Support for National Front growing in Northern Ireland, claims leader Tony Martin
The leader of the UK National Front has claimed to have growing support in Northern Ireland as a result of its sectarian divisions.
London-based Tony Martin (41), whose girlfriend Sharon Mellor (53) lives in Newtownards, also believes the number of followers of the DUP is growing in England due to its hardline Brexit stance.
"We have quite a few members in Northern Ireland and a lot of support," he claimed.
"NI is very different to the rest of the UK because there is a much bigger difference between Sinn Fein and unionists than there is between Labour and the Conservatives."
He claims his army of dedicated followers is increasing at the same rate across the UK.
The assertion comes after Barry Good was exposed by Sunday Life as being the UDA man who snapped nine men posing outside a mosque while dressed in Ku Klux Klan costumes.
Good denied any involvement when contacted by this newspaper yesterday, and claimed CCTV footage from a local garage proves he was elsewhere at the time.
He also claimed he can be seen driving in a video which emerged showing the men doing fascist salutes and stopping "black" cars, which he claims proves he wasn't involved.
The group of men in sinister hooded robes were pictured with the National Front leader's girlfriend, who once "joked" about burning down the same Islamic Prayer Centre on Greenwell Street on the night of their Halloween pub crawl.
Mellor's younger boyfriend, who also admitted embracing the men, believes the unique political landscape here makes his racist views more acceptable.
They include his call for the "humane deportation of all non-whites".
The couple both insist the encounter was a coincidence and deny knowing the men or having any official links with loyalism.
But after learning the identity of all the men behind the abhorrent Halloween stunt, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal a disturbing connection between those involved and extreme right-wing views.
Their Facebook posts include rants and jokes about Muslims, UDA references and links to far-right content.
At least one man has posted videos by former English Defence League leader Tommy Robinson on a number of occasions, as well as local media reports about a Britain First rally held in Newtownards earlier this year.
Some of the grown men wearing the costumes spent much of last week posting cryptic boasts about their "spontaneous prank", including seemingly random "Mississippi" comments, which is believed to be a reference to the birthplace of the Ku Klux Klan.
This newspaper has been advised that publishing details which could identify the men, who are now the subject of a police hate probe, may jeopardise the ongoing investigation.
A source close to the group said that none of the men has any connection to the National Front and accused a number of far-right groups of seizing on the incident, which made global headlines last week.
But at least one of the culprits 'liked' a video posted by Britain First founder Jim Dowson, a one time central figure in Knights Templar International, a Christian militant group, which was uploaded on Saturday night.
The 25-minute rant called for an end to the "hysterical" media witch-hunt of the Ards "teenagers" in KKK garb. The video has been viewed tens of thousands of times online.
It demonstrates the growing presence of online extremism seeking to prey on new disciples.
But Martin believes the differences between the two major parties here and the absence of a "truly Conservative" party in Westminster has created a unique breeding ground for extreme agendas here. "The Conservatives and Labour are roughly the same on issues like immigration, same-sex marriage," he explained.
The chairman of the British neo-fascist movement, who was only elected in September, said he has "no intention" of forming a new political party or dividing unionism, which he considers counter-productive.
He was also quick to distance himself from a rival far-right Donaghadee-based group led by Britain First's Paul Golding and Jayda Fransen.
"Some of the grassroots activists are genuine but the people at the top aren't, they are also pro-Zionist."
But when it comes to immigration, it seems the groups have more common ground.
"The biggest cause of anti-immigration sentiment is immigration," he said. "People see their own people being replaced and naturally resent it."
Martin, who is adamant that the notoriously racist group is not right-wing, vowed it will continue being "anti-immigrant and pro-white" as it stands up for working class interests.
He also believes he has a legion of silent supporters too shy to express their true opinions out loud.
"The problem is we don't live in a free country and people can lose their jobs for openly supporting the NF," he said. "I know of people who can't even say at work that they voted Brexit."
The chilling claim has been reinforced by the volume of people who have flocked to social media to express support for the "Ards 10", which has prompted Alliance MLA Kellie Armstrong to reassure residents that those expressing "disturbing" opinions are in a minority.
"Most people in Newtownards are not racist or Islamophobic," she said.
"But unfortunately those who yell and shout the loudest will be the ones who are heard."