LEADERS: Charlie Sergeant; Will Browning
YEAR ESTABLISHED OR BECAME ACTIVE: 1991
ESTIMATED SIZE: 200
USUAL AREA OF OPERATION: London, Kent, Essex; northern England
Combat 18 (or C18) is a British neo-Nazi organization founded in the early 1990s as a "strong arm" for the far-right British National Party (BNP). It was created as a response to increasingly violent clashes between BNP supporters and followers of Anti-Fascist Action, a militant left-wing group.
Taking its name from the initials of Adolf Hitler (the "18" in their name is commonly used by neo-Nazi groups, and the A and H being the first and eighth letters of the alphabet), its small following is closely associated with football hooligans and loyalist paramilitaries in Northern Ireland. Tinged with rumors of manipulation by Britain's internal secret security service, MI5, decimated by the arrest of many of its leading members, and also beset by rifts between its leaders, the organization went into sharp decline in the late 1990s. It was nevertheless linked to the London nail bomb attacks in 1999 and race riots in northern England two years later.
It was clashes between British National Party (BNP) members and followers of Anti-Fascist Action in 1991 that precipitated the formation of Combat 18 (C18). While the BNP attempted to take a path toward electoral respectability, C18 operated as its so-called "strong arm," providing security to its meetings and rallies, and engaging in the sort of physical battles with antifascist supporters that would otherwise have proven damaging to the BNP's reputation.
At its inception, C18 was comprised of BNP and National Front members, followers of the skinhead music scene (centered around Blood and Honour), and a coalition of football hooligans. English football thugs had a long-standing (and not always deserved) reputation as the black sheep of European soccer hooliganism. Combat 18 brought together thugs associated with West Ham, Millwall, and most notably, Chelsea, whose Headhunter gang was among the most notorious in football. C18 was always a small organization, never comprising more than 200 followers (it never had formal members), of which possibly half were activists.
As well as being linked to violence that accompanied BNP meetings, C18 waged an organized campaign of terror and intimidation called "Red Watch," which identified and targeted political opponents, ethnic minorities, and police officers. It included a hate campaign against high-profile mixed race couples, including the former Olympic swimmer, Sharon Davies, and her then-husband, Derek Redmond, who received hate mail when they married in 1994. Another target, heavyweight boxer, Frank Bruno, his wife Laura, and his mother Lynette received death threats. High-profile British Jews were also targeted. C18 was also active in firebombing private homes and the offices of progressive organizations, as well as the Communist newspaper, the Morning Star.
C18 was also closely associated with the loyalist paramilitary organizations, the Loyalist Volunteer Force (LVF) and the Ulster Defense Association (UDA). Although never actively involved in Northern Ireland's conflict, C18 provided shelter to paramilitaries on the run, most notably the UDA leader, Johnny "Mad Dog" Adair, and the former UDA leader, John White.
The most high-profile assaults linked to C18 came in April 1999. On consecutive Saturdays, nail bombs were left in Brick Lane, the heart of London's Bangladeshi community, and the ethnically diverse inner suburb of Brixton. C18 claimed responsibility. As London braced itself for a successive Saturday attack, the most devastating bomb of all went off on Friday, April 30, in the Admiral Duncan pub in Soho, the heart of London's gay community. Three people were killed, including a pregnant woman, and seventy-nine were seriously hurt. The following morning police arrested a 23-year-old man, David Copeland.
Copeland was found to be a former member of the BNP, and although he was dismissive of C18, calling them a "bunch of yobs" and claiming to have acted alone, he was also found to be a member of the National Socialist Movement, a C18-splinter group loyal to C18's founder, Charlie Sargent.
Paul David "Charlie" Sargent founded Combat 18 in 1991 and led it over the subsequent six years. A violent, charismatic, and controversial figure, his leadership was mired by suggestions of personal corruption and profiteering. A dispute in 1997 with his successor, Will Browning, over the proceeds of the Nazi record production company ISD (the twenty or so CDs it had produced were estimated to have reaped profits of £200,000) led to the fatal stabbing by Sargent of Browning-ally, Chris Castle, who Sargent described as "a casualty of war." Sargent was convicted of Castle's murder in 1998.
In a 1996 Independent on Sunday interview conducted by Nick Ryan, expert on the British extreme right, Sargent was described as a hard-looking man, well-versed in violence and with plenty to say about "White Revolution." He was an aggressive, intimidating character, and, according to Ryan, had on at least one occasion bitten off an opponent's nose.
Sargent explained to Ryan why it had been necessary for C18 to come into existence: "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 antifascists on a right-wing meeting in Kensington Library during 1992]. Red Action [an extreme left-wing group] were absolutely battering the Right." he then went on to claim that C18 turned the tables: "We … battered 'em wherever we met until there was no [one] left standing."
Yet by the time of Sargent's conviction in 1998, Combat 18 was a movement in disarray. Having already lost the leadership of his organization to Browning, he faced substantial accusations of being a paid informant for the British government.
Following his demise, Sargent's brother, Steve, founded the National Socialist Party, a fascist organization loyal to Combat 18's founder. In 2000, it was revealed that the London nail bomber, David Copeland, was a paid member of this splinter group.
Sargent is currently serving a life sentence for the murder of Castle.
By the time of Copeland's conviction in 2000, C18 was in disarray. A feud between Sargent and Will Browning (who took over as C18 leader in 1997) over the money generated by ISD Records, a Nazi hate music outfit, had crippled the organization. Many of its supporters became disillusioned, dropping out altogether, or defecting to a newly formed Blood and Honour group. The Browning-Sargent feud became murderous in 1997 when Sargent stabbed an ally of Browning to death. He was subsequently charged and convicted of murder.
During this period, dozens of C18 members were also arrested in dawn raids conducted by Scotland Yard, in cooperation with MI5. This apparently served as confirmation of speculation—some of it emanating from C18's own members who had cooperated with the BBC documentary on the subject—that C18 had been thoroughly infiltrated by MI5. Even Sargent was accused of being a paid informant. This was never proven, nor was the suggestion, made by another TV investigation, that C18 had been stage-managed by MI5 from the outset as a vehicle through which intelligence could be gained on neo-Nazis and, in particular, Loyalist paramilitaries in Northern Ireland.
PHILOSOPHY AND TACTICS
Combat 18 members are white supremacists, inspired by German National Socialism. In interviews, leading members have spoken of "white homelands," although this has never been codified in its brief manifesto, nor has the desire to "repatriate" Britain's significant community of first-, second-, and third-generation immigrants.
Its central tenet is a "code of honour" based on the motto of the Nazi SS Meine Ehre Heisst True ("My Honour Means I am Loyal"). "Many who call or have called themselves National Socialists since the immolation of Adolf Hitler," reads their Code of Honour, "have either not understood the concept of honour or ignored it. It needs to be stated and repeated as often as possible that unless a person is prepared to strive to be honourable—and to take a real oath on their honour to the Cause and the Leader—then they have no right at all to call or describe themselves as National Socialists. An oath on honour means what it says—to break that oath is dishonourable, a cowardly act, and as such deserves death or everlasting ignominy."
It proclaims that action should only be taken overtly if it is not in contravention of race relations laws or the Public Order Act—legislation enforced by what C18 terms a "Zionist-occupation government" (ZOG). "The most important reason for avoiding overt action," reads its web site, "is that any such action immediately guarantees you an entry in ZOG's intelligence files and all that entails."
According to C18's handbook, covert action can assume three forms: direct, political, and social.
"Direct action involves the disruption and elimination of all that is detrimental to our race and opposed to the cause of National Socialism. Direct action is also the clearest demonstration of National Socialism in action, often involving acts of great courage and heroism. As such, direct action serves to show our Cause in the best possible light, strengthens the bonds between fellow National Socialists and inspires others with the right qualities to join our Cause."
- Formation as "strong arm" of BNP.
- Hate campaign against high-profile mixed-race couples.
- Split between Will Browning and Charlie Sargent leads to the murder of Browning supporter, Chris Castle.
- Conviction of Sargent for murder of Castle.
- Widespread arrest of C18 members by Scotland Yard.
- London nail bomber, David Copeland, is linked to C18 splinter group, the National Socialist Party.
- 2001; 2003:
- C18 implicated in race riots in Oldham, Burnley, and Bradford.
The best method for this, the handbook asserts, is the "lone wolf" tactic: operating alone and speaking to no one of one's plans. The nail bomber, David Copeland, was a notorious example of this.
"Political covert action usually means infiltrating an already existing non-National Socialist group or organization or the setting up of such an organization as a 'front'. The main purpose of this type of action is to recruit members of these organizations for our Cause and to further spread the National Socialist message. The best recruiting grounds for our Cause are existing racial nationalist organisations as they will often contain the raw material needed for the advancement of our Cause."
Finally, "'social action' involves the subtle propagation of extreme right views over months and years in a workplace. Its manifesto uses the example of a teacher using his or her influence to gently guide his students away from the accepted orthodoxies and encouraging their freedom of thought especially on subjects such as the so-called 'holocaust.'"
Its manifesto also propagates the use of "disruption" in a cumulative way. It does not elaborate on methods, but the aim "is for individuals, gradually and slowly, to increasingly disrupt 'everyday life' and services—to edge the System towards chaos and breakdown by using their employment or influence to this end."
Combat 18, according to its handbook, has one ultimate mission: "to advance the cause of National Socialism. Our long-term aim is to convert all our people to the noble National Socialist way of life. To achieve this however we must work on all levels."
Nick Ryan, an expert on far-right groups, spent much time with Combat 18 activists while writing his book, Homeland. He characterized a world of hard men who spend as much time and energy fighting and feuding with each other as they do with their enemies. Ryan found their existences squalid and repulsive. Their business was conducted in decrepit pubs and filthy flats with dreams of establishing a rural Aryan commune—the "homeland" of the title—undermined by internal disputes, disorganization, and time in prison. Around them were loners such as the nail bomber, David Copeland. Ryan writes, "That 'race warriors' and Aryan heroes often turn out to be such pathetic losers, mentally ill and unstable, is hardly a glowing testament to the cause."
Graeme Atkinson, an antifascist campaigner and journalist, believes that despite its current weakness, the impact of Combat 18 is still widely felt. "Despite its present weakness and its organizational and political incompetence," he writes; "C18 still has considerable dangerous influence and violent potential. This is why Maxim Brunerie, the author of the failed attempt to assassinate French president Jacques Chirac in July 2002 was in touch with C18. It is also the main reason why equally psychotic nazis in Germany want to use C18's name and copy its activities and style, despite C18 having no proven formal links with the mob raided in northern Germany."
Divided by the murderous internal feuds in the late 1990s, widely discredited by the links to MI5, and decimated by high-profile arrests, it is widely assumed that Combat 18 is in its death throes. Nevertheless, the members are periodically accused of an array of violence, which has included trouble before an England v. Turkey football match in 2003 and race riots in 2001 and 2003. Moreover, they are strongly linked to European skinheads, who have imitated the group's activities and methods.
Lowles, Nick. White Riot: The Rise and Violent Fall of Combat 18. London: Milo Books, 2001.
Ryan, Nick. Homeland: Into a World of Hate. Edinburgh, Scotland: Mainstream, 2004.
Sykes, Andrew. The Radical Right in Britain. NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.