In the mid-1970s, then-Klan leader David Duke began exhorting followers to "get out of the cow pasture and into hotel meeting rooms" in a bid for mainstream respectability.
In the mid-1970s, then-Klan leader David Duke began exhorting followers to "get out of the cow pasture and into hotel meeting rooms" in a bid for mainstream respectability. Years later, after abandoning the Klan but not its ideology, Duke was elected a Louisiana state representative and then very nearly became governor.
Now, the British National Party hopes to emulate that performance.
The BNP is well known as a neofascist party on the fringes of British politics. But its current leader, Nick Griffin, has sought to give the party an image makeover, de-emphasizing its extremism and playing up its claim to be a mainstream anti-Muslim, anti-immigration group. Last November, for instance, the BNP withdrew a speaking invitation to well-known Holocaust denier Lady Michelle Renouf.
In December, the British newspaper The Guardian found more evidence of the same trend during a seven-month undercover investigation. The paper said that the BNP has been instructing its activists to use encryption software to avoid the discovery of any embarrassing electronic messages. It reported that a secret BNP rulebook, issued only to party organizers, urges them to avoid actions and the public use of racist language that underscore the BNP's racism. And it said that the BNP is recruiting affluent members to counteract its image of working-class thuggery.
There is much at stake. BNP activists claim that they are gaining up to 100 new recruits every week, and the party currently has more than 50 seats on local councils, similar to county commissions in America. BNP leaders clearly hope that the party now has a chance to win its first-ever national parliamentary seat.