Forward Magazine - - Fore­ground - By Ta­mara Mic­ner

In 1983, Kevin Wil­shaw vis­ited Dachau with three fel­low neo-Nazis. He had trav­eled to Ger­many from Eng­land, his home coun­try, and vis­ited Hitler’s house and the Nurem­berg Sta­dium in Mu­nich with his Ger­man hosts. He asked them to take him to the nearby con­cen­tra­tion camp.

They took him, and the group stayed for about 45 min­utes. “They didn’t re­ally say much,” he said of the oth­ers. “I found it rather eerie, vis­it­ing a place where there’d been so much vi­o­lence and death.”

What they didn’t know — and what no one else in his far-right com­mu­nity knew — was that Wil­shaw has a Jewish her­itage. For 44 years, he lived at least two lives. Openly, he was a neo-Nazi; in the closet, a part-Jewish bi­sex­ual.

The strain of keep­ing so many se­crets weighed more and more heav­ily on Wil­shaw, 58, un­til last au­tumn, he went pub­lic and re­nounced the far right. Now he is try­ing to fight the move­ment he once avidly sup­ported.

Wil­shaw joined the far right in the 1970s as a teenager. That af­fil­i­a­tion be­came his main source of iden­tity and pur­pose, even as he kept key parts of him­self hid­den.

“I feel as if I’ve wasted my life,” he said, chuck­ling. Wil­shaw cur­rently re­sides in south­east Eng­land, but for safety rea­sons, he has asked the For­ward not to dis­close the ex­act city or county.

Wil­shaw grew up in an en­vi­ron­ment where vi­o­lence and sup­pres­sion were com­mon­place. He was born in 1958 in the pic­turesque sea­side vil­lage of White­haven, a former coalmin­ing area that had be­come an in­dus­trial zone.

He was close to his mother, Pa­tri­cia Wil­shaw. Her maiden name was Benja-

THEN AND NOW: Kevin Wil­shaw with a friend in 1985, and in a more dig­ni­fied pose to­day. min, and her Jewish grand­fa­ther came from north­ern Eng­land. Wil­shaw’s re­la­tion­ship with his fa­ther was tense. A lo­cal po­lice­man, Jack Wil­shaw was rou­tinely vi­o­lent and ad­dicted to al­co­hol. When he worked as a horse guard, out­side Buck­ing­ham Palace, he would some­times drink on the job and uri­nate into his boots. At home, he would hit his three chil­dren with a horse­whip. One time he broke down the bath­room door to get at his son, who had locked him­self in. But he left his wife alone “’cause he was scared of her,” Kevin Wil­shaw said.

By the time Wil­shaw be­came drawn to the far right, at age 15, he knew he had a Jewish grand­par­ent. He also knew he was bi­sex­ual, but af­ter com­ing out to a cou­ple of friends, he got bul­lied at school. The vi­o­lence stopped only when he changed schools, at 16, to pre­pare for univer­sity en­trance ex­ams. Though he didn’t go to univer-

Wil­shaw joined the far right as a teenager.

sity, he did three years of vo­ca­tional train­ing as a nurse. But when it came to telling his fam­ily about his sex­u­al­ity, Wil­shaw said, “I kept it from them.”

When he joined the Bri­tish Move­ment, an openly neo-Nazi or­ga­ni­za­tion, his fam­ily didn’t talk about that ei­ther. His par­ents were both Con­ser­va­tive Party sup­port­ers — his fa­ther spouted racist and anti-im­mi­grant views and his mother dis­trusted for­eign­ers — but they con­sid­ered the far right too rad­i­cal. For Wil­shaw, be­com­ing an ex­trem­ist was one way to rebel against his fa­ther. When Jack Wil­shaw tried to stop him from get­ting in­volved, he said, “I just ig­nored him.”

In the end, his par­ents gave up.


Wil­shaw first saw Leni Riefen­stahl’s Nazi pro­pa­ganda film, “Tri­umph of the Will,” at age 14 on the BBC. “I was sort of hooked on it,” he said.

When he con­tacted the Bri­tish Move­ment, a year later, he was seek­ing a sense of be­long­ing and pur­pose. He was in­tro­verted, had few friends, and didn’t see other op­tions for find­ing com­mu­nity or iden­tity in his ru­ral sur­round­ings. The other ac­tiv­ity he par­tic­i­pated in was cross-coun­try run­ning — “a soli­tary sport.”

“I thought [the far right] was the only way of ac­tu­ally busy­ing my­self and hav­ing some­thing to fill my life with, which was ob­vi­ously a wrong de­ci­sion,” he said.

As he be­came more ac­tive in the far right — putting up posters and stick­ers, go­ing to meet­ings and marches, writ­ing let­ters to the press — he con­tin­ued to hide parts of him­self, but now with a new kind of fam­ily.

“I ba­si­cally kept the three lives apart,” he said of his ex­trem­ism, bi­sex­u­al­ity and Jewish her­itage. “One was in one com­part­ment, one was in an­other, one was in an­other.”

But when he came to Lon­don for far­right ac­tiv­i­ties, he would visit gay clubs in se­cret, liv­ing mo­ments of free­dom and open­ness amid the re­pres­sion.

“It was very lib­er­at­ing,” he said, “’cause you could ac­tu­ally let your­self go and be your­self, and not live a lie for a change.”

Wil­shaw knew other ex­trem­ists who, like him, were liv­ing con­tra­dic­tions: One of the bounc­ers at the gay clubs was a neo-Nazi, and two Lon­don mem­bers of the Na­tional Front, a fas­cist po­lit­i­cal party, were Jews.

In the 1990s, Wil­shaw mar­ried a woman he met while he was work­ing as a men­tal health nurse at a hos­pi­tal. Over the years, he has also worked in fac­to­ries, most re­cently as a su­per­vi­sor. The cou­ple stayed mar­ried for three years, di­vorc­ing in 1995; they had a son to­gether. Nei­ther his wife nor their son ever ap­proved of his ex­trem­ism. He is still in touch with his ex-wife and sees his son reg­u­larly.

Around the same time, he was ar­rested and jailed for van­dal­iz­ing a mosque in Ayles­bury, 45 miles north­west of Lon­don. Aside from that in­ci­dent, he said, he en­gaged in only “re­cip­ro­cal vi­o­lence” and never tar­geted any­one for his or her eth­nic­ity, in­clud­ing Jews. He has not van­dal­ized a sy­n­a­gogue.

But he con­tin­ued sell­ing pa­pers, go­ing on marches and demon­stra­tions, leaflet­ing and writ­ing let­ters to the press. He be­came a re­gional or­ga­nizer for the Na­tional Front in Cum­bria, and even ran as a par­lia­men­tary can­di­date for the party in 1989. He was in­volved with an­other fas­cist po­lit­i­cal party, the Bri­tish Na­tional Party (which grew out of the NF), for 17 years.

Along the way he has en­gaged in vi­o­lence with sev­eral anti-fas­cist groups. He says he once smashed a chair over a man’s head at a lo­cal elec­tion in north­ern Eng­land, and in 1982 he was hos­pi­tal­ized af­ter an al­ter­ca­tion with the rad­i­cal so­cial­ist group Red Ac­tion.


The end of Wil­shaw’s ex­trem­ism be­gan in 2015, when his mother died of de­men­tia. He called her death “a mon­u­men­tal event.” (His fa­ther had died five years ear­lier, of an al­co­hol-re­lated ill­ness, but Wil­shaw said his par­ents had been es­tranged and it didn’t af­fect him much.)

The anti-fas­cist ad­vo­cacy group Hope Not Hate no­ticed his be­hav­ior on so­cial me­dia grow more ex­treme. The or­ga­ni­za­tion, which is ac­tive in the United King­dom and the United States, does com­mu­nity-based anti-ex­trem­ism cam­paigns,; mon­i­tors, and re­ports on, the far right, and helps peo­ple leave the move­ment. Some of its staff are former ex­trem­ists them­selves.

Its head of re­search, Matthew Collins — an ex-ex­trem­ist who has known Wil­shaw from the far right since 1987 — said that in 2016, Wil­shaw started post­ing about him “ex­ten­sively” on Face­book. Collins felt that Wil­shaw might be hav­ing a cri­sis. “I said, ‘Some­thing’s not right with Kevin,’” he said.

Wil­shaw agreed: “I just got more bit­ter and more ex­treme, and I thought, ‘I’ll take it out on the in­ter­net.’”

Po­lice mon­i­tor so­cial me­dia heav­ily, Collins said, so he wasn’t sur­prised when Wil­shaw got ar­rested in March un­der the Ma­li­cious Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Act, which makes it il­le­gal to send or de­liver com­mu­ni­ca­tions de­signed to cause “dis­tress or anx­i­ety.” Since Wil­shaw hasn’t been charged yet, it isn’t clear which com­mu­ni­ca­tions he was ar­rested for specif­i­cally. He is on bail and, at press time, was still await­ing a court hear­ing.

Po­lice re­ferred Wil­shaw to Pre­vent, Bri­tain’s de­rad­i­cal­iza­tion pro­gram. He asked to con­nect with Hope Not Hate, which he knew of from his decades in the far right.

Collins said, “I lit­er­ally just waited for his phone call to come, and it came.” He asked Wil­shaw what he wanted to do. One of the things Wil­shaw sug­gested was to be­come an in­for­mant for Hope Not Hate, pass­ing on in­for­ma­tion from within the far right.

Wil­shaw had al­ready been an in­for­mant, pro­vid­ing in­for­ma­tion about the Bri­tish Move­ment to the anti-fas­cist mag­a­zine Search­light on one oc­ca­sion in the 1990s.

But af­ter work­ing for Hope Not Hate for four months, he told Collins in July that he couldn’t con­tinue. He found it too dif­fi­cult to lie.

“I said, ‘I want to sever this now and I want to go pub­lic with this,’” Wil­shaw said.

Since leav­ing the far right and re­veal­ing his sex­u­al­ity and her­itage, most re­ac­tions have been sup­port­ive and con­grat­u­la­tory. He is in touch with a half-sis­ter born to his fa­ther, who reached out re­cently.

He has had neg­a­tive re­sponses from the far left — some don’t be­lieve he’s fin­ished with ex­trem­ism — and the far right. He says he has cut ties with those con­nec­tions but has read crit­i­cal and abu­sive posts about him­self

He re­cently vis­ited High­gate Sy­n­a­gogue, in Lon­don, and met a rabbi for the first time. He ini­tially felt ner­vous and ap­pre­ci­ated Rabbi Nicky Liss’s sense of hu­mor. They toured the sy­n­a­gogue; Wil­shaw said a prayer in English for his mother, and they had “a cup of tea and a chat.” Wil­shaw said he’d like to learn more about Ju­daism.

Wil­shaw said his life is “more pos­i­tive now, more op­ti­mistic.” He plans to re­tire soon from his job as a fac­tory su­per­vi­sor and move back to Cum­bria.

But look­ing back on his decades of ex­trem­ism, he said, “I could have done a lot more with my life than what I have done.”



BREAK­ING FROM A RE­CENT PAST: Wil­shaw was still march­ing in 2015.


EX- EX­TREM­IST: Matthew Collins heads up re­search for Hope Not Hate.

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