Combat 18 and the State: Part Two

Part One can be found here

The Murder Trial

Perhaps the most serious violent incident in C18’s history was this internal murder.

In 1997, Combat 18 split into two factions, partially because of the allegations that Charlie Sargent was a state informer, along with disputes over control of the lucrative Nazi music cash cow. These factions were headed up by Sargent and Browning.

An agreement was reached between the two factions that Browning would inherit the membership list, in exchange for returning Sargent’s plastering tools and an additional thousand pounds. However, animosity between Sargent and Browning was so high that neither wanted to risk meeting the other face to face. So a go between was arranged, one Chris Castle.

However, rather than the exchange Castle expected, he walked straight into an ambush (while Browning waited in the car). He was met at the door by Sargent and Sargent’s close associate ex Skrewdriver guitarist Martin Cross, who plunged a nine-inch (22 cm) blade into Castle’s back. Browning took Castle to hospital in a taxi, but doctors were unable to save him and he died shortly after arrival.

The court case led to life sentences for Cross (still in jail) and Sargent (who had a brief period on license before being returned to jail for breaking license conditions by meeting up with former C18 associates).

So far, so straightforward. Nazi on Nazi violence due to personal and political disputes. However, considering the fact Sargent was an informer and the state had C18 as a whole under close surveillance, several questions remain unanswered.

Did the state know what Sargent and Cross were planning? At the very least, surely they knew this meeting was taking place. In that case, why were police not waiting in case it turned violent?

This seems to have been the step over the line for Sargent, where his previous seeming immunity from serious prosecution no longer held. That’s not an overstatement; the only previous convictions Sargent had were for possession of a gun and two drug offences. (I would hypothesise that it may have been one of these convictions that lead to his original recruitment in exchange for leniency). Why did someone who is known to have carried out violent attacks (albeit on soft targets) have so few convictions?

Why was Sargent so confident as to boast to a journalist that when the British Movement split

about 30 of us left and that’s when we got involved in robberies and all that,” says Charlie matter-of- factly. The aim was to put away money for “projects” to do with the Right, but he is vague about specifics. He was just 20 at the time.

Since then he has been imprisoned four times, including for possession of guns and drugs. They tell me that “some things went down this summer which were worth five to 10 [years]”

While we should remember that Sargent is a notorious bullshitter, it still suggest a strong confidence that he feels that he is legally untouchable for him to boast openly that he’s recently committed serious crimes. Did this lead to him assuming that even murder would be overlooked because of his state protection?

Why specifically was Sargent released on license? Nothing about his public statements suggest a change of heart.

Browning’s faction is described in an Independent article (Nick Ryan, 1st February 1998) as:

This second, even more extreme faction – led by Charlie Sargent’s former right-hand man (who cannot be named for legal reasons) – is now in the ascendancy, and has seized the Combat 18 name. In its magazine Strikeforce, it proclaims itself to be “revolutionary” and promises an international terrorist campaign, a threat that Special Branch is taking seriously.

The notable point here is why was Browning protected from being named? Surely that’s not standard practise in a case like this? And that seems to have been withdrawn quickly. Exactly when was this legal ban on naming Browning removed and why?

I suspect (no more) that what we may have been seeing here is a clash between two rival state factions.

For that matter, what did Browning do next? There’s very few details I can find. An anonymous Indymedia post claiming he was involved in producing Nazi music still and an Evening Standard article (anonymous, 12th April 2012) suggested he was arrested for an attack on Bloody Sunday marches. If, as the latter claims, Browning “cannot move without drawing police attention” why were no charges brought over the already covered violent content of Strikeforce?

Harold Covington Revisited

There is a strange lack of detail on exactly what Covington did while living in London. We knew he was involved in forming C18, but little else. This is especially notable, because Covington was a prominent American Nazi and an incorrigible self publicist.

There are several possibilities I can think of here.

The rumours of Covington being a FBI asset. As I said, I don’t think we currently have the evidence to state this. But if it was true, the question is whether he was a shared asset and if not whether MI5 knew of his status. It seems somewhat unbelievable that MI5 weren’t aware of the rumours flying round the far right at the time, considering I knew about them.

Covington is just what he seems, a comitted Nazi activist. This doesn’t get MI5 off the hook however. How did a man with Covington’s record get into the UK in the first place? Was he under surveillance? If not, why was he considered not to be a threat? If he was, what was known? Are we expected to believe that he was just allowed to move here for several years and left alone?

Considering the known criminal activities of C18, Covington’s presence seems a puzzle as yet unsolved.

Copeland and the London 1999 Nail Bombings

(Note: This does not take into account recent revelations from “Arthur”, although it does mention him in relation to comments made previously to the recent documentary).

Between 17 and 30 April 1999, a bombing campaign took place in London. Homemade nailbombs were detonated in Brixton, in Brick Lane, Spitalfields and The Admiral Duncan, a gay pub in Soho. As the choice of targets makes clear, this was a far right operation. Tragically, three people died and another 140 were injured.

Despite Combat 18 claiming responsibility, police were quick to deny that the bomber, David Copeland, had any links to far right groups. In my view, this denial was suspiciously quick.

According to David Venness, Assistant Police Commissioner:

The man is not a member of any of the groups which have made claims of responsibility for the bombings. Nor did he make any of the claims using their names. It is understood that he was working alone for his own motives.

This is so disingenuous as to be close to an outright lie. Firstly, Copeland was an ex member of the BNP. having joined in 1997 and then leaving because they weren’t extreme enough. Even more critically, not only had he joined the National Socialist Movement he was a Regional Organiser in the group (in Hampshire)!

The NSM are worth examining in more detail. They were a split off from Combat 18, set up by the Sargents and their supporters in 1997.

So, what we are expected to believe is that the police and security services both infiltrated C18 and damaged their operational capability, they were entirely unaware of a split off group, despite the involvement of Charlie Sargent, a man where the evidence for his asset status is overwhelming. Not only that, but they had no idea who Copeland was, despite him having an organisational role in what was always a tiny group. This stretches credulity to say the least.

Things get even murkier when we look at Searchlight’s claim that they had an informant in the BNP (codename Arthur) who knew exactly who Copeland was and passed the information onto the police.

Searchlight can reveal that is was we who identified Copeland’s name, which we passed to the police through a third party. However, it seems that London Special Branch sat on the information before informing the investigation team. Although Copeland could not have been arrested sooner, the information, which included his connection to the BNP, would have made him a far more important suspect.

Several issues spring instantly to mind.

Why couldn’t he have been arrested sooner? We’re talking about a two week period for the bombing campaign. When exactly were Special Branch told about Copeland and did they place him under surveillance straight away? If not, why not? If they did, how did he manage to carry out a two week bombing campaign regardless?

And while Special Branch seem the major culprits here, that doesn’t get MI5 off the hook. They had two conduits for information about Copeland. Assets in the NSM and Searchlight. What did they do with this information?

The final complicating factor in an already complicated situation is the report in the Independent (18th April 2000) that

After the attack it emerged that the Metropolitan Police had warned that an extreme right-wing bomber was targeting minority groups and that gay haunts could be at risk. The Jewish community at Golders Green was also placed on alert.

The Admiral Duncan is believed to have received a specific warning of the dangers.

This is even more notable when combined with the Observer report (2nd July 2000) that

Sources within MI5 were said to have warned members of the gay community that they believed the bomber was targeting a gay venue three days before the Admiral Duncan explosion, but that this was not considered to be the most likely target by the Met’s anti-terrorist squad.

While this does not prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that MI5 knew who Copeland was, it suggests strongly that they had some hard evidence not explained by the “lone wolf” theory.

But the most damning of all if true is this from the Guardian (1st July 2000)

There have been several persistent rumours the police had Copeland under surveillance before the Soho blast and lost him. Scotland Yard last night dismissed this as “absolutely untrue”.

Other speculation has suggested there was friction between MI5 and Scotland Yard, and that the two clashed over risk assessment. This too has been strongly denied.

And denial would be expected in both cases, although the lack of a named spokesperson for Scotland Yard is notable.

At the very least, this means there are now two sources for friction between the police and MI5 over risk assessment and does suggest that got in the way of the investigation. But if the rumours are true (and the Guardian seems reluctant to name where they’re from so we can decide on their veracity ourselves) this is even more critical.

To summarise, we have a Nazi bombing campaign, carried out by a man who held a position in a group that should have been known to MI5. Specific warnings were given out by MI5 before the third bomb. Copeland had been identified by Searchlight at the very least. There are “persistent rumours” that Copeland was under surveillance and the police lost him.

We should not let our rightful revulsion at Copeland’s crimes and sympathy for his victims obfuscate the fact that several state agencies should be facing serious questions, as yet unanswered.

Conclusion or why does any of this matter?

There are two possible arguments against the writing of an article like this.

The first goes something like this.

“Why should we care if the state are infiltrating far right groups? Surely they should be protecting us from Nazis?”

This, I’m afraid, is naive beyond belief. Considering that C18 were given seeming carte blanche to carry out attacks on soft targets, including a letter bomb campaign, whatever the state were doing with them was not about protecting people in general, let alone antifascists.

The other stronger argument is

“This was some time ago. Why should we focus on this rather than current far right threats?”

And the answer is simple, at least to me. We have no evidence that the state’s approach to the far right is any different. Indeed, the recent Spycops bill de facto legalises some of the state’s assets in C18’s crimes. If we do not learn from the past, we run the risk of history repeating itself.

Addendum

I am greatly indebted to those who came before me, especially the researchers and writers of AFA/Fighting Talk. Without their hard work, these posts would never have happened, although naturally any mistakes or bad analysis are still my own.

That said, this kind of post takes lots of work (almost 5000 words for both parts) and so I’ve decided to accept donations.

I absolutely do not want anyone to donate if it would leave them short, but if you have a bit of spare cash and fancy leaving me a tip I’ve set up a Buy Me a Coffee account. Thanks!

  1. May 24th, 2021

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