Fightdemback interview with Dave Hann, co-author No Retreat

Dave Hann is the co-author with Steve Tilzey of the book No Retreat : The Secret War between Britain’s Anti-fascists and the Far Right (Milo Books). The interview below was conducted by Fightdemback and published August 9, 2005.

Dave Hann has kindly given us some of his time for this interview.

You’ve been popping in and out of FDB for a while now, what are your impressions?

Dave: What I most enjoy about FDB is the refreshing lack of petty sectarian bickering on the forum. Similar forums in the UK seem to be full of anonymous snipers and back-stabbers with an axe to grind, a point to score, and nothing helpful to contribute at all. I think the potential of the internet as a tool to aid communication and organisation amongst anti-fascist and progressive groups is enormous, but more often than not, any useful initiatives become bogged down by petty arguments and bickering caused by anonymous gossip-mongers hiding behind their computer screens.

You recently visited New Zealand as well, did you have a chance to get a grasp on what was happening there with the NF?

Dave: I’ll have to be honest and admit that I didn’t get involved in any politics while I was in NZ, but I have seen photos of Kyle Chapman and agree that he is indeed “rather jolly”.

Talking shop, how do the Aussie and Kiwi fash stack up against the NF/BNP/B&H hordes you took on ‘back in the day’?

Dave: The boneheads in the UK have largely been eradicated, due to the efforts of Anti-Fascist Action in the 90’s. They were basically a bunch of bullies who didn’t like it when they were confronted by people who were prepared to stand up to them. I think as far as boneheads and their friends are concerned that’s pretty much the picture the whole world over. They can look quite intimidating when there’s a whole mob of them together, but whenever they were faced with equal numbers, or when they were on their own, they acted pretty much like bullies have always done. Mickey Finn, a docker and anti-fascist from the East End of London summed it up pretty succinctly when he said “the fascists looked pretty tough customers, some of them even wore para-military uniforms… but when it came down to it they weren’t very good on the pavement.”

Well none of us were full-time professional anti-racists, we were just ordinary people who either worked for a living or were unemployed, meaning we had neither the time nor the resources to partake in expensive, and often futile, propaganda campaigns. I think we always tried to be realistic about what we could achieve, and concentrated our energies where we felt we could make a difference. The fascists at the time had a policy of “controlling the streets,” and that’s where we took them on. We challenged them on the streets, and destroyed the myth of invincibility that they had built up. We also targeted our propaganda at the potential recruits of the fascist groups, the white, working class. I think there was a real point of separation between AFA and the more traditional anti-racist/anti-nazi groups on these two points. We were the only group willing to tackle the fascists physically, and the only group trying to undercut their support in places they regarded as their traditional strongholds.

In places where these policies were properly implemented in the 80’s and 90’s, it’s a fact that the fascists have never really recovered, even when they are doing well elsewhere in the country. We took out a whole generation, and in places like Manchester there is no organisation or infrastructure for potential new recruits to join.

I think that’s the most important point I’d like to get across. Set yourselves an achievable target, work out the best way of achieving it, and then keep on going for it until the job’s done.

Reading through No Retreat, they sound like some crazy days. My favourite anecdote was when you cleared the BNP from the Rochdale Town Hall steps and were swamped afterwards by groups of Asian kids paying “respect”. Do you think that anti-fascist groups need to do more to build links with the communities most affected by racist violence?

Dave: I’d better explain that the events in Rochdale took place on the day of the local elections in May 1994. We had plotted up in a pub near the Town Hall, which was where the election count was taking place. We were hoping to ambush the BNP candidates on their way into the count, but this plan was foiled when the three candidates and their election agents were escorted into the Town hall in the back of a police van. However we’d been in the area all day, and had picked up reports that a busload of fascists had been spotted in the area, although we couldn’t track them down. Incidently, we’d cut the phone lines of the BNP’s North-West Election HQ earlier in the day and that had apparently thrown their plans into complete disarray, so we thought that maybe the mysterious busload of fash had been unable to make contact with their people and had gone home. Shortly after 11pm, and with no sightings reported for 5 or 6 hours, we decided to get in our vans and head for home ourselves.

On our way out of town, we drove past the town hall again and spotted a big mob of fash moving into the area. The van drivers screeched to a halt and we steamed out, charging straight into the back of the fash mob, scattering them in all directions. It must have looked like a cunningly executed plan to draw the fash out into the open and ambush them, but it was all a complete accident. Anyway, to cut a long story short, the fash got battered, and were chased all over the place.

There were a number of Asian youth in the area who joined in on our side, but on the whole, the Asian community was very wary of getting involved in anti-fascist activity because of fears that they would be singled out and targeted by the police. On the few occasions when contact was made, this is precisely what happened, and it was a very difficult situation to work around.

How much of a gutless wonder was Ian Stuart (lead singer of infamous neo-Nazi band, Skrewdriver)?

Dave: Stuart was a coward who couldn’t fight to save his life. The fascists might regard him as some kind of nationalist super-hero, but he was just another bully who didn’t like it when the odds weren’t heavily in his favour. He was ambushed several times by AFA activists in London, and eventually fled to Derbyshire in order to escape the constant attacks. Hardly the actions of a brave street-fighter. A couple of friends of mine jumped him before a Blood and Honour gig at Swiss Cottage, and managed to hit him a couple of times before he ran away. At the gig afterwards, he deliberately left the blood to dry on his forehead, so that he could appear more heroic, and then went on stage and claimed that he had fought off a whole mob of “reds” single-handedly.

Did you ever go toe-to-toe with Nicky Crane?

Dave: No, and I’m glad I never had to. He was one of the few genuine hard men on the bonehead scene. I came across him twice. The first time was at the Main Event in Hyde Park, where he disembarked from a mini-bus with a dozen members of Skrewdriver Security. He immediately jumped back onto the bus when he saw the posse of anti-fascists charging out the park at him. The other occasion was when he was heading home from the West End one evening with a number of rent-boys in tow. We followed him for a while, but lost him at Charing Cross station. The interesting thing about Crane was that he was openly gay, but was never challenged about it by his bonehead mates until he was physically weakened by AIDS. He apparently renounced his fascist past during his dying days.

In Australia, we’re currently dealing with a racist academic who feels that his right to free speech guarantees that he should be able to publicly claim that Africans are genetically inferior to “other groups” and that Australia should stop importing third world immigrants less we become a colony of the third world, a colony ruled over by super-intelligent Asians who kick everyone’s arse in exams.

His comments have hurt many members of the Australian community and have been the impetus for increasing racial violence against Sudanese refugees. In light of this, do you believe that [Andrew] Fraser can take his right to free speech and shove it fair up his arse?

Dave: I don’t see how he can be regarded as an academic with theories like that. It’s a bit like David Irving, the “historian” who claims that the holocaust never happened. Surely it’s unacademic to skew the facts to fit your own warped politics. I think there should be no right of free speech for ignorant bigots who abuse the right by promoting intolerance and suppression of free speech on the basis of skin colour.

A perspective on the London Bombings. Everyone condemns these attacks and Britons of all ethnicities were affected by them. What so far has been the ‘fash’ response to these attacks? We’ve seen some grainy footage of a bonehead march through Hackney (?) but not much more.

Dave: There was a march by the NF numbering about 100, but more worrying has been the heightened level of racist attacks on Muslims and Asians. The BNP response has been to bring out propaganda saying “We told you so. Don’t get mad. Get even. Join the BNP.” The bombing has been a godsend for the BNP, and the more bombs that go off the better, as far as they’re concerned. I personally believe that the “War on Terror” will go on for generations. It took thirty years for the Irish conflict to be resolved, and the IRA numbered no more than 600 members, with the support of the wider community in the north of Ireland, and smaller pockets of support in the UK, and the Irish diaspora around the world. The potential support for Al-Qaeda is much, much bigger than that, and I think we’re all in for hard times ahead.

You still keep in touch with Big Nose (co-author Steve Tilzey)?

Dave: I still see Steve at the football, although we support FC United these days. It’s a club set up by Manchester United supporters after an American billionaire bought Old Trafford. They’ve started at the bottom rung of the football league, but are still getting several thousand along to matches. Steve’s not really involved in anti-fascism these days, but with a record stretching back 25 years I think he’s earned a rest.

Did you guys really bug BNP meetings with a homemade device and then sit in Tilzey’s car and listen in to their meetings? What was that like? Did you just sit there and cack yourselves stupid over the crap they were coming out with?

Dave: It was more boring than anything else. It was just the turgid predictability of the crap they were spouting that made you realise what a bunch of sad, inadequates some of these people were. Everyone else was blamed for their own failings. If they couldn’t get a job it was because the blacks were taking all the work. If they couldn’t get a council house it was because the council were giving them all to Asians or Asylum Seekers. The Jews were controlling the media and the banks and keeping the country on its knees. Blah, blah, blah.

The fight against the fash has well and truly taken off in cyberspace. Do you feel that this theater of operations has turned the fash into a bigger bunch of cowards now they have a monitor to hide behind?

Dave: Well it’s all so easy on the Internet isn’t it? You can be anyone or anything. It’s a godsend for your average fascist no-mark. They can sit behind a computer screen and spout off all kinds of crap without any risk of retribution whatsoever.

John Tyndall dead – your thoughts?

Dave: In some ways it’s a shame he couldn’t hang on for another couple of years, because he was proving to be a real thorn in the side of the BNP chairman Nick Griffin. Now the field is free of serious challengers for the throne of potential tin-pot dictator of Britain, and Griifin couldn’t look more pleased with himself.

It must have been one hell of a buzz to have Mensi dedicate ‘Anti-Nazi’ to you at the recent Angelic Upstarts gig in Morecombe. What was that like? Are the Upstarts still kicking arse?

Dave: Yeah it was nice, although I have to be honest and say that it wasn’t just dedicated to me, there were a few others there as well. The fash had threatened to give the Upstarts a kicking, and I got a few people together to ensure that everything passed off peacefully. Of course, the fash never showed their faces, which is true to form for them these days.

Any other thoughts, things you wish to pass on?

Dave: In the words of The Redskins, ‘Keep On Keeping On’. The fight is the same the whole world over, and we can all learn from each other’s experiences… [and England are shit at cricket.]

See also…

The Guardian‘s Special Report on the Far right in Britain
The Anti-Nazi League : A Critical Examination (Colin Roach Centre)

About @ndy

I live in Melbourne, Australia. I like anarchy. I don't like nazis. I enjoy eating pizza and drinking beer. I barrack for the greatest football team on Earth: Collingwood Magpies. The 2014 premiership's a cakewalk for the good old Collingwood.
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12 Responses to Fightdemback interview with Dave Hann, co-author No Retreat

  1. Dr. Cam says:

    Conversely, the tales of Dougie Winthrop (M.D.?)’s antifascist heroics are well known throughout the land.

  2. @ndy says:

    Although judging by the postings on VNN by someone of that name, Doctor, I suspect ‘Dougie Winthrop’ would be more comfortable engaging in PRO-fascist heroics!

  3. Luke says:

    This book was very very bad. For a start you must make a clear choice between writing fiction and accounts of real life encounters etc. If it is fiction you need some plot twists and characterisation, maybe even a little tension, rather than ‘we went here and beat such and such up, then the next week we went there and beat some other people up, even though there were three hundred of them and we numbered five and the police were attacking us as well’ type drone! If you choose to write about real life, if any of the book was true it was [delegitimised] by some very dodgy accounts of personal heroism, bravery and goody two shoesness by the authors.

    Lastly I suspect this entire book is merely Irish Republican Socialist propaganda. You want to portray the Orange Order as neo-Nazis in the eyes of the world. Well good luck, because the fact is the Orange Order fought against Fascism in two World Wars, whilst your Irish Republican [Socialist?] heroes fought for the Axis. In fact, far from being the racist organisation you make out, the Orange Order has for years had members of Afro-Carribean, Asian and Native American descent! There are branches of the OO in Ghana and Togo, and until recently in Nigeria. There is a Mohawk Indian LOL in Canada, and also an Italian American/Canadian Lodge. The Ulster Volunteers fought bravely alongside troops from all over the Commonwealth during WWI, whilst the Nationalists fought against the Allies during the Easter Rising. In fact to this day Loyalist paramilitaries, far from being the KKKesque construction of your warped sense of reality, actually have and have had for some time immigrant members of various ethnic diversities and religions! Yes there may be one or two neo-Nazi idiots among them, but then with a character like Sean Russel in your history (who still has a statue to his honour in Dublin) you can’t take the moral high ground on that one, sorry!

    [ On Russel : http://observer.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,6903,1382163,00.html ]

  4. @ndy says:

    Hi Luke,

    You say ‘very very bad’, I say ‘very very good’. I certainly didn’t get the impression that the authors were possessed of — or claimed to possess — particularly brilliant minds, terrific martial prowess or some kinda moral perfection: far from it. My sense was that they were fairly ordinary in many ways, but were actually quite serious about beating back the fascists, and were capable of organising effectively with others of a similar view. (And anyway, I found reading about ‘the bad guys’ learning some hard lessons provided entertainment value for me at least!)

    As for yr claim that “this entire book is merely Irish Republican Socialist propaganda”… huh? What the book actually describes is the ANL of the late 70s / early 80s and the AFA; basically, the years 1977-1997. ‘Irish Republican Socialism’ is hardly a focus, and if No Retreat should be considered a mere work of propaganda on its behalf, then Hann and Tilzey have failed dismally. Not, I suspect, that they’d be disappointed: I REALLY don’t think this was their intention either!

    As for refs to Loyalism: Hann writes on the subject of ‘Loyalism and Fascism’ in Ch. 8 (pp.205–217) and on a few other occasions later in the book. For example, he writes (p.228):

    “In Scotland, as elsewhere, Loyalists tended to line up behind the fascist cause, while republicans tended to line up behind the anti-fascist one. It was not an exclusive arrangement by any means, but that’s the way it tended to settle in the pot.”

    So honestly Luke, I’VE NO IDEA WHAT YR TALKING ABOUT!

    Sorry,

    @ndy.

  5. Luke says:

    OK thanks for your reply. I picked the book out on merit of its cover and premise, I am by no means a fan of the BNP, or the NF, Blood and Honour, Combat 18 or any other thinly veiled neo-Nazi organisation. However despite the book being enjoyable, an account (whether or not it was exaggerated, embellished, or at some points just invented) which was something radically new to me, I put the book down in disgust, and could not possibly allow it to return to my local library.

    Having read through most of the book, but not having a copy to hand, I can assure you it was full of anecdotal accusations of ‘Loyalists are Fascists’, the OO are evil Nazi racists, all British people are right wing (technically the BNP are socialist, and it is in fact the left wing who seem to be the most anti Freedom of Speech, Democracy etc, but that’s a debate for another day!) and other such unfounded accusations, hints, and implications. The author even had the temerity to suggest all Celtic fans were anti Fascist, anti racist etc!! This was particularly startling to me, as a Morrocan Brit having been chased up the street by Celtic Republicans making Nazi salutes and singing IRA songs, alongside the usual ‘Mark Walters is a monkey’ racist bile. I also found exception to a bunch of Celtic fans who sang entire SS war-songs for my ‘benefit’ in German!!

    So I hope if either author (as both were as guilty as each other) chooses to redon his writing jacket then to take into consideration that nice as it would be if the World really was that simple, and as easy to divide into good and bad, that he at least considers the effects such a publication might have. In this case not a radical rethink by the many Irish Republican Fascists, or even a worldwide perception of Loyalism and racist bigotry (and seemingly Nationalism as a movement of peace and love and pro immigration!!). But in fact has had the resounding effect that a book is now being written on the history of the Republican movement, and its foundation in lies, propaganda, myth and bigotry. More than likely it will make allusions to the IRA’s support of Hitler and the Nazis against the British and her Commonwealth allies! It may even allude to the Confederate forces of the ‘Sons of Erin’ and their racial views, not to mention their contribution to the Klu Klux Klan! :( Ask yourself why the Celtic Cross is used as a symbol of racial hatred and Aryan Supremacy by so many organisations!! Idiots!!!

  6. @ndy says:

    Hi Luke,

    Look, I understand that you have a view, which is that ‘Loyalism’ — especially as represented by the ‘Orange Order’ — is unfairly painted as fascist. However, I think yr completely off-the-mark with regards No Retreat.

    I’ve read the book cover-to-cover, and have a copy to hand.

    Three things.

    1) As I commented earlier, there’s one section in Chapter 8 which directly and unambiguously broaches the subject of ‘Fascism and Loyalism’.

    So, here’s another, much more lengthy quote, which spells out in some detail Hann’s views:

    “[AFA] was a single-issue organisation that comprised a number of different groups and individuals who had come together for the sole purpose of opposing fascism. We recognised early on that any attempt to unite these disparate groups around any other issue would inevitably cause splits and disruption.

    The question of the war in Ireland was therefore a tricky one for AFA. As with any other issue, activists within AFA held a variety of opinions regarding Irish politics. Some people in the organisation supported the armed struggle of the IRA, others supported the call for a withdrawal of British troops from the province [ie, Northern Ireland / the Six Counties], while many weren’t bothered one way or the other, or were vaguely antagonistic towards Irish republicanism.

    On the other hand, the links between the far right and Loyalism were many and varied. Leading fascists such as Terry Blackham, Steve Martin and Frank Portinari amongst others had been jailed for their involvement in arms offences linked to Loyalist paramilitaries. Eddy Whicker of the [NF] was also implicated in a similar operation. C18 leaders boast of their friendships with leading Loyalist figures such as Johnny “Mad Dog” Adair and Sam “Skelly” McCrory. Both men were pictured on an NF march in 1983 alonside Donald Hodgen, who became a prominent UDA member. Both Adair and McCrory played in a [bonehead] band called Offensive Weapon in the mid-80s and the majority of the 30-odd [boneheads] who led the Belfast branch of the NF went on to form the core of Adair’s notorious C Company of the [UFF]. [B&H] bands have long associated themselves with the Loyalist cause and have played numerous benefit gigs for the likes of the UDA. Members of NF, BNP and C18 have all raised funds for Loyalist paramilitaries, and fascists from across the spectrum of far-right groups can often be seen on Orange marches.

    That there are extensive and reciprocal links between Loyalists and British fascists is undeniable. That these give weight to the argument that Loyalism is essentially nothing more than a local version of fascism, being based as it is on extreme right-wing ideas, is open to debate. I [ie, Dave Hann] would suggest that on this occasion you are judged by the company you choose to keep…

    Whatever the rights and wrongs of the argument, we had to deal with the facts on the ground, and these were that the Irish community and their marches, meetings and social events often attracted the unwanted attention of a variety of fascist and Loyalist groups, and as anti-fascists we therefore felt we had a duty, and an obligation, to help defend these events.”

    – No Retreat, pp.205-206.

    On the following pages, Hann goes on to describe some of these events, and the role AFA played in defending them from attacks by fascists and Loyalists: specifically, a meeting organised by the ‘Troops Out Movement’ in November 1988 (and addressed by Bernadette McAliskey), and a number of Bloody Sunday and Anti-Internment Marches.

    Following on from the brief quote in my previous response to yr comment, and in reference to Loyalists in Scotland, Hann writes (p.228):

    “…Therefore you would get an unholy alliance of Loyalists and fascists pitched against anti-fascists, left-wingers and republicans. A notable exception was a young lad who had risen to the position of substitute master in an Orange Lodge and had subsequently been appalled when he received literature in support of right-wing South Africans, the Contras, UNITA, etc. He ended up in AFA after a whole series of similar incidents. Sadly he was an all too rare exception.”

    There are a number of other, brief accounts of other anti-fascist activities connected to Loyalism in the book, specifically, AFA’s defence of: James Connolly Commemoration marches in Edinburgh; Manchester Martyrs Commemoration marches; a Bloody Sunday Commemoration march (in Manchester) in 1995; and finally, in April 1996, an Apprentice Boys march in Bolton — for which C18 provided security. As Hann explains:

    “The day after the events in Bolton, I typed out and faxed a press release explaining why we felt it necessary to confront those gathering for the march. I detailed the extensive links between Loyalist and fascists, and spelt out clearly to the Apprentice Boys that their march, buffet and meeting room had all been cancelled due to their fraternisation with C18. Re-emphasising the point, I concluded with the phrase,

    ‘If you lie down with dogs, then you wake up with fleas’.”

    2) Nowhere in the book does either author claim that ‘the OO are evil Nazi racists’, that ‘all British people are right wing’ (a claim which is not only patently untrue, but — given that both authors are British — completely nonsensical!), or that ‘all Celtic fans are anti-fascist’. Such allegations, being completely unfounded, do nothing but damage yr credibility.

    3) The history of Irish Republicanism is undoubtedly an interesting subject. The simple fact of the matter, however, is that No Retreat does not address it. On that basis, yr criticisms are not only wildly inaccurate, but completely misplaced.

    No pasaran,

    @ndy.

  7. @ndy says:

    That’s “Both men were pictured on an NF march in 1983 alonGside Donald Hodgen…” and “I detailed the extensive links between LoyalistS and fascists…”

    Fuckity fuck.

  8. daithi1888 says:

    I have just heard that Dave Hann has passed away after a long battle with cancer.
    RIP.

  9. @ndy says:

    Yes, Dave died on September 29, 2009.

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  12. Volk Petersen says:

    I must say Dave paints an interesting picture of what things were like 20 years back I only wish I could have been out on the streets against those fascist idiots back then but as I was only 4 years old… c’est la vie I’m sure there’ll be plenty more opportunities for me to get my digs in.

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