Secrets And Lies

Joe Reilly looks at the destructive role played by Searchlight entryists within AFA.

In a shock move the newly inaugurated National Co-ordinating Committee (NCC) of Anti-Fascist Action (AFA) suspended two of its branches. The NCC meeting which was held in February unanimously endorsed a motion from the Southern Region, to suspend both the Leeds and Huddersfield branches. The NCC also insisted that individuals belonging to those branches would be required to re-apply for membership through the National Office. In the interim a West Yorkshire branch has been set up.

Suspending a branch, or even an individual from AFA is if not unique, hardly routine, There have of course been internal difficulties before. Indeed looking back on AFA's history, internal strife, with Searchlight often playing a leading part has rarely been absent since AFA's inception. In 1986 in less than a year after AFA was founded a Searchlight smear against Class War resulted in a walk-out at the annual conference by Class War, Direct Action and the 'anarchist haters' Red Action. In 1987 there was a concerted attempt to have Red Action itself expelled for "racism". In 1989 prior to the re-launch, the organisation was paralysed for two years, while the defacto leadership attempted to filibuster a Red Action proposal to democratise the organisation. Finally exhausted, the leadership, which had its base of support around the Newham Monitoring Project decamped, with the accounts, and the promise of a new organisation. And were never heard of again.

Then in the early 1990's there were further difficulties, most notably in London, with Workers Power and the Revolutionary Internationalist League. This coincided with the quiet resignation of about twenty unaligned members based in Hackney, who collectively lost their stomach for the fight after a particularly brutal clash with the BNP in south London. As if this was not bad enough it was followed later in the same day, by an equally brutal smashing up of a League of St George meeting in west London (It was the Kensington Library 'massacre' that gave birth to C 18). Even though the casualties in both encounters were all sustained by the far-right, with probably more than a dozen hospitalised, the intervention at the League of St George meeting led to seventeen arrests. "Too rich for my blood" was the immediate and instinctive reaction of some.

One, a professional Geordie in a bad case of funk, even confided to an RA member that 'a lot of people would be leaving if things didn't change'. To avoid such a scenario the required 'change' would mean the abandonment of the essence of AFA militancy. Of course when composure was recovered, the sudden crash of bottle was repackaged in leftspeak: 'the need for a united front' (i.e. an orientation to the ANL); accusations of 'AFA being sectarian', of AFA not being 'lesbian friendly' and so on.

In Glasgow as well, there were celebrated shenaniggins when some elements decided it would be nice to form a new AFA branch in the city, with the proviso that it be anarchist only. Here again, though there was a hidden agenda, the need for 'separate development' was at least partly motivated by the feeling that other AFA members regarded the routine engagements with the far-right at the time with a little too much relish. Not of course that it was ever presented so bluntly. Again a veritable web of dishonesty was spun.

This particular internal dispute even caught the eye of Searchlight, who publicly weighed in with the helpful suggestion that the quarrel was in reality Irish Republican related. Sectarian bigotry and all that. Allegations of bullying and racism were also thrown in for good measure. A mainstay of such controversies is the allegation of state involvement. Here, as is often the case, the one pointing the finger was himself cooperating with Special Branch on matters relating to hunt-sabbing (He left soon after for America). In all the cases mentioned having departed with as much dignity as could be mustered, the renegades insisted with much tub thumping that they intended to carry on the fight, invited with a nod and a wink, others to join them and promptly disappeared from sight. In 1993 following the arrest of the AFA London organiser and RA member on charges relating to an IRA campaign, there followed a suggestion from Searchlight, via a Leeds AFA delegate at a Northern Network (NN) meeting that Red Action and AFA should part company. It was proposed, for the purposes of public relations that the intended expulsion be presented as "a cosmetic split." Many of the same components, with a slightly different order and emphasis are evident in the recent bust-up.

But when the allegations and counter allegations are disentangled what it comes down to is this. Searchlight lackeys who have over a long period of time conducted an entryist operation within AFA, with at one stage, almost total control of the Yorkshire region, for once got careless and got caught out. Perhaps Leeds AFA organisers having learnt they had survived a previous inquiry, simply grew complacent thinking they were off the hook But in hindsight, the 'not proven' outcome can be now seen more clearly as an order for more rope.

In any case, about twelve months ago a Manchester AFA organiser was contacted by the Leeds and de facto Northern Network organiser, in relation to a planned BNP activity in Leeds. "Four fascists from Manchester would be travelling over" he was offered as an enticement to become involved with a planned counter mobilisation. When he inquired as to the source, he was told that it was a "Glasgow based journalist". Instantly curious as to how someone in Glasgow would be either interested, or aware, of the movements of fascists who had no political profile, either in Manchester or nationally, he began asking a few questions and so the saga began. At the inaugural NNC meeting a month later, the suspicions that the 'Glasgow journalist' was a Searchlight spook were put to both delegates from Leeds and Huddersfield face to face. Vehement denials ensued.

Within days a hue and cry went up that "anarchists", not Searchlight, were the real targets of the investigation. At the same time those responsible for this bit of fog-making were already preparing to cut and run. The talk, at at least one branch meeting shortly afterwards, was of 'UDI and going their own way'. In a last throw of the dice, and with an energy and commitment markedly absent in regard to their responsibilities to AFA's NN (a new group in the north-east were not contacted for nine months and there had only been two NN meetings since 1995) the conspirators began to network through national AFA in order to muster support - or - alternatively create as much damage as they could on the way out. In any case the 'Anarchist Card' was played for all it was worth. Some might say over played. Patriotism being the last refuge; regional differences were also milked. These efforts culminated in them setting up their own inquiry, allowing national delegates only a couple of days notice. One national delegate did manage to attend though more in the role of observer.

By holding their own inquiry and bringing in a not guilty verdict, it was hoped this would preempt the real AFA inquiry. In a kangaroo court, where the kangaroo is defendant, prosecutor, star witness, judge, jury and executioner a 'result' for the kangaroo was never in doubt. Of course at the real inquiry conducted under the auspices of the NCC held less than a month later, the Searchlight mole was caught out in lie after lie. After having a variety of denials/explanations thrown back in his face: 'the source he refused to name for security reasons', 'his friend whose trust he could not not betray', 'the Sheffield anti-fascist he could vouch for', 'the guy that only took a couple of photos for Searchlight', 'the Glasgow based journalist working undercover with loyalists' all led to the eventual assembling of a jigsaw which revealed n the Glasgow based jourllalist'' to be none other than a professional journalist and leading member of the 'Searchlight Team' - Nick Lowles.

Lowles (or Knowles) had indeed been 'active' in anti-fascist circles in the Yorkshire area in the early 1990's as alleged. However following a public confrontation with an AFA organiser over tactics, which to his evident chagrin he lost, he named and identified the organiser as a fascist in an article in Searchlight and slipped away in the night. Fittingly the anarchist victim of the Searchlight 'bad jacketing' was the one that joined all the dots, and the one who at the NCC inquiry, personally confronted the mole with it. Before he could be pushed the Leeds organiser resigned from AFA in ignominy and scuttled from the meeting.

Now, no longer able to credibly distance themselves from Lowles, the cabal formerly known as Leeds AFA changed tack and instead sought to distance Lowles from Searchlight. Suggesting through the grapevine for instance, that Lowles had only ever played a minor role, and even if he had a more senior role this was news to them, and was certainly prior to his attempted manipulation of AFA and so on. Happily for AFA a lie easily nailed. Without going into the detail, AFA are aware that in the last eighteen months, Lowles, posing as a 'football fan' travelled to an Ultra conference in Italy. During his three days there he constantly sought out the company of leading German anti-fascists, without once revealing he was either a professional journalist or part of the Searchlight team. It was in that dual capacity that he collaborated on the Searchlight inspired Roger Cook fiasco involving Nick Griffin. In the March issue of Searchlight magazine he is named as a leading speaker at a seminar organised by Gable. While we are at it, he was also credited with involvement in the Dispatches programme which zeroed in on the situation in Leeds in 1994. A situation it can be now assumed was primarily of Searchlight's creation.

It may even have been Lowles himself who in 1993 smuggled the concealed camera into the Leeds AFA meeting as part of the attempt by World in Action to pin the blame on AFA /Red Action for the police riot in Welling. People always wondered how they did that. Another former AFA member and Searchlight agent was the prime suspect. Now everybody knows it was with the cooperation of the organisers of the meeting themselves; with undoubtedly some if not all of those currently suspended being central to the plot. Incidentally, the bit of the film broadcast by World in Action was of a Leeds AFA member conveniently discussing the use of "petrol bombs." And of course it was the events at Welling that marked the very public state campaign to render effective anti-fascism redundant. It was only then that the media demonisation and the de facto, if not de jure criminalisation, of militant anti-fascism began. And as night follows day the destabilising techniques employed against the fascists with such devastating success over the years, were now to be employed just as ruthlessly against the states opponents at the other end of the political spectrum - AFA.

If it was ever a case of only one worm in the Leeds apple, then once the organiser was expelled in July 1997, that would have been that. But ominously, during that NCC inquiry yet another former Leeds organiser admitted under cross examination that he too was also a longtime Searchlight intimate, who on one occasion in 1993 had deliberately misled - that is lied to - an 80 strong national AFA stewards group on the whereabouts of the BNP. He, and the entire Leeds scouting outfit, deliberately directed AFA to the opposite side of the city centre on Searchlight instructions.

And so it would appear that Leeds AFA has over the years been nothing less than a Searchlight dynasty. With each organiser grooming his successor. Since the early 90's four have operated in that particular organising capacity.

So despite the forced resignation at the NCC inquiry in June, by the time of the next NCC meeting in September it was apparent that nothing had changed. Searchlight was still the spectre at the feast. It was business as usual. For the first time branch suspension was openly discussed as an option. Meanwhile, demands from the NCC and AFA loyalists inside Leeds and Huddersfield that the intelligence documents be handed over were studiously ignored. The claim at one stage was that the format was 'incompatible' with other computers! And so the farce went on. Also missing by now was the Huddersfield and NN organiser who was refusing to answer calls for months at a time. A decision that he be stood down in his absence was carried and minuted at a joint Leeds/Huddersfield meeting. The decision was never implemented. This failure possibly more than nay other exposed the existence of a state within the state in the Yorkshire region.

In January 1998 there was yet another tip off from a journalist to Leeds AFA. A casual inquiry as regards source with the Leeds branch resulted in yet another Leeds organiser being caught out in a lie to his own organisation. In mitigation he said the deceit was necessary to "avoid accusations of collusion with Searchlight!!The same individual had also been responsible at the end of the year for spreading a story that the SB were attempting to link AFA to the IRA's bombing of the M62 motorway. A separate distraction that a prominent AFA member was a police informer also found no takers.

At the NCC meeting in February both branches were suspended. Recognising the gig was up, the bluff and bluster, undying commitment to militant anti-fascism, the determination to carry on, the invitation for others to join them, the refusal to surrender the AFA working title, the promise to work with non sectarian elements regardless, was, given past experiences, a familiar script.

An almost identical proclamation was issued in 1996 when there was an attempt to privatise the AFA Man Utd fanzine Red Attitude. Then, as now, the individuals involved were being manipulated by Searchlight who assured them they were untouchable. However within a short time everything had been surrendered and the editorial board disbanded. A little later the former editor fled the city. Followed shortly afterwards by a prominent supporter who went one better and actually fled the country (a trip funded incidentally in part by money stolen from the Manchester Socialist Labour Party). Once again, it seems we are dealing with people of the highest political and personal integrity!

In their closing address AFA members are warned by the entryists against 'the tactics of whisper campaigns, smear, innuendo," They refer to the NCC inquiry as a campaign that "has been waged beneath the integrity and honesty of anti-fascism." They admonish the investigators for "seeking to split the anti-fascist movement for narrow sectarian gain" And to "consider whose interests such activity really serves." It ends with the usual 'come what may we will continue our anti-fascist activity ...blah, blah." Hi1arious really, considering their entire involvement with militant anti-fascism, before and since their exposure has been based entirely on secrets and lies. When disgraced Jonathan Aitken was accused of 'pimping for the Saudis" he insisted in similarly blowzy rhetoric that he would use the "simple sword of truth and the trusty shield of British fair play" to clear his name. Not long afterwards he was arrested for perjury and perverting the course of justice. If convicted he faces jail In political terms the activities of the Searchlight entryists within AFA has been no less corrupt and corrupting. But like their disreputable predecessors, they will probably escape sanction; political oblivion being the only likely consequence of their chicanery

For genuine victims, unwitting dupes, or those filed under the 'useful idiot' index there is solace and a quality of mitigation in the knowledge that the architect and leading string puller behind the scenes is something of a Machiavellian master of intrigue. Within Searchlight itself, GG knows everything while his underlings, are happy to know only what they are told. Leeds AFA, York and the shortlived Lancaster, were constructed on the same classic 'leaders and led' lines. Despite the 'outing' of Searchlight in the Northern Network this capacity and ambition to manipulate, destabilise and subvert while diminished, is far from extinct. Which is why in order to protect its political and operational sovereignty, AFA also had Searchlight proscribed. This proscription will operate on the principle of shooting the messenger in that anybody bringing information into AFA will be obliged to reveal the source. For the first time, in thirteen years all Gable's known minions will all be outside AFA pissing in rather than inside pissing AFA intelligence, credibility and resources out. The consequence being that AFA will have a conventional up front relationship with Searchlight or there simply won't be one. Far better to have them out in the open as acknowledged adversaries than tolerated on the inside as treacherous auxiliaries: whatever the short term political cost.

Reproduced from RA Vol 3, Issue 1, June/July 1998