Scottish loyalist Jim Dowson who stirred flag protest 'is now leading light of UK's far-right'
Documentary highlights growing influence of Islamophobic ex-Orangeman, writes Ivan Little
A Scottish loyalist branded the UK's most influential far-right activist by anti-racism campaigners has been closely involved with Belfast's flag protests, the BNP's activities here and the Ulster campaign against abortion.
Jim Dowson, a former Orangeman who once produced flute band tapes glorifying loyalist mass murderer Michael Stone and who raised funds for the BNP from an office in Dundonald, was the subject of a BBC Radio 4 documentary this week - The Invisible Man Of Britain's Far-Right.
The former preacher was said to be a major figure in Knights Templar International (KTI), an organisation described as a UK Christian militant group which, it was claimed, once boasted of sending military equipment to Kosovo, including ballistics vests and communications equipment "to help combat Islamist oppression".
But Dowson, a founder of anti-Muslim group Britain First, rejected the claims that he held any position in KTI.
The group dismissed the documentary as "a deceitful, hysterical but frankly lame fake news attack" from a broadcasting organisation "notorious for its left-wing bias from everything from Brexit to Israel".
The BBC investigation into the 53-year-old, who once said flag protester Jamie Bryson was acting as his legal adviser in a Belfast court, was carried out in conjunction with the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network.
The programme said it had seen evidence suggesting Dowson, who has a number of criminal convictions in Scotland from the 1990s, was behind a network of Facebook pages with around 2.5 million followers.
Despite the denials, Matthew Collins of the anti-racism group Hope Not Hate said the KTI was a front group the Scot set up to defend Christianity from what he saw as "the barbaric hordes of cultural Marxists, homosexuals, Muslims and any number of individuals or organisations that he doesn't like".
The documentary estimated that the KTI had gathered hundreds of thousands of pounds in fees from members across the world.
In 2009 Dowson ran the BNP's fundraising centre from an office in Carrowreagh Industrial Estate in Dundonald.
At one point he claimed he had raised £4m for the organisation before the office was shut following a dispute between him and former close associate Nick Griffin, the ex-BNP leader.
A split in the party led former members to post footage on YouTube criticising Dowson and his tactics.
He went on to become the self-proclaimed leader of the flag protests after restrictions were placed on the flying of the Union flag at Belfast City Hall in November 2012.
He was often seen addressing crowds at rallies in the city centre, where in February 2013 he shared the platform with TUV leader Jim Allister and victims' campaigner Willie Frazer.
Videos of his speeches are still available on YouTube.
In one he tells then PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott: "You can arrest 10,000 of us, you won't get us off the street and you won't stop us flying the Union flag - ever."
Dowson helped set up the Protestant Coalition party in April 2013 on the back of the flag protests but quickly stepped away, claiming the movement had not realised the potential he had envisaged.
He appeared in court accused of a number of offences linked to the flag protests and one of the conditions of his bail was that he couldn't attend any demos.
But at one rally a seven-foot cardboard cut-out of him was held aloft by Paul Golding, who had helped him form Britain First.
In April 2015 Dowson was given a three-month suspended jail sentence after pleading guilty to three charges of participating in unlawful processions in 2013.
The court was told that he was under threat from two different sources but no further details were revealed. At an earlier remand hearing he represented himself in court but said that Bryson, who was in the public gallery, was acting as a legal adviser.
Dowson was also involved in another high-profile protest in Belfast - against abortion - at the opening of the Marie Stopes private clinic in Great Victoria Street.
A daughter brought her baby son to the demonstration and draped a graphic anti-abortion poster over his buggy.
Dowson's presence, along with his banner for the UK Life League, was criticised by several other pro-life organisations, which said journalists shouldn't be talking to him.
Bizarrely, Dowson hailed the fact that Protestants and Catholics were standing together in the demonstration as "marvellous".
In 2016 the New York Times identified him as the founder of the Patriot News Agency, which the paper said he had established to help elect Donald Trump as US President.
Dowson said he had spread anti-Hillary Clinton pro-Trump memes and soundbites into sections of the population who were too disillusioned with politics to take any notice of conventional campaigning.
The New York Times said the postings were viewed hundreds of thousands of times.
Last year he claimed he was an adviser to 150-plus companies and parties around the world with offices in Hungary - from where he was once barred - Texas and Belgrade.
Hope Not Hate has closely monitored Dowson and his activities.
Mr Collins said of him: "He seems to see himself as some kind of benevolent individual now who wants to offer the wealth of his experience and knowledge to other people."