Combat 18: Memoirs of a street-fighting man

Ten days ago the leader of the UK's most notorious neo-Nazi group was jailed for murder. In a terrifying series of interviews, published here for the first time, he and his companions talked openly about their beliefs

Nick Ryan
Sunday 01 February 1998 01:02 GMT

NOVEMBER 1996: a pub in Holborn, central London. The gear is casual, but the faces are hard, sullen, full of mistrust. Angry-looking tattoos poke out from under smart shirt-sleeves. Mobile phones lie in a neat row, next to bottles of Bud and pints of Guinness. The talk, in a melting pot of accents from across London's council estates, is of football "firms", lads and "jobs" [robberies].

"We don't want to live with Africans and Pakis, we want to live with our own people - don't we?" quips a large, Humpty Dumpty figure with a receding hairline and a dull leer. Covered in a heavy lace of tattoos and carrying a bulky bag of CDs, Paul David "Charlie" Sargent is a leader not so much by charisma as by force and fear. He has a habit of putting a rhetorical question at the end of his sentences. It leaves little room for discussion. His three companions drag on cigarettes and pull baseball caps down over their tight-cropped hair as they talk of revolution - White Revolution.

"Our kids are learning 'their' way of life before their own," laments Scott, a gruff former squaddie. A clamour of guttural "yeahs", uttered into pints, supports him. "They're taking us over," adds Charlie in his animated, nasal voice. "The whole of London is just becoming a cesspit." The solution? "National Socialism." Which is? "Racism ..." he says, with a characteristically challenging look, "... the easiest politics in the world."

To Charlie and the others, "they" - meaning either the state, which they call Zog (Zionist Occupation Government), or the immigrant communities - are the Enemy. So now they want no part of the system. "I don't vote. What's the point? I'm not gonna play their fucking silly little games," says Charlie.

These are members of a paramilitary struggle, based on punishment beatings, control and fear. "I know perfectly well we're gonna win. I'm under no disillusions about it. Sooner or later we're gonna win." But win what? "The War." What war? "The war against the government and the people invading this fucking land."

FIFTEEN MONTHS after our first encounter, I met Charlie Sargent again - in very different circumstances. Ten days ago, the founder and leader of Combat 18 (C18), the UK's most notorious neo-Nazi group, was sentenced to life imprisonment at Chelmsford Crown Court. The court heard how Sargent, now 37, and one of his henchmen had killed a fellow C18 supporter, as part of an internal feud.

Together with his close friend Martin Cross, Sargent had lured Christopher "Catford Chris" Castle, aged 28, to a mobile home in Harlow, Essex, on 10 February last year. There, Castle was ambushed and stabbed in the back. Acting as a go-between for two rival C18 factions, he had come to exchange Sargent's plastering tools for membership lists and pounds 1,000 in cash.

The pathologist Dr Michael Heath noted how the 22cm wound which penetrated Castle's lungs and heart was caused by a 20cm knife. This required "severe force". The court heard that immediately after the attack, Cross had referred to Castle as "a casualty of war". Police described the stabbing as "an execution". Both Sargent and Cross had previous convictions for violence and other offences: Sargent had two drug-related convictions, in addition to one for possession of a gun; Cross was sentenced to two years imprisonment in 1992 after unlawfully wounding a man with an axe.

Castle's murder followed months of infighting over control of a lucrative and illegal neo-Nazi music business, and arguments about C18's strategy and direction. The faction opposed to Sargent made headlines last year when they initiated a letter-bombing campaign with help from Danish neo- Nazis. The bombs were sent to enemies on the far right, as well as to swimming star Sharron Davies, who has a black husband. This second, even more extreme faction - led by Charlie Sargent's former right-hand man (who cannot be named for legal reasons) - is now in the ascendancy, and has seized the Combat 18 name. In its magazine Strikeforce, it proclaims itself to be "revolutionary" and promises an international terrorist campaign, a threat that Special Branch is taking seriously.

The "new" C18 has promised further bloodletting against the faction remaining loyal to Sargent (now called the National Socialist Movement). At Sargent's trial a fortnight ago, the two sides traded insults and threats as they were kept apart by police. "The blood is going to flow," predicted Eddie Stanton, a Sargent loyalist.

Detective Superintendent Steve Reynolds, chief investigating officer in the Sargent/Cross murder case, said after the trial: "There is an intense rivalry between the two factions of Combat 18 and it would be naive to think that it's all ended now. There is a code of violence here which is absolutely frightening."

COMBAT 18 originally carved its name in history in the early Nineties. It was the first right-wing group in the UK to take the state head-on, entirely rejecting conventional politics. The group had originally promised a violent race war against "invading" immigrants and a system which it believed had abandoned working-class "white" people. It proved attractive to disillusioned young men across the country, and particularly on the council estates of the South-East, because it brooked no compromise and promised direct action against the "oppressors".

C18's origins were as a group providing security for the British National Party, the UK's principal far-right organisation. C18 took its name from the numerical position of Adolf Hitler's initials in the alphabet - "1" and "8" - aiming to terrorise its opponents. In a departure from previous right-wing ventures, C18 did not attempt to persuade ordinary people to its cause, or to win elections - it just acted. As Charlie Sargent told me when I first met him: "It would be a lie to think we are attractive to most people, because we're not. We are what we are. We don't pretend we're something we're not."

Instead, C18 looked for support among ultra-violent football hooligan firms and around the "white power" skinhead music scene. (Despite this, however, few of C18's supporters were actually skinheads, preferring the designer-casual image of the football hooligans: "Skinheads are basically wankers. The only skinheads are Reds and queers," laughed Steve Sargent, 32, Charlie's softer-spoken younger brother, when I asked him about their image.)

A number of members also worked (and still do) as cocaine dealers and illegal debt collectors in the criminal underworld. They were happy to show me how to "bosh" someone in the stomach with a knife, as a penalty for failing to pay up on a loan. Similarly, they mocked the Government's law and order strategy, claiming it was ineffectual and that the prisons were C18's natural recruiting ground. With their jailbird tattoos, they would casually refer to the police as "scum". By their own admission they were violent people. "We're thugs who follow an ideology," boasted Charlie.

C18 quickly attracted the street-hooligan elements of the Right, mainly from around London and the Home Counties area. Initially numbering just a few dozen members, the group grew rapidly as it went on the offensive, attacking left-wing bookshops, gay pubs and anti-apartheid activists. It began to produce its own bulletin, Redwatch, a tatty, photocopied sheet listing the names of its opponents. Battles with left-wing activists are remembered with a sense of tribal pride by many C18 members.

"The Reds were going around and they were beating the living daylights out of the right wing. They were kicking in doors, petrol-bombing people and beating old men black and blue with hammers [a reference to an attack by anti-Fascists on a right-wing meeting in Kensington Library during 1992]. Red Action [an extreme left-wing group] were absolutely battering the Right," recalled Charlie. "We decided we weren't having that and we thought we'd do something about it." Which meant? "We fuckin' battered 'em wherever we met, until there was no fucker left standing," he laughed, puffing out his chest. "Now we don't see them no more."

The relationship between C18 and the larger BNP began to deteriorate during 1993, however, as the latter became increasingly embarrassed by C18's violent behaviour. The election of Derek Beackon as the BNP's first- ever local councillor, in Millwall in September 1993, sealed the split between the two organisations. From then on, the BNP proscribed joint membership (sometimes to little effect, because C18 didn't have any "official" members as such).

As C18 developed a more extreme National Socialist/Nazi position, it attracted a hardcore of 200 or so followers from around the country. Although its numbers would sometimes swell with occasional support from football hooligans and skinheads from the "white power" music scene, this hardcore remained constant.

"Race not Nation - we're not British nationalists, we're racialists," Charlie told me 15 months ago. C18 believed in the white European/Aryan "race", as opposed to the BNP's belief in the British "nation". "The BNP's view is just bullshit," said Steve Sargent, "but we're not under no illusions. The BNP say they're gonna sweep the country in 10 years time, but that's bullshit, 'coz it's never gonna happen." Where the BNP had the idea of repatriating black and other communities to their "native" countries, C18 believed in building white powerbases from which to launch attacks.

In another departure from previous right-wing extremist thinking, C18 drew ideological inspiration from the USA, particularly from theories espousing "race war". Thus, in a French Nazi publication, Terror Elite, Charlie Sargent explained that the race war desired by neo-Nazis would not happen of its own accord: "We have to incite the niggers and Arabs. I and others are personally dedicated to declaring war on the system over the coming years. I know that could mean death or life imprisonment, but I hope to light a touchpaper to a fire so powerful that Zog will never put it out."

The group adopted, or at least claimed to adopt, a strategy known as "leaderless resistance". Using this strategy, small cells of activists would operate autonomously, theoretically making the organisation more resistant to infiltration. This system was devised by followers of The Order, a right-wing terrorist group in the USA which murdered law-enforcement officials and a prominent Jewish radio host in 1984. While it was eventually destroyed in a shoot out with the FBI, The Order became an inspiration for neo-Nazis across the world. Former followers are still in touch with C18 today.

Figures on both the Left and Right were regularly targeted by C18's "punishment squads". Indeed, many on the Right - including BNP members - grew to fear C18 more than the Left, as it viciously attacked members of what it saw as rival organisations. C18 leaders were always proud to boast that their organisation was larger and stronger than any other - including legal parties - on the Right. In reality, factional rivalry meant that they were often the ones who had most to fear from the group.

C18 also proved attractive to some on the Right because of its strong links with the Loyalist paramilitaries. While other right-wing groups paid lip service to this cause, C18 actively took up their struggle. In 1993, one follower was caught with six handguns in his car; while the following year, C18 supporter Terry Blackham was arrested trying to deliver sub-machine guns and a rocket launcher to the paramilitary Ulster Defence Association. This close relationship with the Loyalists led some to suggest that C18 was an MI5 honeytrap (this was disputed by security sources), created as a way of infiltrating the Loyalist terror world.

The group also allied itself with extremists from across Europe and the USA, as demonstrated by the letter-bomb campaign in January last year, which involved neo-Nazi's from Britain, Denmark and Sweden. Three Danish neo-Nazis are now serving between three and eight years each for their part in the plot.

Furthermore, C18 controlled a lucrative and illegal music business, making it the first such organisation with access to a significant amount of capital. White-power bands were promoted at secret gigs, and CDs and other merchandise were sold illegally throughout the world. Nazi bands which did not join, or criticised C18 control, suffered punishment beatings and regular intimidation.

Such influence could be seen on Europe's largest housing estate, Harold Hill, in Romford, Essex. The local C18 "cell" subjected an Asian family to several months of attacks and racial harassment. A boulder was thrown through the family's front door, graffiti was sprayed on the outside of their house, wheel nuts were loosened, and a corrosive liquid was thrown into the wife's face. When asked about this incident, Steve Sargent was coy but eventually said with a guttural laugh: "I only heard that the family dog was thrown through the front window - dead."

Another victim of C18's violence was Ross Fraser, a former editor of the Chelsea Independent soccer fanzine. Following remarks that racism had no place in football, Fraser was subjected to a vicious campaign of violence. In an attack on a London pub, Fraser was left needing seven stitches to his face and his sight was permanently damaged after he was struck with a broken bottle. Three others required hospital treatment, one with a slashed jugular vein. Two months later, Fraser only narrowly missed further injury after a C18 supporter tried to stab him in the face after a Chelsea game in Prague.

Despite the rhetoric, this was where C18 was most dangerous, attacking individuals and small, isolated groups rather than large "enemies" such as the State. C18's reputation grew beyond its actual, rather small, core following; for example, Charlie Sargent (wrongly) claimed that C18 had initiated the riots at the England v Ireland match in Dublin in 1995. The press, keen for an exclusive, went wild for the story. T-shirts were printed and distributed across Europe, with young skinheads proud to wear Combat 18 insignia. Thus the C18 name, and legend, grew.

WINTER 1996. The Railway Tavern is a small, grotty pub with peeling green paint, squatting inconspicuously opposite Chelmsford railway station. Inside, Charlie and Steve Sargent are sitting silently, awaiting my arrival. Charlie is in a dark, tetchy mood, answering questions with a brief "eah" or "naa". A baseball cap is perched precariously on his large head. As the "Big Man" of C18, he has already warned me at our previous meeting "not to stitch us up, or we'll fuck you over badly".

I have come to see the brothers on home territory - their power base - to try and understand something about them as people, about their motivation and their aims for the future.

This bustling Essex commuter town, with its territorial pubs and large, white council estates, will be the centre, C18 argues, for a paramilitary struggle. The group will slowly and surely take over the estates, populated as they see it by white East End emigres, and become the dominant political force in the area.

Like other such areas, Chelmsford has a schizophrenic character. On the one hand, there are quiet, suburban parks and green-belt areas. Marconi has its headquarters there. Bright Christmas lights hang over the old market area and a single tiny mosque nestles inconspicuously behind a curry house. From this angle, it seems a quiet, suburban commuter town. However, the street with the longest row of pubs is known locally as "The Road of Death", due to the number of fights which take place there. At weekends, young lads from the surrounding towns and villages pile into nightclubs - looking, as Steve Sargent says, "for booze, a shag and a fight". And the predominantly white, working-class estates have proved themselves to be an ideal breeding ground for the insularity and youthful discontent upon which C18 thrives.

"You go to any Essex town, and they've trebled in size, yeah?" says Charlie, chubby fist gripping a pint of lager. "They're building, building, building in every Essex town and the reason is that the whites are leaving London."

"It's always been a bit stronger for racist support, always," says Steve, waiting deferentially for Charlie to finish. He speaks slowly, in a more measured tone, than his elder brother. "The East End's always had its racist support, hasn't it? Now them racists that voted for the BNP and National Front in the Seventies, most of them now live in Essex." He emphasises the word "racist".

"If we stand for election, we'll get eliminated," Charlie butts in. "The loyalist paramilitaries or Sinn Fein when they stand for elections, they're humiliated basically, but as a paramilitary group they get respect. That's how we've got to go." He adopts his challenging look. "We're targeting certain estates, because we need more local support. I mean, we're not going to be able to go into the middle-class areas of Chelmsford and win support - we know that."

It is a working-class movement, full of anger and resentment at the bias of "The System". "Our community has been smashed," complains Charlie. "When I grew up, you knew everyone and everyone knew you. Now you have the blacks come in. Most of the blacks and whites, whether people like it or not, don't mix. Then you have the Asians. Then you have people who have mixed-race kids [whom they hate more than anything else]. It splits everyone up. You ain't got any real community left and that fucks everything up. That's how it is on any estate, on any street in London now."

Charlie argues that most white working-class people aren't interested in politics, but race. "They're either for it or against it," he states, with a chopping gesture. "And the ones that don't agree with us, well we've got to make them respect us, fear us, or however you want to say it," he says, adopting that look again.

In this scenario, Chelmsford would be part of an Aryan Homeland, with the paramilitary struggle taking place on the working-class estates while a kibbutz-style smallholding or commune is set up in the countryside. The Homeland would also contain a school and doctors, and would operate a bartering system instead of using money. It would function as a simpler, perhaps mythical form of community from which to attack the State and its organs.

Again stemming from an American concept, and inspired by the belief that the system is fixed against them, the plan was to withdraw as much as possible from society and to create a National Socialist state within Britain itself. One of C18's myriad (and illegal) publications states: "The inner cities are lost. We must realise this and take our only real option - converge as many of our people as we can in the Homeland area and gradually take control of it. One has only to look at Belfast to see that we can achieve our aim, the only difference being ours will be on racial not religious divides."

C18 even created a National Socialist Alliance (NSA) of various extreme right-wing groups, which would function as a cross-party forum, one aim of which was to support the Homeland. It gathered funds for the project (pounds 10 per "share", with 1,000 shares giving you the right to work permanently and reside on the site) and helped arrange accommodation for prospective recruits. C18's profits from its music business also supported the project.

Charlie is keen to extol the virtues of the Homeland, and the success he and Steve have had in attracting supporters. "The more powerful you become in that area, the more chance you've got," explains Steve. "You gotta do it bit by bit, you can't do it in the whole country straight away." In this way, drug dealers would be forced from estates ("He'll be told to leave and if he don't, his house is gonna go up and that's the end of it," says Charlie, "like the IRA and UDA") and local building and contract work (important to the likes of C18 supporters - both Charlie and Steve are plasterers by trade) would be controlled directly by C18. Any opposition would get "seriously fucking hurt" in a paramilitary-style struggle.

Would racial intimidation be used, as at Harold Hill? "Of course. They've got the whole fucking country to live in, in't they? If they come here, they're just trying to provoke us, in't they? Well, if they come here, that's what they can expect. Simple as that. I don't eat curries and I don't eat chapatis," he adds, laughing. "They're not the same as us, are they? You're English, you understand, don't you?"

So speaks Charlie. He is a man of simple answers. Challenging any of them too openly provokes an aggressive "What do you mean by that?" - his mouth set in a small, intimidating "o". And he already has a reputation as a man with a fearsome temper. He has survived at least one axe attack and always carries a knife, by his own admission. Steve later tells me that he once saw Charlie bite off an opponent's nose during a fight.

Steve is quieter, but when he looks down into his pint, he displays a rough set of scars upon his close-cropped head. These were sustained during a confrontation in which C18 attacked Asian shops in east London. He was slashed by machetes across his head and back, needing more than 100 stitches. He laughs when recounting this story, but his laugh is nervous.

When he does look up, his eyes are clear and honest, and his hands and mouth expressive. It is sometimes hard to believe both are family men, well-travelled (Steve lived in eastern Europe for a year and Charlie backpacked for three years) and can at times be warm and expressive. Both have a regular, if slightly rough, sense of humour. Charlie also has four kids and a partner in Harlow for whom he professes undying love. He is upset when they are targeted by the local press, or are sent "Jiffy bags full of excrement by anti-Fascists". He wants to protect them.

Why then such fanaticism, such hate? What terrible event set them on this course? The brothers both claim they had happy, uneventful childhoods, raised as they were in a family of three brothers and two sisters on an estate in Barnet, north London. Their father was a Loyalist supporter from Clacton, who brought up his children to be "proud racists". "He was hard but fair, our old man, I'll give him that," says Steve. "He brought us up to believe in certain things, just like if your dad was a Communist, you'd grow up believing Communist things," adds Charlie. What does this mean, exactly? "We were brought up as Fascists and nationalists."

Football and music were the gathering points for the young Sargents. Their older brother Billy had already gone off to become a heavy for various groups on the Right. To Charlie, fighting with 200 other fans at an Arsenal away game became "a way of proving your manhood". The talk turns to football firms, and how trust and loyalty to your mates are incredibly important (and no one should ever, ever, "grass" to the police).

"We were both involved in the hooligan thing and started out fighting,"says Charlie, munching with gusto on the lunch I have just bought him. Between mouthfuls, he adds: "It's always been that way, hasn't it? There's nothing wrong with that." From there it was a natural progression to shaving his head, joining National Front marches and becoming a heavy for the British Movement (a violent neo-Nazi group of the late Seventies).

When that group split in early Eighties, "about 30 of us left and that's when we got involved in robberies and all that," says Charlie matter-of- factly. The aim was to put away money for "projects" to do with the Right, but he is vague about specifics. He was just 20 at the time. Since then he has been imprisoned four times, including for possession of guns and drugs. They tell me that "some things went down this summer which were worth five to 10 [years]".

Both brothers reminisce about life "back then", a golden period when things were better. To Steve, for example, it meant only having "one Paki" in his school. To Charlie, the 1950s and the era of Ealing comedies were "a good time for this country. Everyone had work, London was one of the cleanest and most crime-free cities in the world. Now look at it. It's a fucking cesspit," he spits.

In their view, cultures should not mix - except white Europeans, of course: "We're all the fucking same, ain't we? What the fucking hell's the difference between a Norman and a Saxon in 1066?" Yet they admit admiration for "the Jews and Asians" for maintaining strong communities. Charlie also laments the lack of moral guidance in today's society. "The Church of England now is so full of poofs and every sort of scum, what can you expect?"

Respect, together with trust, loyalty and honour are the main virtues in this tribal society. Football battles with your mates are described in glowing terms. Steve in particular gets carried away, showing me how he bounces up and down before a fight between two sets of fans. His face flushes with excitement as he mimics these motions, while his mouth screams imaginary abuse.

Charlie understands that respect comes from being the toughest fellow. "You respect the geezer who can beat everyone up. Everyone wants to know who's the best fighter on the estate. It's always been the way. People arse-lick 'em." His is a highly territorial world. But it also revolves around control and Charlie's view of who should be doing it (usually him). Charlie, for example, dominates conversations both physically and verbally, often cutting others off. Steve stays unusually silent in his elder brother's company.

It is also a male world. "Our women are our partners, but not our equals and betters," says Charlie. "The flags, the drums, the Nationalist spirit - it's not really a thing for women. Their place is at home with the kids. They should be doing that, not out fighting. A lot of our women agree with us as well."

THE IDEOLOGICAL heavyweight behind all this talk is a man called David Myatt. An eccentric former monk, Satanist and widely travelled martial- arts expert, Myatt (who is 48) has previously attempted to establish a Nazi-occultist commune in Shropshire. He now produces a regular bulletin, The National Socialist, which espouses race war, the supremacy of the Aryan nation, and a fanatical devotion to "warrior values" of Loyalty, Duty and Honour.

A typical theme in his writings runs thus: "So-called racial hatred and racism itself are Nature's way of protecting her creations and protecting herself ... it is race mixing which is the ultimate evil. Race mixing is a crime against life itself." Elsewhere, he calls for a "holy war against our enemies, for these enemies are threatening our very racial existence".

Myatt provides much of the intellectual "legitimacy" which groups like C18 - mainly composed as they are of self-educated, working-class young men - lack. His writings go into great, often tortuous detail about National Socialist values, but he has the ear of people like the Sargents, in particular Steve (with whom he has now forged a new group called the National Socialist Movement).

However, unlike C18, Myatt draws inspiration from a fanatical devotion to Germany in the 1930s. "National Socialist Germany is the closest thing to there being a cultural expression of something which is natural and healthy for Aryan peoples," he says in a polite, soft-spoken accent when we meet at the tea shop in Malvern station, surrounded by oblivious old-age pensioners.

Listening to Myatt is a surreal experience. A slim, diminutive figure dressed in bright cycling gear and sporting a huge beard, he has a passion for toasted tea cakes and translating Greek literature. We talk for an hour about race war, Aryan supremacy and warrior values. He sees his role as educating and guiding young neo-Nazis. He expresses great admiration for both Spartan and ancient Japanese societies. In his ideal world, we would all be warrior-farmers - or enslaved to those who were.

Unlike C18's members, Myatt is well educated and, in his own words, "of independent means". His father worked "for the British Empire" and as a child, he lived in east Africa and Asia. He read widely about National Socialism and Hitler, becoming a convert in his teens. Yet even by his own admission he is a loner and a fanatic, who hates cities and motor cars, and who became disillusioned with groups such as the National Front. He even spent 18 months as a monk - but "I had a great struggle between my political beliefs and religious dogma. I finally decided they were incompatible."

We share several awkward silences. A shy man, he seems uncomfortable in company, and it is difficult really to find out why or how he was so drawn to Nazism. All he will admit is that he has been in prison twice for his beliefs and that he was profoundly affected by the death of a loved one. He has since decided that revolution and a great leader are needed to bring about the resurgence of the Aryan peoples. He admits to a similarity between himself and extremist religious figures: "I know I'm right," he states simply.

Yet his conversation and writings show little understanding or empathy with human nature. He stresses the need for fanatical values in bringing about his new society, attacking other cultures and "traitors" to the Aryan cause - and he admits to being continually disappointed by "real life". His vision of a Homeland - organic farming, horse-drawn equipment, no contact with the outside world - also differs sharply from the reality of the Sargent brothers.

THE REALITY on the ground for Combat 18 was really football violence and the far-right music scene. When I first met Charlie, for example, he was holding a large bag of illegal "white power" CDs, which he willingly displayed. These discs formed part of the highly profitable music business - ISD Records - which helped fund C18's activities. Over the last three years ISD produced nearly 30 CDs, with a total production run of more than 30,000 discs, and made more than pounds 200,000 in profit - the first time a right-wing group had controlled such a large money-making venture.

It was, however, these profits which provided one of the main reasons for the feud within C18, and which led to the events in which Chris Castle was murdered. Charlie Sargent's right-hand man and C18's new leader (who, as mentioned, cannot be named for legal reasons) controlled the music business. A man feared even by Steve Sargent ("All he does is train every day for the war"), he and Charlie differed over how to spend the funds. During the autumn of 1996 the two men began to argue over this, and over the future of the organisation. Sargent wanted to dominate the far-right scene, while his henchman preferred to create a smaller, terrorist-style organisation in order to launch attacks on the State.

This eventually resulted in the feud which saw Chris Castle's murder and the Danish letter bombings, with each side accusing the other of working for the State and acting as police informants. The remaining C18 faction is now committed to existing as a smaller, more hardline terrorist organisation.

FOR STEVE SARGENT, recreating a community is simply "the only realistic option we have". Like Charlie, he believes "their" community has been smashed. Wandering with him around the pubs of Chelmsford, he is less confident, less absolute, than Charlie. He is uncomfortable with the label of "Nazi", saying that the Right already attracts too many "bedsit weirdoes", and seems much happier describing old football days and tribal street battles than any notion of the future.

He yearns for a simpler life. "I've spent half my life punching and fighting my way through different people, and I just don't want it no more, you know. I'm too fucking old for it all. You get some 20-year-old come along and he's gonna knock the fucking shit out of ya." I ask him what he really wants. He pauses for a while. "I don't know really. It's whether you talk fantasy or reality. In fantasy, I want lovely clean streets and blue-eyed blonde birds. In reality," he pauses again, "pretty much like what it's like now."

And the reality was that the Homeland never took off. The Sargents only attracted one outsider, a French neo-Nazi, to the area. Although they had support from individuals, such as Martin Cross, already based in Essex, the dream remained just that - a dream. The group was rarely a national danger - despite its propaganda - other than to individuals or small groups. It was never really organised into cells or contained committed terrorists (with a few notable exceptions) - rather, it was an extended football hooligan firm, or tribal gang. The rhetoric was there, if not always the practice. C18's long-promised race war and attacks on the State never ignited.

24 JANUARY 1998, Holloway Road, north London: the march to mark the 25th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday killings. It is bitterly cold, and the Union Jack hangs limply from the railings. Forty or so ragged-looking skinheads from the National Front are outnumbered at least 50 to one by the marchers. The NSM "protection force", lurking out of sight in a couple of nearby pubs, is small and easily noticed by the police. Although they have a few faces from Chelsea and Romford, the right-wingers soon leave the area, which is already swarming with street fighters from Anti-Fascist Action.

Memories of the London pub in which I had first met the leaders of Combat 18 now seem very distant. In its heyday, C18 would have fielded several dozen hardmen, a mixed gang of hooligans and Fascists, "tooled up" and ready for confrontation with their traditional enemy, the "Reds". But things have changed dramatically for the Nazi streetfighters and the brothers who led them.

In the dock at Chelmsford Crown Court a fortnight ago, Charlie Sargent cut a lonely, almost sad figure, stripped of his reputation and coterie. When I first met him some 15 months ago, he seemed an intimidating figure, with his short, cropped hair, surrounded by followers and talking of a paramilitary struggle. Now wearing glasses, with his hair long and very much on his own, the myth was dispelled. I noticed for the first time just how physically small he really is. It seemed to highlight the difference between reality and the fantasy so often espoused in the far right's literature and lifestyles. Is this - finally - the reality of "Aryan man"?

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in