked membership list as a "malicious forgery".
In a statement posted on the party's website, Mr Griffin said: "We have had a chance to examine the list in detail and can unequivocally say that it is not a genuine BNP list.
"It is a concoction of the 'old' list plus a number of inquiries received, but, most disturbingly, it contains thousands of names of people with whom the BNP has had no contact whatsoever.
"The list includes thousands of people with renewal and membership numbers next to their names which are totally false and made up.
"We have no idea from where this information has been drawn. Some of it looks like random items drawn from a telephone book."
The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) announced it had launched an inquiry into the leak of the membership list.
Assistant commissioner Mick Gorrill said: "The ICO is investigating this further breach of the BNP membership list. We will establish the full facts before deciding on any regulatory action."Reuse content