The death of Richard Edmonds last week brings almost to a close the chapter of a generation of fascists and National Socialists that built and led the post-war British far-right.
Edmonds, who was 77, had been suffering a serious heart complaint for a number of years. This did not stop him from persisting with his life-defining racialism and activism- or his role for the last twelve months as Deputy Chairman of the National Front (NF).
Edmond’s last public outing was to the Cenotaph in London last month, a final insult to British and Commonwealth war dead whose sacrifices in fighting the Nazi- fascist axis in the Second World War are remembered there.
Edmonds was a Nazi who made his mark in public life by celebrating the causes of controversy and causing offence.
Whilst the new generation of race haters publicly avoid or eschew outdated theories about race and intelligence, Edmonds was an imperialist and racialist that bore ill will not just to all non-whites but in particular to the Windrush Generation for whom he harbored a bitter hatred and disdain.
Edmonds believed until his dying breath in not just white supremacy, but complete and undiluted racial superiority. Many of the obituaries already published of Edmonds describe him as a ‘life-long’ racial nationalist or speak of his ‘life-long’ activism in the field of racial hatred. But Edmonds hinted himself, in coincidental deference to the advice about political activism set out in Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf, that he was not ‘converted’ to racist politics until 1968 and did not become active in the far-right until 1972, approaching an age Hitler had recommended.
Richard Edmonds was born into a working class family in Hounslow west London during the war years- 1943. After the war his father returned to work on the London Underground and his mother stayed home as a housewife. There was a sibling, a sister, who took no part in politics.
Although the family were relieved Edmonds’ father survived the war- his maternal uncle did not. It was this loss that appears to have most affected Edmonds’ attitudes toward the war.
Edmonds was most certainly no pacifist, but in reference to the war against Nazi Germany, he oft quoted his mother broken with rage and sorrow listening to the wireless whilst slumped against their kitchen sink, raging against “the waste” and “the Jews” and Winston Churchill whom she held responsible for the war that led to her brother’s death.
In late 1961 Edmonds responded to the Australian government’s campaign ‘Bring out a Briton’. He was drawn to the idea of emigrating primarily to escape a stifling home life but also his and his parents’ shared alarm and panic over increasing non-white immigration to Britain.
As I understand it, from long conversations with Edmonds during the 1980’s, he had been a rather lonely, dominated and awkward child and believed and expected to find love and marriage in Australia.
Little is known (to me) else about his three years in Australia but it is where he either developed or further developed his interest in the German language.
Upon returning (without a wife) to London in the mid 1960’s Edmonds found Britain- and particularly London- to be in his own words, “absolutely alien” to the country he had left. ‘Alien’ would be how he would refer to non-whites for the rest of his life.
What Edmonds saw in London convinced him to almost immediately re- emigrate, this time to Canada. After a year Edmonds returned to Britain to undertake an engineering degree at Southampton University.
It was after Enoch Powell’s hateful and infamous ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech in 1968 Edmonds first nailed his political colours to the Conservative Party and then hastily removed them after the Tories moved against Powell. Anti-racist protests would stop Edmonds seeing Powell speak at Southampton University. Edmonds had wholly nailed himself to racialism, anti-Communism and ‘Powellism.’
The 1972 Uxbridge by-election as the Ugandan Asian crisis was unfolding was Edmonds’ first introduction to the National Front (NF), a relatively new but already controversial anti-immigration political party.
Formed in 1967 by “thoroughly respectable” middle class types, by 1972 it was led by the controversial John Tyndall (1934-2005) who had been, in his “misspent” youth, a Hitler admirer and promoter of Nazism.
Another party that stood in the by-election was the Union Movement, the dregs of Oswald Mosley’s pre-war fascist party, the British Union of Fascists (BUF).
Along with another party (that would eventually merge with the NF,) three far-right parties polled over 13% in the Uxbridge election. But it was the National Front, with its Union flags and simple, sharp, racist messaging that polled the majority (8.7%) of the racist, anti-immigration vote. (The Union Movement would dissolve a year later.)
Edmonds was mesmerised by the John Tyndall and Martin Webster double act that led the Front into violent confrontations with antiracists. He would admire and refer to the pairing for the rest of his life.
He made his own mark in the National Front by persistent activism. He took a teaching job at a Comprehensive school in east London before later moving to Forest Hill in south London and taking the voluntary role of Organiser for the local National Front branch.
In 1977 Edmonds organised the attempted march on Lewisham. It was an extremely confrontational and ill thought endeavour. He caused outrage by making a series of racist and outrageous comments about London’s black community in the lead up to the march. On the day of the proposed march more than 200 people would be arrested and over 100 people (including 55 police officers) injured. The day would also be the first time riot shields were deployed by police outside of Northern Ireland.
Although the failed march and the ensuing violence caused division inside the National Front, the sheer audacity of the plan marked Edmonds inside the party as a hardliner and someone with a bright future.
As factions formed which would later lead to the party’s demise, Edmonds became a staunch ally of John Tyndall who had been unable to hide his true, Nazi allegiances from the media and general public any longer.
Edmonds would become a leading figure in Tyndall’s New National Front (NNF) after the NF split in 1980 (Andrew Brons would lead the rump of the National Front). Edmonds would be singled out for a series of vicious assaults not just by antifascists but also by National Front loyalists. After one assault by the NF at a street market in 1981 Edmonds was hospitalised and the NNF began to wind down.
In 1982 John Tyndall launched the British National Party (BNP) in the anti-democratic model he had failed to impose on the NF. Now working as an engineer for the Cable & Wireless company, Edmonds took control and responsibility the new party’s administration from his flat in Forest Hill.
The 80’s were remarkable for the sheer demise in the fortunes of Britain’s far-right. At one stage there were two National Fronts and a British National Party all competing in the same shallow pool and sharing just a few hundred members.
Edmonds built himself a formidable reputation for stunts promoting the British National Party (BNP). He cultivated his growing reputation by leading from the front in a series of confrontations against the left and in pursuit of establishing the BNP in place of the National Front. His vicious passion for racism and confrontation led the BNP to quickly supersede the National Front as Britain’s premier (but still tiny) far-right party.
Along with John Peacock from Leicestershire Edmonds established ‘The Ring’ of likeminded but miniscule Nazi parties across Europe with similar aims and goals. This allowed Edmonds to continue exploring his wanderlust and his interest in foreign language. He regularly took van loads of British Nazis to visit both Flemish and German counterparts.
The 80’s would also see the government imprison British Nazis for things they had written in breach of the race relations act. Joe Pearce, Martin Wingfield, John Morse and John Tyndall would all go to jail in relation to this act.
Edmonds rarely contributed to writing in publications, although he did edit both Spearhead and British Nationalist (journals of the BNP) during Tyndall and Morse’s incarceration in 1986.
Unlike many of the members who came to idolise Edmonds, he did not drink, smoke or use profanity. His only vice was the persistent use of the most vulgar words and phrases to refer to people of colour. An invitation to speak in Canada was revoked when Edmonds refused to tone down his proposed use of certain words.
He was, as many would declare before and after his death, the only one of their colleagues fellow fascists would feel safe to introduce to their mother. His manners and etiquette were impeccable as long as the conversation could be kept as distant as possible from race.
In 1985 Edmonds was convicted for a hammer attack on London Southbank’s Nelson Mandela statue.
Between 1987-90 Edmonds and a few dedicated others distributed over 100,000 copies of the vulgar tabloid Holocaust News which claimed to bring the “good news” the Holocaust never happened. Underpinning the publication and its distribution was Edmonds’ hatred of Jews which had come to dominate his every living, breathing moment.
In 1988 Edmonds was given a “substantial” pay off by Cable & Wireless to leave the company after his role in the distribution of Holocaust News was exposed by the Times newspaper. Using the money, Edmonds opened a bookshop and head office for the BNP on Upper Wickham Lane in Welling, south London. The shop was stocked with some of the most extreme, racist and scientifically false materials from around the world.
The shop would also catapult the BNP into national and international headlines. Upper Wickham Lane would become a meeting place for race haters and Holocaust deniers from across Europe. A committed vegetarian, Edmond would hold court for hours over bowls of readily available “BNP soup” which was in fact, just a vegetarian substitute of mincemeat heated on a camping stove in a kitchen that also served as his bathroom and toilet.
In 1989 Edmonds led forty men in a vicious attack on an antiracist meeting above Welling library. His boarded-up bookshop was doing a magnificent job in recruiting hardened racist thugs to the BNP cause.
The advent of the BNP bookshop and the distribution of hundreds of thousands of racist and inflammatory items of propaganda in South East London was rightfully linked to three racist murders locally- charges which Edmonds seemed most comfortable with.
Campaigners would link the murders of Rolan Adams, Rohit Dugall and Stephen Lawrence to the close proximity of the toxic BNP shop. Edmonds would later lead a BNP march through Thamesmead to almost the exact spot Adams had been murdered by racist thugs.
Edmonds was often also the victim of violence. In one attack he was hit in the head with a hammer by assailants who scaled the outside of the bookshop’s back garden wall. He was also attacked regularly in the local supermarket where he made a daily stop for tea bags after visiting the post office. His face was a national symbol for hatred as the evening news made him the focus of terrifying times in an area which was dubbed the ‘deep south’- such was the culture of racism and racist violence in parts of South East London.
There were often queues of news crews waiting to enter the shop to film Edmonds talking in front of his collection of racist books. Shamefully, not only did the BBC often pay him a £50 facility fee, one news programme acquiesced to Edmonds being interviewed outside the shop because he refused entry to the black interviewer.
So forthright and unapologetic was Edmonds for his part in a reign of increasing racist terror, John Tyndall was forced to ring Edmonds after one television appearance and complain he was acting “too Nazi” in his interviews. (I outline the daily life inside the shop and that particular period in my own recollection Hate. )
In 1992 Edmonds secretly married a mature psychology student who had been to the shop to interview him. The marriage lasted less than a year as married life cramped into one room above a heavily fortified bunker lost its immediate appeal- plus there was the endless frustrations of the groom’s subservience to Tyndall, a man with far less appeal and intellect than Edmonds.
The short lived Mrs Edmonds was often later quoted as describing Edmonds and the party as “Jew obsessed losers.”
Edmonds was absolutely committed to electoral politics, a commitment he coined as “you’ll keep voting until you get it right” whereas Tyndall had always been cynical of the idea and process. After much lobbying by Edmonds who had his feet firmly entrenched in a growing atmosphere of racist hatred in parts of London where the BNP were active, the BNP moved into electoral politics in the early 90’s.
Electioneering was initially an excuse to whip up further racial tension and violence with the help of the wannabe terror group C18. The murder and drug gang enjoyed a mutually appreciative relationship with Edmonds compared to a fractious relationship with Tyndall.
In 1993 Edmonds was jailed along with Simon Biggs for an attack with a glass on a mixed race couple in Bethnal Green, east London. The attack on an innocent couple came during months of violent skirmishes between the far-right and antifascists for control of the historically important Brick Lane sales pitch.
The election of Derek Beacon to Tower Hamlets council in 1993 signalled the beginning of the end for the Edmonds and Tyndall double act.
It took a while, but after years of undermining the former NF leader Nick Griffin replaced John Tyndall in a leadership contest in 1999. So hurt and dejected was Edmonds, that rather than hang around as other Tyndall loyalists did to harangue the Griffin leadership, he took himself off to Russia and the Ukraine for three years to learn Russian and teach English.
His absence from a factional fight was keenly felt. Tyndall was driven out of the BNP completely, dying in 2005.
Edmonds would surface again around the time Nick Griffin and Andrew Brons were elected to the European parliament in 2009. His return to activism was seen initially as invaluable in winning over Tyndall supporters still in the party.
A brilliant and respected orator, Edmonds was sent around the country to address BNP meetings and reignite old passions and enthuse newer members. But as was the case often with Edmonds, his otherwise impeccable manners could not mask his shockingly unhinged racism and antisemitism. He would fall foul of even the BNP’s rules around language at around the same time he began asking questions about the BNP’s finances.
A mark, perhaps, of his authority even though he no longer held an official post came in 2011. Edmonds travelled to Dagenham to intervene at the BNP’s Emergency General Meeting over the vexed issue of the party being forced by the Commission for Racial Equality to admit non-white members. Facing off against John Tyndall’s ‘people’ he spoke in favour of the ruling to put down a rebellion that was threatening to split the party.
Edmonds would hold unbroken membership of the BNP long enough to see Nick Griffin defeated and removed. He then resigned his own membership of 32 years.
In 2014 Edmonds re-joined the National Front, breathing some life and literacy into the moribund party. His future life would be dominated by events and meetings held in memory of John Tyndall- a morbid and sick circus celebrating the life of a man who never had to work to fund his outpourings of hatred.
Edmonds channelled his own (quite inexplicably substantial) wealth and last few years of free time into funding Holocaust denial and further travel.
The National Front purloined every last breath and penny they could from an increasingly frail Edmonds. Their own obituary of the man who kept them in pints and long words was suitably without common sense or decorum. A hastily gathered ensemble of idiots on line to remember his life was small, audibly moronic and incoherent.
For me, Edmonds’s death reminded me of the time I spent in his company during the 1980’s and 1990’s when he was ferocious, intelligent and almost dynamic. Looking back, he was quite possibly mad. He was without doubt sincere and genuine in beliefs that would bring misery to thousands of people and given the chance, to millions more.
Edmonds was a racist from another generation whose legacy is vile and hateful. He was, by my reckoning, the penultimate remaining person of those who shaped post-war fascism in Britain.
Racism and fascism are odious and dangerous ideologies. In my 30+ years around and in opposition to it, Edmonds remained it’s most plausible and presentable exponent. And he was a vicious, unhinged and violent failure.
I was criticised on social media when I wrote on hearing of his death, that I was saddened. By, I might add, people with little knowledge or understanding of not just Edmonds but by his place in antifascist and social history.
His actions, politically, shaped not just the many militant actions by antifascists in the period they was so necessary, but also in how we should understand how like a disease racism and fascism spreads.
Edmonds was one of the reasons why I, as a teenager, so faithfully embraced fascism and also one of the reasons why, by his violent actions I would later reject it.
I was a confused teenager in south London during the 1980’s. I needed friends and needed to be understood and articulated. It was Richard Edmonds that gave me space, comfort and his last slice of bread. In return, I allowed him to articulate my fears and traumas into plausible (if temporary) justifications for racism and violence.
Everything I know, for instance, to be true about the Holocaust, I know is true because Richard Edmonds told me and others it was not so. Everything I believe to be brilliant and worth preserving about our country I know to be of worth, because Richard Edmonds hated it so.
I don’t mourn Richard Edmonds passing at all. I understand and knew personally how dangerous, talented and pernicious he was. That is what saddened me.
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