'I Was A Member Of The EDL And Tried To Spy On The Government'
Richard - not his real name - was just 15 when he became involved with far-right groups sharing racist posts on social media.
The nephew of a former soldier who struggled with his mental health and addiction following service in Iraq, he was angry at how he felt people like his uncle were treated and was looking for someone to blame.
Over the space of around two years, he rose through the ranks of the English Defence League (EDL) and Britain First, attending rallies and spreading racist propaganda at school, attacking teachers and even attempting to spy on the government.
But speaking to LADbible, he says he now feels cheated by the far-right which made 'false promises' to him and people like him.
"The reason I was attracted to the group was three-fold really," he tells me. "The first was that the kind of chants I was hearing (in the group) were similar to the chants I was hearing at football.
"There were also a lot of posts about British soldiers being on the street, which was something I was quite passionate about because my uncle served in Iraq, and when he came home he had a lot of problems with drink, drugs and things like that.
"The third reason is a little more sinister. In the group, they shared pictures of knives, machetes, bayonets, and things like that, and me and my friend would go to the woods after school and mess around with throwing knives and air rifles, so it was something we were interested in."
He added: "It was this group that laid our first foundation layer of blaming Islam, blaming immigration and those kinds of things for anything that went wrong in the country."
It wasn't long before Richard and his mate took their views into school, calling out far right slogans and chants and confronting staff. They even targeted one teacher specifically, attacking her verbally.
"She had Pakistani heritage," Richard says. "We were nasty to her and would say racist comments towards her. We probably discussed the far right every day in this class and would often argue with her.
"We would say that she's not British and when the far right got into power she wouldn't be allowed in the country anymore."
Over time, Richard's hatred grew, and he would lock himself away for hours on end watching videos online, memorising far right doctrines and even joining smaller, regional groups.
He said: "For six to 10 hours a day, all I was looking at was far-right propaganda. I was doing a lot of research into what they were saying.
"Admittedly I was only searching on the old far-right pages, but it was that layer effect, and from there I was just building more and more layers. That's where I built my far-right mentality.
"There was a lot of anger and hatred which built up over a very short period, two or three months really. I was very angry."
So angry, that by this point, he says, not even his own parents could convince him to distance himself from these groups.
"Most of my family are working class and voted Labour but none of them have a really good knowledge of politics. So, in the early stages it was very easy for me to fly under the radar and when they did find out I was part of the EDL and Britain First, they would often try and talk me out of it.
"It was very easy for me to shut them down. But it was all EDL propaganda...copy and pasted from Tommy Robinson - real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon - videos. I was just repeating his words all the time."
The turning point came when Richard confronted a teacher in a 'British Values' lesson at college.
"I walked in the class," he says. "I said 'listen miss, I'm a member of the EDL, I'm part of Britain First, do you just want me to leave the room now?'
"I don't know whether she thought I was lying to get out of the class or if she thought she could talk me out of it but she told me to stay.
"About five minutes into the lesson, she looked at me and asked why I thought people immigrated to Britain. I stood up with a little cocky grin and said 'people immigrate to Britain because Britain has the best f***ing benefits'."
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The next day Richard was called into a meeting with staff to ask him about his comments. But rather than apologise, the teenager offered them some EDL stickers and invited them the next rally.
But realising how deep his beliefs went, Richard's teachers reported him to Prevent, the government's anti-terrorist body which intervenes with people - whether it's in schools, community projects or family members - who show signs of extremism.
They are then referred to its support team Channel. Both confidential and voluntary, it offers 'career advice', 'emotional or mental support', as well as 'theological or ideological mentoring'.
Since 2012, 1,267 people have been supported by Channel. Of those, 90 per cent were men and the majority are under the age of 20. Almost half (44 per cent) of those referred to the programme had linked to the far-right, while 45 per cent were related to Islamist extremism.
And after hearing that he had been referred, Richard says he received a call from the then leaders of Britain First, Paul Golding and Jayda Fransen.
"I spoke to Paul on the phone for about an hour. They encouraged me not to say anything and told me that I must be doing something right if Prevent was on my case.
"They said Prevent wouldn't be interested if I wasn't doing something right or scaring the government. They were definitely encouraging me to stay quiet, to keep my cards quite close to my chest."
But keen to impress the group's leaders, following the conversation Richard set about infiltrating Prevent and reporting back to Britain First.
"When they called me I was quite starstruck and shocked that they would want to speak to me," he says looking back.
"When I went back to college for my meeting with Prevent I saw it as a reconnaissance mission. I wanted to go in and find out what they were going to ask and how they operated.
"I was actually going to report back to Paul and Jayda, and if anyone ever came up against Prevent from Britain First then they would be able to out something in place to stop it. It would impress them."
But this never happened. After a discussion with a case worker from Prevent, Richard says he realised that he was being manipulated by Britain First, the EDL and the far right.
"The first part of the meeting I used as a reconnaissance mission," he says. "But then when I spoke to my Prevent case worker, he introduced himself to me and told me about his background, and there were a lot of similarities between us. He was very open from the get-go.
"He was the first person that I thought genuinely wanted to talk to me, while everyone else I had spoken to was either massively for or massively against the EDL and the far right."
Richard went on to have several more sessions with Channel, talking about his life and how he became involved with the far-right.
He now works with young people like him, sharing his own story and the dangers of falling for 'false promises' offered by right-wing groups.
He said: "I don't believe the far right will ever be the solution. What they say and what they mean are two very different things. Although they claim to be this big, united brotherhood, they're absolutely not, they're there for their own gain.
"I'm not going to shy away from the fact that I did all of this on my own back, because I did. But I do think that I was manipulated into joining these groups. The people who lead these groups target vulnerable people."
LADbible has contacted Britain First for a comment.
Featured Image Credit: PA