Royal Navy promoted sailor despite joining neo-Nazi group

·5-min read
<span>Photograph: Danny Lawson/PA</span>
Photograph: Danny Lawson/PA

A Royal Navy submariner who the Ministry of Defence knew had links to the far right was promoted after joining an even more extreme rightwing organisation.

Kenneth McCourt was exposed by the Observer in 2019 as a member of a white nationalist group with links to a banned terrorist organisation. Despite a subsequent MoD investigation, McCourt was allowed to remain in the navy without being disciplined and, according to his LinkedIn profile, was promoted last November to the rank of petty officer.

Three months before his promotion, a post by McCourt on the messaging app Telegram revealed he had “just joined” the neo-Nazi group Patriotic Alternative, according to new research by anti-fascist group Hope Not Hate.

On Saturday night, navy sources said it was “highly likely” that McCourt would now be removed from the service and that Police Scotland had been contacted over the matter.

The revelations, however, raise concerns over the navy’s approach to rooting out extremism, along with fresh questions over the effectiveness of the government’s Prevent counter-terrorism programme to which McCourt was referred following the initial claims. The latest data indicates that, in 2019, a total of 14 serving military personnel were referred to Prevent, with 11 of those prompted by far-right concerns.

Last year, McCourt was promoted to the position of petty officer as a weapons engineering technician submariner, allowing him to work with the UK’s “most advanced defence technology”, including ballistic missile systems and potentially Trident, Britain’s nuclear weapons deterrent.

Yet navy sources said that McCourt had refused to be vaccinated against Covid, meaning he had not received the necessary security clearance to be deployed on a submarine, despite still being paid to do so.

Hope Not Hate, whose undercover informant exposed McCourt after infiltrating the UK branch of the pan-European Identitarian movement, said the navy’s inability to force the sailor out of the service sent a message that far-right support was condoned. David Lawrence, senior researcher at Hope Not Hate, said: “The navy’s failure to take disciplinary action against McCourt when we exposed him three years ago sent a message that far-right activism would be tolerated in its ranks.

“The fact that he has since shifted towards an even more fascistic organisation, one that is rife with Holocaust deniers and run by a man who recommends Mein Kampf to his audience, is dismaying but also unsurprising. The forces must move decisively to root out extremism whenever it is found.”

Related: There’s a new breed of young, violent, far-right activist in Britain: ‘white jihadists’ | Matthew Collins

Back in 2019, McCourt was reported to have been a member of Generation Identity UK (GI UK), whose “great replacement” ideology was a key inspiration for the Christchurch massacre and other terror attacks. Since then, GI UK has imploded, in part after the Observer prompted its co-leader to resign after they were shown evidence that a colleague had neo-Nazi connections.

However, McCourt appears to have become a member of the more extreme antisemitic organisation, Patriotic Alternative, even claiming to have attended events in person.

Patriotic Alternative is currently the UK’s most active fascist group with a number of Nazi extremists. The group’s leader, Mark Collett, has repeatedly praised Hitler and recommended Mein Kampf to his followers.

Senior Patriotic Alternative members were previously involved with the now proscribed Nazi terrorist group National Action, of which a former member plotted to kill an MP.

Messages posted on a Telegram account owned by McCourt claim that he attended Patriotic Alternative’s Scottish conference last October, along with its hogmanay celebration.

One message posted to his Telegram account last May is a reposting of a video of a man firing a 3D-printed gun – a Glock 17 – to a fascist fitness group.

Another post, with antisemitic content, sent from the same account, reveals the author claims to have attended a Ukip meeting in England a “few years back”, where “most of the guys there were proper nationalists rather than jewkip fans. Still keep in contact with a lot of people I met that day.”

The account has also used the antisemitic “echoes” meme to identify a Jewish person, and referred to Muslims as “muzzies”. Earlier this month, the account shared a post from a far-right blogger and thanked another far-right user for posting homophobic and antisemitic material.

A navy source said that McCourt was promoted automatically due to his length of service, with the sailor himself revealing on LinkedIn that his new rank included the “training of subordinates”.

The revelations follow a series of damaging headlines involving far-right supporters within the military, including the imprisonment of a British soldier who was a member of National Action. Army trainer lance corporal Mikko Vehvilainen attempted to introduce “committed Nazis” to the organisation.

Another member of Patriotic Alternative Scotland – who has claimed he was ready for “guerrilla warfare” – has also been reported as having applied to the army reserves.

When the initial reports involving McCourt emerged, he was serving alongside another sailor, who had also joined GI UK, but it is not known if they remain in the armed forces.

A Royal Navy spokesperson said: “Those who engage in extremist activities are fully investigated and suitable measures are implemented. It would be inappropriate to comment on specific allegations.”

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