On 29 November 2017, Donald Trump retweeted a video shared on Twitter by one of the leaders of Britain First, purporting to show a ‘Muslim migrant’ beating up a ‘Dutch boy’. This was later reported to be fake news, with the perpetrator from the video being born and raised in the Netherlands. Founded in 2011, Britain First is a far-right group with a big presence on social media, where it posts a slew of memes ranging from the fairly innocuous to the crudely racist. Britain First has an estimated membership of around 1,000.
The move shocked and confused commentators on both sides of the Atlantic. Why was Donald Trump, current President of the United States, retweeting the leader of a British far-right group whose presence beyond social media is tiny? While the answer to this question will likely be debated for some time to come (or at least until Trump tweets something else) this process of far-right ideological exchange has a long history.
During the inter-war period, British racial nationalists published and disseminated books and periodicals from various locations across the world, including the United States. The Britons, an anti-Semitic organisation founded by Henry Hamilton Beamish in 1919, spent much of its time and effort on maintaining these transnational exchanges.
The Britons kept their audience in touch with racists across the pond. In 1923, an advertisement in their newspaper informed readers that Henry Ford’s anti-Semitic newspaper, Dearborn Independent, was available to purchase from their headquarters. The same issue also carried an enthusiastic article on the Ku Klux Klan. The Britons applauded the Klan’s white supremacist views and their campaign against ‘the Jew Menace’.
Arnold Leese, a disciple of Beamish and The Britons, later founded one of the most extreme of Britain’s fascist groups, the Imperial Fascist League (IFL). Like Beamish, Leese clearly believed in the importance of cultivating international links and ideological exchanges. The IFL’s newspaper, The Fascist, as well as Leese’s own ideology carries traces of these international influences.
On numerous occasions The Fascist carried recommendations for the works of American white supremacist writers Madison Grant and Lothrop Stoddard. In their best-selling books, Grant and Stoddard advocated the formation of a racial aristocracy against democracy and especially against Bolshevism, which Stoddard racialised as the ideology of ‘The Under-Man’ (a term later borrowed by the Nazis, who were fans of both authors) bent on ‘racial… war’.
Leese’s ‘Racial’ or ‘Nordic Fascism’ combined Grant and Stoddard’s Nordicism with the work of Nazi racial scientist Hans F. K. Günther. For Leese, the goal of fascism was the establishment of a racial aristocracy to defend against what he believed were Jewish attempts to undermine white supremacy. His constant attempts to racialise Bolshevism were borrowed more or less wholesale from Stoddard.
The IFL had a tiny membership and almost no immediate impact on mainstream British politics. They had an initial estimated membership of 150 and their paper had a circulation of 3,000 per issue. Despite this, through his efforts circulating the writings of obscure racists, Leese preserved a strain of white supremacist ideology that went on to nurture a new generation of British fascists after the Second World War.
During this time, the British radical right was confronted not only with the end of Empire but also the arrival in Britain of Commonwealth citizens from the West Indies. They referred to these new black Britons as the ‘Negro Menace’. The Britons Publishing Society (BPS), which had developed out of The Britons, advised readers of its Free Britain journal to ‘take warning’ from ‘American authors like Stoddard and Madison Grant’.
This has been a brief historical review of the transnational links possessed by the British radical right. There is a worrying difference, however, between these historical examples and Trump’s retweeting. The exchanges mentioned above were taking place between marginal fascists on the radical right and not between a far-right group and the current President of the United States.
Liam J. Liburd is in the second year of his PhD studies with the University of Sheffield. His thesis is entitled “Constructions of Race, Gender and Empire on the British Fascist and Radical Right, 1920s to 1960s”. His research focuses on the relationship between the British Radical Right, including British fascism, and the British Empire. He has broader interests in gender and cultural historical approaches to British political history in the twentieth century.You can find Liam on Twitter @LiamJLiburd.
Image: Madison Grant, around 1913 [Via WikiCommons].
 For a comprehensive history of The Britons and their transnational influence see: Nick Toczek, Haters, Baiters and Would-Be Dictators.
 ‘The Ford Pamphlets’, The Hidden Hand, 12, 3 (January, 1923), p. 2.
 ‘Ku Klux Klan’, The Hidden Hand, 12, 3 (January, 1923), pp. 2-3.
 ‘Books Which Fascists Should Read’, The Fascist, 1, 7 (September 1929), p. 3; ‘Obituary’, The Fascist, 101 (October, 1937), p. 2; Gyron, ‘The Chemistry of Progress’, The Fascist, 104 (January, 1938), p. 4.
 Lothrop Stoddard, The Rising Tide of Colour Against White World Supremacy (London, 1923), p. 220.
 ‘Leadership’, The Fascist, 56 (January, 1934), p. 2.
 Arnold Leese, ‘Communism and Race’, The Fascist, 29 (October 1931), p. 3.
 H. T. Mills, ‘Spurious Conservatism – 4’, Free Britain, 49 (5 March, 1950), p. 2.
 ‘Malaya, India, Nigeria and Tottenham Court Road’, Free Britain, 36 (4 December, 1949), p. 2.