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May 11, 2015 5:02 AM   Subscribe

Nicky Crane: The secret double life of a gay neo-Nazi: He was the British extreme right's most feared streetfighter. But almost right up to his death 20 years ago, Nicky Crane led a precarious dual existence - until it fell dramatically apart. [BBC]
posted by marienbad (33 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
 
The neo-Nazis were beaten back by a group of striking Yorkshire miners, invited to steward the event by Livingstone as a solidarity gesture.

Love that sentence.
posted by Hartster at 5:16 AM on May 11, 2015 [10 favorites]


Superb. I knew very little about this.
posted by Thing at 6:00 AM on May 11, 2015


Every so often I meet someone who is so obviously overcompensating; usually their life would be so much easier without the self-denial.

This is a really interesting article about a person whose name I have seen once or twice, but didn't know anything about.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:11 AM on May 11, 2015


What a deeply sad story.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:29 AM on May 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


By now working as a binman and living in Plumstead

Gee, I can't imagine how this scenario would lead to being disaffected.

Joking aside, repressive political instincts overlapping with secret homosexual desires, nothing new here, right the way back to the Ernest Rohm days these contrary forces seem closer than one thinks.
posted by C.A.S. at 6:36 AM on May 11, 2015 [4 favorites]


I do hope this story gets made into a movie. Pride, which is in many respects a superb period piece about a different aspect of being gay in those troubled times, was a bit cloying and Brit Rom-Com-By-The-Numbers for my taste.

A friend of mine (who died not so long ago in complex, tragic yet 'when not if' circumstances, and whom I loved dearly) was part of the gay skinhead scene back in the day. It was more violent, dangerous and extreme (even without the AIDS factor) than anything I know of outside warfare, and to see someone who was highly intelligent, gentle and possessed of the most joyous surreal humour and manner, gleefully dive into it was... well, you're not going to make a rom-com out of it. Although my friend would have been utterly delighted by the idea.
posted by Devonian at 6:39 AM on May 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


The Max Schaefer novel, Children of the Sun, which is mentioned in the article, is a fascinating look at the skinhead era and features a gay writer obsessed with Crane.
posted by layceepee at 6:42 AM on May 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


So is this what the song National Front Disco is about?
posted by gentian at 6:49 AM on May 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


By now working as a binman and living in Plumstead
Gee, I can't imagine how this scenario would lead to being disaffected.


Why? It's a good honest job and the pay isn't that bad. Currently they pull in around 32K quid a year counting overtime. I'm more surprised that a council would be cool with having violent nazi garbagemen.
posted by srboisvert at 7:00 AM on May 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


The Searchlight report ended its description of Crane with the line: "On Thursday nights he can be found at the Heaven disco in Charing Cross."

It's a great line, but I wonder why they left it at that. If they were trying to discredit Crane with his group, you'd think a headline of CRANE IS GAY (if not something more colorful and/or offensive) would work better. As it is, it reads like a joke.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:04 AM on May 11, 2015


The anti-fascists didn't care about Crane's sexuality, but were concerned that the gatherings might have a political objective. "Here were gay skinheads wearing Nazi regalia," says Gary. "We could never get to the bottom of it [...]"

In his spare time, Gary writes dialogue for BBC sitcoms.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:08 AM on May 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


Most of them belonged to an extreme far-right group called the British Movement (BM).

What a shitty acronym.
posted by TedW at 7:11 AM on May 11, 2015 [7 favorites]


Apparently, Evan Dorkin's "Phil the Disco Skinhead" strip from DORK! is not too far from the truth...
posted by Strange Interlude at 7:18 AM on May 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


This article is very emotional to read. I don't talk about this much, but at one time I was involved with some pretty terrible skinhead groups. I woke the fuck up and tried to quit that scene when I started being a part the violence. I had to seek protection from the Sharps and stop going to punk shows for about a year. This was about 1988-1989. Reading this story reminds me of how complicated the punk subcultures of the 1980's were and my heart aches thinking about that era and what everyone went through. I feel it so deeply, the complications. everything. We're just humans wanting love underneath all this bullshit and the apparent ideological contradictions don't negate your desire to seek meeting that need.

I hate that I have empathy for this guy. But alas, I was a part of the violence at the same time on another continent, afraid to say anything about my own queerness out of fear of getting killed for admitting it. fuck.
posted by Annika Cicada at 7:25 AM on May 11, 2015 [33 favorites]


It's a great line, but I wonder why they left it at that. If they were trying to discredit Crane with his group, you'd think a headline of CRANE IS GAY (if not something more colorful and/or offensive) would work better. As it is, it reads like a joke.

I think being flip like that is actually more impactful- a big "CRANE IS GAY" spread can be written off as "Oh, the reds are slandering Crane" but a throwaway reference like that can instill doubt and pique curiosity. Sometimes insinuations and whispers can be far more persuasive than megaphones.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:26 AM on May 11, 2015 [4 favorites]


Joking aside, repressive political instincts overlapping with secret homosexual desires, nothing new here, right the way back to the Ernest Rohm days these contrary forces seem closer than one thinks.

Off-topic of Crane, but I remember reading Röhm was remarkably not repressed. Germany pre-Hitler was considered one of the most cosmopolitan and socially liberal countries in the world, and homosexuality was more accepted in the cities than one would expect. Röhm wasn't putting his private life on display but he was openly gay along with many other leaders in the SA. One of the many reasons Hitler eventually disavowed himself from the SA and supported the Night of the Long Knives was his concern for the growing PR backlash from the right-wing and insinuations he and Röhm were lovers.
posted by schroedinger at 7:49 AM on May 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


a group of striking Yorkshire miners,

They all had floppy auburn hair, proud Roman noses, and penetrating green eyes.

It's my imagination and I'll do what I like with it.
posted by Segundus at 8:09 AM on May 11, 2015 [16 favorites]


Realize it misses the point, but I was surprised at how angered I was that Crane seemed to escape serious incarceration and the three folks who beat him at the Bloody Sunday rally got a combined 11 years. Presumably intimidation of witnesses/victims played a huge part in his wrist slaps.

the right-wing and insinuations he and Röhm were lovers

Röhm-cöhm!
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:16 AM on May 11, 2015 [7 favorites]


This is a great primer to an incredibly complicated subject that I'v e been fascinated with for while and I'm really glad it was shared here.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 9:34 AM on May 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


By now working as a binman and living in Plumstead
Gee, I can't imagine how this scenario would lead to being disaffected.


I lived on the edge of Plumstead and Abbey Wood for a while in the late 1980s/early 1990s, and I can tell you that back then it was a hotbed of white racism. There were a couple of pubs that were known to host BNP get-togethers, and the BNP HQ was between Welling and Abbey Wood. And, of course, the Stephen Lawrence murder was in Eltham, not too far away.

I also remember an early leak of BNP membership lists (it's on Wikileaks now, but I'm not going digging for that on my work computer) that included plenty of people in my neighborhood.
posted by vickyverky at 11:47 AM on May 11, 2015


and thank you, Annika Cicada, for sharing your story here, and I'm glad you're safe and away from all that pernicious, evil crap.
posted by vickyverky at 11:48 AM on May 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


People weren't just beaten by skinheads at that time - there were murders. My Night Out, by the Homosexuals (appropriately enough) is about the murder of one of their Pakistani friends by skinheads. I don't believe anyone was caught - you have to wonder if Nicky Crane or his buddies were involved.

I guess I worry that figures like Nicky Crane attract much more interest and sympathy than their many, many victims. "Handsome tragic white guy who does wrong but [sort of] repents" is such a fanfic-esque trope. I feel the pull to feel sorry for him, but I also remember that there were many, many disadvantaged and closeted white men who didn't beat up black people.

Also, as to the people who beat him up getting more jail time than he ever did - that's not unusual. Left activists always get way more punishment than right ones, because the legal system and the police are far closer to the right. Being a skinhead/racist is positioned as sort of regrettable but natural (dispossessed white men with nowhere to turn!) but taking militant action against them is crazy and gratuitous.
posted by Frowner at 12:33 PM on May 11, 2015 [8 favorites]


The more I think about this, the more I think that it's just...it's a blank story, it can't be recuperated to a moral. I think there's this huge cultural habit of turning stories about racism (or other isms, but most often racism) into repentance/redemption tales, because that allays anxiety and guilt. This is the story of a short, wasted life and some horrible violence. It's only a moral tale in a very large sense, in that it shows that short, wasted lives are a product of racism and homophobia.

It's just a horrible story because it's terrible to think that a human life could be so brutal, cruel and empty, that there couldn't be any more to a person.
posted by Frowner at 2:49 PM on May 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


British Nazism had lost its street-fighting poster boy. For the first time in his adult life, however, Crane was able to be himself.

When someone grows up in a fearful darkness deliberately maintained by his culture, he's bound to be confused, isn't it? Surrounded by hatred, fed on hatred, loathing and fear, how to hold onto anything else? Hard to be true to a self you've been lied to about for all of your life - when the punishment for any other behavior, never published in the papers or talked about by anyone, is plain as a rock.

Quite the dilemma, world - quite the dilemma you'd carved out. Yet there was more to Nicky, and at least he died knowing that.
posted by Twang at 8:27 PM on May 11, 2015


The movie Romper Stomper (1992) with Russell Crowe reminds me of this a lot. The damaged people coming together, forming intense bonds within a constructed identity, then fracturing, and ultimately destroying themselves.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:04 PM on May 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


Back in the 90s, a friend of my boyfriend was a gay skin. Didn't have a racist bone in his body but he worshiped the hyper masculine aesthetic of it, owned a few Skrewdriver records, Doc Martins and a flight jacket but that was it. I could never understand it, how someone could fetishize a group of people who would kill him given half a chance.
posted by echolalia67 at 12:03 AM on May 12, 2015


So are you saying I shouldn't have posted this, Frowner, because it's a blank story?
posted by marienbad at 2:05 AM on May 12, 2015


What? No.

I was saying that in my opinion it's a story that can't be recuperated to a moral, despite the fact that our culture pushes itself to recuperate stories about racism to a moral. This is something I've been thinking about because in a class I teach, the group almost immediately tries to domesticate our reading material by deciding who is good, who bad, whose immoral choice doomed who, etc, and it often does a disservice to the material. When dealing with real events, I think it can do a disservice to the nature of the real world.

If anything, I think that stories which don't follow the moral template we so often seek out are especially important.

I found this story particularly sad because there isn't much change in it - Nicky Crane doesn't seem especially committed to repudiating his racism except in a rather weak form prompted by not wanting to be in the closet himself; he spends a lot of time in Thailand, which suggests sex tourism to me; and he dies extremely young of a horrible disease. The blankness of the story is where its tragedy rests, and to me that says something about...well for me it says a lot about how I am always trying to make meaning out of a basically empty and cruel universe and that this is a fool's enterprise.

I do think that's it's easy for people to get fascinated by bad, troubled, good-looking young men in a way that obscures their victims. The skinhead who is secretly gay is interesting; the random weak-seeming queer who gets bashed by skinheads or the random Pakistani student who gets murdered - they're less interesting, because they're victims. Now that I think about it, the readers of this story are plugged into the story so that we kind of recapitulate queer fetishization of skinheads - Nicky Crane wouldn't be nearly so interesting if he was some fat schmoe middle-aged racist, even if he beat people up, right? No, he's interesting in part because of the contradictions of his life but also because of his youth and appearance.

That, however, isn't an argument against posting the story - it's just some thoughts about the experience of reading the story.
posted by Frowner at 2:46 AM on May 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


I add, now that I have actually woken up, that I'm sorry that my comments came across that way. It was actually a very interesting story and I have already ordered that Children of the Sun novel that is about an upper class gay guy who gets obsessed with Nicky Crane.
posted by Frowner at 6:13 AM on May 12, 2015


Fantastic response, Frowner, thank you. Just had a bad day yesterday and misinterpreted your comment because of it, so thank you again.
posted by marienbad at 6:31 AM on May 12, 2015


It's a great line, but I wonder why they left it at that. If they were trying to discredit Crane with his group, you'd think a headline of CRANE IS GAY (if not something more colorful and/or offensive) would work better. As it is, it reads like a joke.

This will sound ridiculous, but CRANE IS GAY would have been a lot harder to prove than "he can be found at the Heaven disco", if it had come to a libel trial. Which it wouldn't have, of course, but Searchlight must have tangled with enough suit-and-tie fascists in its time to have a legal department sensitive to such niceties.
posted by topynate at 8:24 AM on May 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Off-topic of Crane, but I remember reading Röhm was remarkably not repressed

True. But the forces around him were reactionary to the Weimar liberalism, and certainly were repressed and repressive, all the while fetishising uniforms by Hugo Boss and good family values.
posted by C.A.S. at 7:27 AM on May 13, 2015


It was interesting, and gave a little more context to how the "oi's", and later skinhead movement got co-opted by the right, and facist movements - while not explaining that very well in the article itself. Literally down to a nazi poster boy!

People seem to either completely not know, or have forgotten, that the initial music of the skinhead movement was Reggae - these were the english working class kids who hung out with the jamaican kids, listened to their music, and were comparatively less racist for their time. The deep divisions WITHIN the movement between that background, the then later neonazi associations, meant a lot of violence between those groups, which from the outside just appeared as skinhead on skinhead violence, so an increasing cycle of actual violence/perception of a violent movement, meant THAT appealed to the facists spoiling for a fight (boneheads), and kind of, boom, fate sealed, and it's now seen as always having been intertwined, and kind of shocking for people to read about the 'roots' of the early movement.

See trad skinhead, or trojan punks.
posted by Elysum at 4:48 AM on June 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


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