A former National Front activist who was exposed by The Cook Report has warned that social media is creating a new wave of far-right extremists.
George Ashcroft, now a reformed character opposed to racism, said the hatemongers had moved out of “darkened back-rooms” and onto social media.
Mr Ashcroft was a young National Front (NF) member in the 1990s but left after an influential secret agent diverted him from the group.
He warned that far-right and neo-Nazi organisations had become a resurgent force in the digital age, illustrated in November 2018 by the convictions of six people belonging to banned terror group National Action (NA).
Mr Ashcroft said: “I welcome the convictions which came as a result of the robust action of the authorities and the decision of the then Home Secretary to proscribe NA in December 2016.
“These individuals were openly neo-Nazi and promoted tired anti-Semitic conspiracy theories which have gained renewed currency in the era of social media.
“What were once the views of political cranks in darkened back-rooms are now widely promoted online to a mass audience.
“The authorities should be congratulated for their work and we must all remain alert to the continued threats that anti-Semitism and racial hatred pose to our society.”
Messages of racism, hate and intolerance are still being openly peddled online, Birmingham Live has found.
One showed current NF leader Tony Martin giving an anti-immigration speech at a meeting held in November 2018.
Calling for more training of white British medics, he says: “Where do all these third world doctors or nurses come from? Are they born doctors or nurses?
“Did someone give birth and they come out with a thing on their head and a stethoscope?”
The NF channel is categorised as political by YouTube and therefore not likely to be banned.
Other far-right groups with an active online presence include Britain First and the English Defence League, which have organised rallies in the West Midlands, and the British National Party.
Far more overtly racist, white supremacist and anti-Semitic material can also be found on YouTube, including a video named ‘hail C18’ – referring to banned terror group Combat 18 – and others using military symbols and imagery associated with the Nazis short of the swastika.
“It seems the issue of the role of social media in right-wing radicalisation is coming under increased scrutiny,” Mr Ashcroft said.
“We know the likes of NA were and are prolific users of social media.
“It’s a controversial view but I increasingly believe social media platforms should be regulated as publishers.”
Mr Ashcroft poured scorn on the ‘booted and suited’ image promoted by the current NF, which he said had lurched even further to the right than when he was a member in his late teens.
“The NF has become more and more extreme as it has absorbed ex-BNP elements and as UKIP has occupied much of the traditional far-right territory,” he said.
A report by the Counter Extremism Project, a Washington-based think-tank, has found white supremacist movements are thriving across Europe.
Leading criminologist Dr Imran Awan, of Birmingham City University, also warned hatemongers were exploiting the online world.
“The rise of digital material with links to the far-right has exponentially increased in recent times,” Dr Awan said.
“Following the banning and removal of individuals such as Tommy Robinson on Twitter, those that sympathise with such ideologies are using the internet to espouse further hatred.
“Most notably this has happened after trigger events that cause a rise in reprisal incidents online.
“Social media companies must do much more to help eradicate online hate on their platforms.”
Ashcroft was a young NF activist when he featured in an 1997 episode of The Cook Report that used covert filming to expose the group.
He changed his ways after the intervention of a secret agent regarded as one of the most prolific informants to have ever infiltrated the far-right.
The security service informant, said to have disrupted plots including a plan to assassinate then Birmingham Ladywood MP Clare Short, forced him out of a key post.
The agent then told him: “You are better than the NF – go and get on with your life.”
Mr Ashcroft has since expressed deep shame at his views and has released hundreds of documents about his time with the NF to the University of Warwick’s Modern Records Centre.
He has said of the secret agent: “I smarted for a while but I soon realised he was right.”
The double agent was effectively outed when he appeared on BBC documentary True Spies, where his facial features, testimony and strong Brummie accent made him instantly recognisable, despite the programme-makers having promised to protect his identity.
Mr Ashcroft later became a Conservative councillor in Telford and has written a thesis on the far-right for a politics undergraduate degree at the University of Wolverhampton.
But the hate groups have used the internet to recruit fanatical new members.
In November, Adam Thomas, 22, and Claudia Patatas, 38, from Banbury, were among six people convicted of being members of banned terror group National Action.
The couple gave their baby the middle name Adolf.
They were convicted along with a third member, Daniel Bogunovic, 27, from Leicester, at Birmingham Crown Court.
Thomas was also said to have posed for a picture in the white hood and robes of the Klu Klux Klan.
Three other men had previously admitted belonging to National Action.
The group were arrested after two years of painstaking work by West Midlands Police and their colleagues across the country.
The following month, a report by the US-based Counter Extremism Project found “white supremacist movements continue to thrive”.
The study, which took in far-right activities in Birmingham as part of the research, found Combat 18 alone had a presence in at least 18 countries.
A spokesman for Google, which owns YouTube, said: “We do not allow videos that incite hatred on YouTube and work hard to remove content that violates our policies quickly, using a combination of human flagging and review and smart detection technology.
“Every month, we remove millions of videos for violating our policies.
“We’re making progress in our fight to prevent the abuse of our services, including hiring more people and investing in advanced machine learning technology.
“And through investing in programmes like Internet Citizens, we also support creators who promote tolerance on their YouTube channels.
“We know there’s always more to do here and we’re committed to getting better.”