David Modell

The rise and fall of a young fanatic

Before he was arrested, Mark Collett was tipped as a future BNP leader. His bizarre story demonstrates the psychosis at the heart of the party, says David Modell

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Examine Nick Griffin’s appearance on Question Time last year, or the British National Party’s campaign for the European parliament, or even their work ‘on the ground’ in Barking today and you will find something very peculiar. The party is desperate to demonstrate to an electorate angered by expense abuses that it is a tightly run, principled organisation, unblighted by self-serving corruption and ready to ‘clean up’ mainstream politics.

The reality (as Harry Mount points out opposite) could not be more different — witness the headline ‘BNP Publicist Sacked Over Plot to Kill Nick Griffin’ which appeared on the Sky News website at the start of this month. The publicist in question is a man called Mark Collett and, aged just 29, he was the party’s youngest high-ranking official, and close to Griffin. Collett stood shoulder to shoulder with the leader when both were arrested for race-hate offences in 2005 and he was considered to be one of the BNP’s most effective speakers. He would deliver savage indictments of the ‘global conspiracy’ against Britain. ‘We’re the biggest threat to the corrupt political establishment,’ he told a BNP audience in 2007, ‘[the] traitorous white politicians who have sold us down the river.’ It was a popular message then, and in the lead-up to last year’s European elections, Collett refined it even further to communicate to the disgruntled electorate that the BNP was the ultimate ‘anti-politician’ party.

Then the BNP ‘uncovered the most serious and dangerous threat to this party and its officers that we have ever witnessed (sic)’. It found that Collett was ‘conspiring to launch a palace coup’; and the police had been informed of ‘serious allegations affecting the safety of Nick Griffin and senior management/financial consultant James Dowson’. Collett has been arrested and bailed on suspicion of making threats to kill.

I have a personal interest in Mark Collett. He was the subject of a documentary I made in 2002 for Channel 4 called Young, Nazi and Proud. Then just 21, he had already been anointed by Griffin as a future leader. At the time, the BNP was trying to present itself as a mainstream group, no longer just a bunch of National Front street-fighters, and I set out to test that claim by spending six months following Collett. Having made a series of astonishing pronouncements about the benefits of National Socialism, Jewish persecution and his affection for Hitler, Collett finally confessed, on camera, to being a ‘Nazi sympathiser’.

Collett’s journey reveals much about the darkness and absurdity at the heart of the BNP. He was ambitious; he thought that the party offered him a career, and that it would sweep to power and he would acquire the trappings of high office. He talked to me about the enormous salaries of MEPs and fantasised about owning a new BMW. Eight years later Collett had not been offered even a winnable council seat.

Griffin appeared unable to pay him a salary, and allowed him to operate as a sole-trader providing merchandise and services to party members. These included Collett’s BNP white-power music label ‘Great White Records’, and the sale of CDs of his own ‘inspirational lectures’ to members. Soon the business grew, and Collett began trading under the name ‘Vanguard Promotions’, providing printing services to BNP branches. It is difficult to establish how successful he was (Vanguard never published accounts) — I did, however, track complaints made on party websites about the quality and cost of printing services it provided. The arrangement began to unravel when a cheaper, more professional alternative to Collett appeared in the shape of James Dowson, a Belfast businessman and leader of the militant anti-abortion pressure group the UK Life League. Griffin recently described him as ‘superhuman’.

Dowson has a network of businesses combining political fundraising and publishing. He has persuaded Griffin to move much of the BNP’s administration to companies in Northern Ireland and now has effective control of a large portion of its finances. The move not only deprived Collett of income, it also undermined his close relationship with Griffin, leaving him isolated and, possibly, angry enough to want to kill.

Collett’s life so far is an object lesson in the folly of BNP fanaticism. He has been spat out by the very group who nurtured his anger against society, isolated by the only people who share his twisted white-supremacist fantasy. His story explodes the myth that the British National Party are a credible alternative in this or any other election and reminds Britain of the violent instincts written deep in the party’s psyche.