What would motivate British neo-Nazi skinheads to invade a public library and beat up a reading group of retired Pakistani immigrants? And what would motivate half a million British citizens to vote for extreme right-wing parties whose rhetoric fuels such behavior? Trilling traces the rise of the radical right in the United Kingdom and condemns establishment figures for not taking it more seriously. Journalists, he argues, should not stoke prejudice against asylum seekers and multicultural policies. Politicians should not denigrate immigrants, tighten borders, or curtail government spending on housing and welfare. He believes that it is the retreat of government, not its failure, that creates an opening for radicals.
But a memoir by Collins, who spent years as a neo-Nazi and is now the director of Searchlight Educational Trust, a British foundation dedicated to fighting racism and fascism at the community level, inadvertently calls into question the idea that officials in the United Kingdom should ring alarm bells about nativist radicalism. In breathless, awkward prose, he recalls spending his teen years consorting with pseudo-intellectual Holocaust deniers, profane Hitler worshipers, and violent psychopaths armed with heavy chains, hobnailed boots, and switchblades. Although the gratuitous violence is shocking, the overwhelming impression is of a bunch of cranky losers in seedy apartments and cheap pubs quarreling over nothing. Perhaps this explains why out of 100,000 local officials in the United Kingdom, only ten belong to extreme right-wing parties, and why no candidate of the extreme right has ever won office at the national level. Such parties have enjoyed success only in elections for the European Parliament, in which protest voters make up a large proportion of the few people who bother to go to the polls. Perhaps the problem, then, is not that the British have let their guard down but that commentators pay too much attention to sensational but marginal elements.