Joseph Pearce, 52, is an academic at a quiet university town in New England. He is an author of biographies and several books on Catholicism, and serves as writer-in-residence and professor of humanities at The Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in Merrimack, N.H.
However, Pearce has a background that is quite unlike any of his peers in academia; indeed, his life story sounds like a tale of fiction that the public can scarcely believe. For Joseph Pearce, born and raised in the ‘old’ England, once belonged to an organization called the National Front (NF), a neo-fascist group of jackbooted thugs who terrorized London and other English cities for decades, with the aim of destabilizing the United Kingdom’s multicultural society.
Intransigently opposed to the immigration of nonwhites into Britain, the NF – founded in 1967 -- waged a campaign of violence and intimidation not only against immigrants (primarily Asians from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh and blacks from the Caribbean), but also against Jews, socialists, Marxists and others they viewed as a threat to traditional white British culture and society. In fact, the NF advocated for the compulsory repatriation of all nonwhites out of Britain.
And Joseph Pearce was right in the middle of it all, during the NF’s heyday in the late 1970s and early 1980s. As the leader of the National Front Youth branch, he published inflammatory articles in a magazine called ‘Bulldog’ and even served two jail terms for inciting racial hatred. The National Front essentially collapsed by the late 1980s. Currently the dominant far-right political party in the United Kingdom is the British National Party.
Pearce credits Roman Catholicism, to which he converted in 1989 from ‘Protestant-based’ agnosticism, with helping to profoundly transform his life and his views. He moved to the United States in 2001 and has written and edited more than a dozen books, including his own autobiography, entitled “Race With the Devil: My Journey From Racial Hatred to Rational Love.”
Mr. Pearce kindly agreed to speak to International Business Times to discuss his life with NF and his transformation into a bestselling author and academic.
IB TIMES: Where did you grow up and when did you join the National Front?
PEARCE: I was born in East London and grew up in the borough of Barking and Dagenham [an area of heavy Asian immigration at that time]. I joined the National Front in 1976 when I was 15 years old and soon I was publishing our propaganda sheet, ‘Bulldog.’ I later edited a publication called ‘Nationalism Today.’
IB TIMES: You went to prison for activities related to these publications?
PEARCE: Yes, I served two terms in jail in the 1980s after convictions under the Race Relations Act.
IB TIMES: The National Front had its peak in the 1970s and early 1980s. Does it exist in any form today, or has it been swallowed up by the British National Party (BNP)?
PEARCE: Keep in mind I have been away from Britain for about a dozen years, and I haven't been affiliated with NF for more than 25 years, so I'm not intimately familiar with these organizations now. I would say that if the Front still exists, it's very small or fragmented. The BNP is now the most dominant far-right group in the UK and I would suspect that many former NF members have been absorbed into the BNP.
IB TIMES: The National Front seemed to be most active in London and other cities in England with large Commonwealth immigrant populations. Did it have any presence in Scotland or Northern Ireland?
PEARCE: The Front was heavily concentrated in England, particularly in London, the South East, West Midlands and Manchester. At our peak, we had perhaps 200 branches – but our presence was not quite as strong in other parts of England or Scotland. The Front, however, did have an office in Northern Ireland where we maintained ties with the Ulster Defense Association.
IB TIMES: The stereotypical image of the National Front member was that of an uneducated, white, working-class youth. Is this accurate or was it an exaggeration?
PEARCE: In its earliest incarnation, NF members were actually middle-class suburban types in suits and ties, albeit with extreme right-wing views. They were rather like the typically classic English conservative imperialists – rather than being thugs. By the 1970s, the dynamics had changed considerably – and most NF members, even the leadership, came from working-class origins.
IB TIMES: How were the National Front and the skinhead movements linked? Not all skinheads were racialist white nationalists, but many were. Did the National Front welcome skinheads into its ranks?
PEARCE: The Front and skinheads intersected over the years, although there were no formal relationships between the two. Keep in mind that when skins first appeared on the British scene in the mid-1960s, they were completely apolitical and were heavily inspired by Jamaican ska and reggae music. The early skinheads arose as a dramatic reaction against the hippies – as such, the skins adopted a very spartan and masculine look, with shaved heads, drainpipe jeans and Doc Marten boots. However, by the 1970s, many of the ‘second-generation’ skinheads had adopted white nationalism and either joined the Front or otherwise supported it. Of course, other skinheads went the other way, by embracing left-wing views or anarchy.
I was, in fact, close friends with Ian Stuart Donaldson, the founder and leader of the famous skinhead musical group, Skrewdriver, who died in a car crash in the early 1990s. Ian was a strong supporter of NF.
IB TIMES: Did the National Front allow women as members?
PEARCE: Yes, of course – our female members were usually wives or girlfriends of NF members. I would estimate that women accounted for anywhere between 10 and 20 percent of the Front at any given time. There were female skinheads as well.
IB TIMES: Was membership in NF a full-time proposition?
PEARCE: For me it certainly was since I was fully employed by them as staff editor and publisher of their publications, but I was rather an unusual case – most of the other members had other jobs to sustain themselves.
IB TIMES: At its peak, how many members did the National Front have?
PEARCE: I have heard reports that there was at one time some 30,000 fully paid-up members, but I think that figure is an exaggeration. I think a more accurate number would be about 10,000.
IB TIMES: NF members had to pay dues?
PEARCE: Yes, but I can’t recall how much it cost – not more than a few pounds annually.
IB TIMES: Was the National Front ever unified under one umbrella and one leader? Or was there always too much infighting?
PEARCE: By the mid-1970s, there were constant internal conflicts and internecine intrigues between various factions. This was one of the many reasons why the Front collapsed by the late 1980s.
IB TIMES: In the 1960s and early 1970s, the most prominent mainstream British politician who espoused anti-immigrant views was Conservative MP Enoch Powell – who delivered the infamous ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech in 1968. Did the National Front embrace Powell or did they feel he was too much a part of the effete establishment?
PEARCE: Powell was a little before my time, but the National Front generally agreed with his views and he was one of few prominent national politicians – perhaps the only one -- who openly espoused the NF’s views on race and immigration. The problem was that Powell was opposed to violence of any kind – he was an intellectual parliamentarian who embraced the principles of democracy wholeheartedly. Powell did not wish to be associated with groups like NF, even if they shared some of the same views. I think some leaders of the Front were privately frustrated by Powell’s refusal to openly embrace them.
IB TIMES: As I recall, the National Front was vociferously opposed to the Irish Republican Army. But did the Front explicitly ban Irish Catholics from joining? (I seem to remember that many of the London dockworkers who supported Enoch Powell were themselves Irish Catholics).
PEARCE: The Front did not specifically ban Irish Catholics from joining – although with respect to Northern Ireland, the NF was, of course, staunchly pro-Unionist and detested the Irish Republicans. So, the NF welcomed Irish Catholics as long as they did not support the Republican cause in Ireland. In fact, during my tenure in the NF I made many trips to Belfast where we had a branch.
IB TIMES: British trade unions generally opposed the National Front, even if some of their members supported the Front’s views. Did this embarrass the National Front, given that, like the unions, they wanted to represent the rights and aspirations of the white working-class?
PEARCE: Many members of the NF were trade unionists and even shop stewards. There was a group within the NF called the National Front Trade Unionists. NF trade unionists were obviously antagonistic towards the Marxist leadership of the trade unions of which they were members but they were not antagonistic towards the unions but only towards their leadership, which was felt to have betrayed the white working class.
IB TIMES: Did the National Front instruct its youths to avoid certain lifestyle behaviors? For example, did they prohibit them from taking drugs, etc.?
PEARCE: Drug-taking was certainly frowned upon, but it didn’t prompt expulsion from the party. Given the atmosphere of that period, especially among the youth, sexual promiscuity, alcohol consumption and drug use were widespread, including people in the NF. I can’t recall anyone being kicked out of the NF for such behavior.
IB TIMES: The period when you joined the Front -- 1976-1977 – was a time of tremendous cultural ferment in the United Kingdom. The hippies were gone and punk rock (as exemplified by the Sex Pistols) emerged. Did you feel excited by the punk movement?
PEARCE: We liked the aggression of punk music and the excitement that it generated, which was considerable. But since we in the NF were racial nationalists we ignored the groups that espoused messages that were sympathetic to Socialism, Marxism and Anarchy. We were nonetheless inspired by their sense of violence and destruction, but we didn’t like their political views.
IB TIMES: The National Front in the UK ran political candidates for public office, but always fared pretty poorly in the polls, peaking in 1979. So, what do you make of the fact that the far-right party of France, Front National (FN), has performed very well in recent French elections?
PEARCE: It's rather ironic since the founder of FN, Jean-Marie Le Pen, named his organization after the British NF. But, I think there are some odd dynamics in France that has enabled them to attract a lot of votes from the public. For one thing, the FN has carefully cultivated a 'respectable' image with no street thugs and every member dressed very posh. Thus, they haven't been tarnished by an association with violence – like NF was.
Now, with Le Pen's successor, his daughter, Marine, as party leader, the FN's respectable image has deepened even further.
IB TIMES: Rather like the current BNP in the UK under the leadership of Nick Griffin?
PEARCE: Yes. By the way, Griffin was once a good friend of mine – I even served as best man at his wedding.
IB TIMES: In the 1970s, did the National Front make any distinction between Asian immigrants and black immigrants? That is, obviously, people from India-Pakistan-Bangladesh came from completely alien cultures, but blacks shared the same language, religion and much of the culture of white Britons. Moreover, as you said, the original skinhead movement was basically founded on their love for Jamaican ska music.
PEARCE: Despite the fact that many white British youth (even some that joined the NF) were greatly inspired by black musical forms, our ideology forbade us from having nonwhite friends. Race trumped any cultural similarities – indeed, if any NF members had any black, Asian or Jewish friends, they probably kept it quiet.
IB TIMES: What did the National Front think of the United States society and politics?
PEARCE: The NF hated America as the home of the ‘Melting Pot’ and also for what was viewed as its policies of ‘pro-Zionist imperialism.’
IB TIMES: A man named Martin Webster was a National Front leader in the 1970s, but he was expelled. Interestingly, he was a homosexual – is that why he was kicked out? Did the National Front explicitly ban gays from membership?
PEARCE: Webster was expelled from the party for his divisive behavior and boorish personality – not for being gay. His homosexuality was an open secret for many years. In fact, many NF members were gay.
IB TIMES: How did your former NF colleagues feel when you broke away and repudiated white nationalism?
PEARCE: They were not happy about it, to put it mildly.
IB TIMES: By adopting some of the symbolism and visual styles of Nazi Germany, did not some far-right groups in the UK take the chance of offending older British men who had fought against the Nazis during World War II?
PEARCE: Yes, that is why the NF forbade its members from adopting Nazi symbols or paraphernalia – we did not want to upset older British gents who fought against the Germans. We felt that would be counter-productive. We even banned such things as 'Sieg Heil' salutes. However, some other far-right British groups like British Movement and some skinheads eagerly adopted Nazi mannerisms.
IB TIMES: What was the relationship like between the National Front and the British police, whose forces were overwhelmingly white back then?
PEARCE: Initially, the NF was strongly pro-police and espoused the concept of law and order. As long as the Front marched peaceably and behaved lawfully, there were no problems with the police. But later, as the Front clashed with other protesters and violence entered the picture, the police took a more aggressive approach against the NF. This created much animosity.
IB TIMES: Aside from race and immigration, what other causes and issues did the Front campaign for?
PEARCE: Nonwhite immigration was always the core subject that the Front focused upon. But there were various other issues we were involved with as well, including anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism, and opposition to the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and what was then called the Common Market.
IB TIMES: In 1979, Margaret Thatcher expressed her alarm over nonwhite immigration into the UK. Did this very act (that is, giving anti-immigration sentiments a ‘respectable’ face) make groups like the National Front irrelevant?
PEARCE: Yes, I think that was an ironic factor in the NF's eventual downfall. She was a mainstream political candidate who said she feared Britain was getting “swamped” by alien cultures. Like Enoch Powell earlier, she was an establishment figure who echoed the NF party line – but, also like Powell, she never embraced the far right.
IB TIMES: When you were in prison, were there a lot of other National Front members in there to provide unity and protection? Were you in danger from, say, black inmates?
PEARCE: There were large numbers of both white skinhead inmates and black prisoners. They all knew who I was and what I stood for, but I was protected.
IB TIMES: Do you think that groups like NF and BNP have attracted followers because mainstream parties like Labour and Conservative have both failed to respond to the needs of Britain’s white poor and working class?
PEARCE: Yes, I think that’s fair to say – particularly with respect to Labour. Almost all NF members when I was involved with them came from families that voted for Labour all their lives – particularly the working-class members that dominated the organization. But I think over the past generation or so, many white working-class Englishmen have grown alienated with Labour.
IB TIMES: What caused your final break from the National Front?
PEARCE: I found solace from books I read, particularly the works of the English theologian G. K. Chesterton, C. S. Lewis, and the Anglo-French Catholic writer Hilaire Belloc.
I was particularly moved and impressed by Chesterton’s economic theory of ‘distributism’ which calls for the more equitable distribution of private property in a society. Then I moved onto his passionate defense of orthodox Catholicism and that moved me very much. I converted by 1989 and repudiated my former life as an NF member.
I later wrote a biography of G.K. Chesterton (who, ironically, had a cousin named A.K. Chesterton, who was a leading proponent of fascism in Britain and an early leader of the National Front).
In any case, my break from the NF did not happen overnight – it was a multiyear process.
IB TIMES: Back in the 1970s and 80s, Asians in Britain were seen as a "soft target" for NF as they were generally viewed as passive and weak, especially the Bengalis in East End. But what do you make of the fact that now so many young Asians have themselves turned into thugs, formed gangs, and commit violence? Was this inevitable due to urbanization?
PEARCE: I think that Asians have succumbed to the radical relativism and secular fundamentalism of the dominant culture in the UK. Those Muslim Asians who rebel against such decadence will be tempted to embrace radical Islam as an alternative. It's an ugly and vicious scenario.
IB TIMES: Since you have written an autobiography and freely discuss your life as a leading member of the National Front, you are obviously not trying to hide your past life.
PEARCE: Indeed not, I am quite open about it
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.