The arrest of four British soldiers on Tuesday on suspicion of being members of a banned antisemitic, neo-Nazi group has raised concerns over shortcomings in the British Armed Forces’ security clearance procedure for recruits.
All new recruits to the armed forces are required to pass a stringent security clearance procedure, known as Developed Vetting, which includes checking an individual’s political background. The procedure is the most detailed and comprehensive form of security clearance in UK government.
The four soldiers and a fifth person, a civilian, were arrested on Tuesday under British anti-terror legislation on suspicion of being members of a proscribed terrorist organization. The criminal offense of being a member of a proscribed organization carries a possible custodial sentence of up to 10 years.
The suspects were arrested following a police operation carried out by counterterrorism units and supported by the British army. One suspect was detained at a British army base in Cyprus and will be flown to the UK for police questioning.
According to The Independent, the UK Ministry of Defense (MoD) is treating the arrests as an isolated incident and does not intend to look further into the issue but British politicians have now called for an inquiry to be launched into the prevalence of far-right extremism in the armed forces.
British Army soldiers march to Parliament in central London June 7, 2010. (Reuters)British Army soldiers march to Parliament in central London June 7, 2010. (Reuters)
Shadow Home Secretary of the Liberal Democrats party Ed Davey praised the arrests but told The Independent that “questions remain over whether the armed forces are consistently monitoring for extremist activity in their ranks… it is not enough to simply assume this is a contained example.”
Co-leader of the Green Party Jonathan Bartley joined the calls saying that “the Government’s failure to launch an inquiry ito extremism within the armed forces suggests it is afraid of what it will find… the Government cannot bury its head in the sand and hope it will go away.”
British Defense Secretary Sir Michael Fallon refused to comment on the ongoing investigation but told BBC Radio 4 that he was concerned by the news and that “action is being taken.”
“This is a proscribed organization with abominable views – a white supremacist, antisemitic, homophobic organization that is banned,” said Fallon.
Concerns over National Action members and military service first surfaced in December 2016 when British anti-extremism organization Hope not Hate published a blog titled “A look behind the scenes in National Action” detailing the activities of the group, including several supporters’ decisions to enlist in the armed forces.
In January 2017, Hope not Hate published details of a National Action-affiliated army recruit.
When National Action was banned in December 2016, the group became the first far-right organization to be proscribed under anti-terror legislation by British Home Secretary Amber Rudd.
“It has absolutely no place in a Britain that works for everyone,” said Rudd.
The group praised the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox in June 2016 by a British citizen with links to US-based neo-Nazi group National Alliance and banners saying “Hitler was right” have appeared at rallies. In November 2016, a youth spokesperson for the group was filmed speaking about “the disease of international Jewry” at a far-right rally.
A spokesperson for the Board of Deputies of British Jews, speaking to The Guardian, said, “It is extremely concerning that there are some members of our armed forces that are allegedly members of the proscribed fascist group National Action. Their glorification of Nazis and celebration of terrorism are just some examples of this group’s atrocious actions.”
British Prime Minister Theresa May held an annual meeting with Jewish community representatives on Wednesday, where issues discussed including rising antisemitism in the UK.
“I want to take this opportunity to reaffirm my long-standing and total commitment to the security of the Jewish community and I will do everything possible to fight anti-Semitism and all forms of hatred and prejudice in our country,” said May.