Nearly every Saturday afternoon in 2016, Robbie Mullen, a twenty-four-year-old warehouse worker, met with a group of neo-Nazis at the Friar Penketh, a lively pub in Warrington, in the North of England. The men belonged to an extremist group named National Action. Seated at a round table upstairs, they discussed until closing time their dark, shared politics: a hatred of Jews and of ethnic minorities; an expectation that a race war would soon engulf Britain. Mullen, who has a meaty build and a pallid complexion, was not much of a drinker. He nursed pints of Pepsi while the others, emboldened by lager, grew more voluble.
In December, 2016, the U.K. government designated National Action a terrorist group, and banned it. Under British law, being a proven member of a terrorist organization carries a prison sentence of up to ten years. The group’s demonstrations and membership drives stopped, and its Web site shut down. But many of its hundred or so adherents kept up their communications, through encrypted apps. And, even though meetings like the one at the Friar Penketh were risky, they secretly continued.
On the afternoon of July 1, 2017, a twenty-two-year-old named Jack Renshaw sat down at the round table next to Mullen. Renshaw was well known in far-right circles. With preppy clothes, a ruffled side part, and wide eyes, he looked like a choirboy, but in speeches he called Jews “parasites” and said that Hitler’s mistake was to show “mercy to people who did not deserve mercy.” Renshaw had spent two years studying politics and economics at Manchester Metropolitan University, and became known for confronting other students in pubs and asking them, “Have you given much thought to the Jewish question?” In 2015, the university expelled him for propagating hate speech on campus, and since then he’d become National Action’s most vocal spokesperson.
Renshaw told the group that he was planning to murder someone: Rosie Cooper, his local Member of Parliament. It had been a little more than a year since another M.P., Jo Cox, had been murdered, in Yorkshire, by Thomas Mair, a white nationalist who was obsessed with the racist policies of apartheid South Africa, and opposed Cox’s liberal views on immigration. The killing of Cooper, Renshaw said, would be another major strike in what the group called the “white jihad.” Renshaw considered Cooper, who supports the parliamentary group Labour Friends of Israel, a “race traitor.” He later claimed that he simply wished to attack “the state,” and that Cooper, who represented West Lancashire, was the nearest M.P.
Renshaw said that he also planned to kill Victoria Henderson, a local police detective. He alleged that she had been harassing him for giving anti-Semitic speeches, and had insulted him by insinuating that he was a pedophile. After murdering Cooper, he intended to take Henderson hostage, kill her, and then commit suicide by cop, by running toward armed police while wearing a fake suicide belt. British residents cannot legally own guns without a license, so Renshaw had bought a nineteen-inch gladius sword. He had also researched how long it took an adult to bleed out after her jugular vein was cut: about three minutes.
Nobody at the table attempted to dissuade Renshaw. One man asked him why he wasn’t going to use a real suicide belt. The group suggested other potential targets. Rosie Cooper was a relatively obscure politician; it would be more dramatic to kill Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary. This notion was discounted because Rudd, as a Cabinet minister, had a security team. Someone proposed that killing several Jewish people at a synagogue might have an even greater impact. Mullen, who had young nephews and nieces, said that this was a bad idea, because there would probably be children in the synagogue. Renshaw scoffed, saying that vermin were vermin, whether young or old. But he remained committed to his original scheme.
Closing time approached, and most members of the group wanted to continue drinking at a night club. But a hot day had turned to rain, and Mullen was underdressed, in shorts and a T-shirt. He said that he wasn’t eager to go “out out.” He told his friends that he had to catch the ten-fifty train to Runcorn, where he lived. Before leaving the pub, Mullen asked Renshaw if he was really going to carry out his plan. Renshaw said that he was “a hundred per cent” committed—they’d probably never see each other again. Mullen hugged him and said goodbye.
As Mullen walked to the station, he tried feverishly to send a text, but the screen on his iPhone was too wet. Eventually, he found cover and typed the message: “Ring me ASAP.” The recipient was Matthew Collins, the head of intelligence at HOPE Not Hate, an anti-fascist organization. For nearly three months, Mullen had been working as an informant inside National Action. Collins, who was on vacation in Portugal, called Mullen early the next morning.
“Jack Renshaw’s going to kill an M.P.,” Mullen told him.
Robbie Mullen grew up in Widnes, a predominantly white, working-class town between Warrington and Liverpool. He has a heavy Scouse accent: his consonants are breathy, and his vowels are long and inquisitive. He was brought up in a postwar housing project. His father lived on state disability benefits, and his mother stayed at home to care for him. Mullen recalled to me that heroin abuse was common in his neighborhood, noting that one of his relatives was a recovering “smackhead.” On a recent walk through the complex, Mullen pointed out an alleyway where, as a child, he saw addicts “injecting into their groin.” Crime in the area was still widespread. His cousin had recently been jailed for a botched armed robbery. “Drugs, guns, loan sharks,” Mullen said. “I could get a gun in five minutes, for two hundred quid.”
Mullen is bright, but his education was truncated, and in our conversations he sometimes lacked the vocabulary to express complicated thoughts or feelings. He relied heavily on three adjectives: “weird,” “strange,” and “awkward.” When I spoke to his mother, Georgina, who now works in customer service, she told me that, in elementary school, Mullen fell in with a tough group of boys, almost all of whom have now spent time in prison. At the age of eleven, Mullen began attending a well-regarded secondary school, but he was disruptive, and after two years he was placed in another local school. Despite his mother’s best efforts, he rarely attended class, and at fourteen he dropped out. Two years later, Mullen’s father died, of pancreatic cancer. They had been close, often watching Manchester United games together on television. Mullen grew even more angry and sullen, and began spending much of his time alone, playing video games in darkened rooms.
After he left school, he found part-time work installing satellite dishes on rooftops. When the job brought him to Blackburn and Bradford, cities where there are long-established South Asian communities, he became fearful that white Britain was being “taken over.” As he put it to me, “I didn’t want my town being like that.” In his late teens, Mullen moved out of his family home, and found low-paying work in local warehouses for Amazon and for Tesco, a grocery chain. At both sites, employees had to wear G.P.S. devices, so that they could be tracked by superiors. Even bathroom breaks were timed. Mullen often worked the night shift, then slept all day.
“I bagged this one in a museum.”
In the warehouses, Mullen encountered not only Asians but also Poles and black Africans. It rankled him that most of his colleagues did not speak English as a first language, and that the Muslim workers seemed to be allotted favorable hours during the holy month of Ramadan. Georgina told me that her son had been brought up in a Labour-supporting household where racism was not tolerated. But Mullen increasingly saw the world in racialized terms. He and his mother stopped discussing politics, because it led to confrontations. Georgina remembers one argument in which Mullen asked why there were so many immigrants in England, given that many native Britons lacked jobs. “I said, ‘Robbie, it’s just the way it is,’ ” Georgina told me. “ ‘These people will work harder and put up with what they’re putting up with, whereas English lads won’t.’ ”
Mullen began researching the far right online. There have been white ethno-nationalists in Britain since at least the nineteen-twenties. In 1932, Oswald Mosley founded the British Union of Fascists, which aped the movements that had swept Germany and Italy. The National Front, a whites-only organization, was formed in 1967, during a period when many nonwhite immigrants from Britain’s former colonies were arriving in the country. An offshoot, the British National Party, soon vied with the N.F. for supporters. Both groups issued hateful speeches and provoked street clashes, and violent splinter movements such as Combat 18—“1” and “8” correspond to “A” and “H,” Adolf Hitler’s initials—posed a terror threat.
In 2006, the B.N.P. shocked the U.K. by winning more than thirty council seats in local elections. But since then its popularity has waned. Groups such as the English Defence League, which are not interested in electoral success and instead promote violent anti-Islamic views online and at street demonstrations, have attracted more attention. The Internet has also made it easier for racists to find one another. The speeches of Tommy Robinson, the former leader of the E.D.L. and the best-known figure on the British far right, have garnered millions of views online. Two members of a group called the Sonnenkrieg Division recently pleaded guilty to encouraging terrorism; they had posted online messages calling for the murder of Prince Harry. (The Prince was considered a race traitor for marrying Meghan Markle, whose mother is African-American.)
In 2015, Robbie Mullen thought about joining the National Front, but, as he put it to me, its members all seemed to be “big, bald, fat guys with a can of lager.” Then he came across National Action’s Web site. He was instantly attracted by the fact that its members were young people. (Anti-fascists had nicknamed the group National Acne.) National Action had sleek branding that was based on the insignia of the Sturmabteilung, Hitler’s Brown Shirts, and the Web site featured snappily edited videos. In one clip, members are shown fighting one another in a mixed-martial-arts gym, accompanied by the kind of portentous music featured in first-person-shooter video games. At the end of the clip, a slogan pops up: “Join the White Gang.”
National Action was founded, in 2013, by a twenty-four-year-old politics graduate named Ben Raymond and a Welsh teen-ager named Alex Davies, who withdrew from Warwick University in 2014, when his far-right connections were revealed. Raymond claimed to have been inspired, in part, by the turn-of-the-century French anti-Semitic movement Action Française. Before launching National Action, he had self-published a pseudo-intellectual magazine called Attack.
In March, 2015, Mullen went to the nearby town of Wigan to check out a white-nationalist demonstration. A National Action member there gave him the e-mail address of its organizer for northwest England, Christopher Lythgoe—a muscled martial-arts enthusiast, in his late twenties, who lived with his parents. A few days later, Mullen sent Lythgoe a message, and Lythgoe invited him to the Friar Penketh.
Mullen was soon admitted to the group, and he found it galvanizing to talk to other people who believed in a “free white Britain.” More established N.A. members educated Mullen in what seemed to him a sophisticated world view. Unlike other strains of anti-Semitism that have been reawakened in Britain, particularly in left-wing circles, N.A.’s hatred of Jews was ostensibly unconnected to the Israel-Palestine issue. The group’s founders argued that a Jewish cabal had improper access to wealth, and that it was in the interest of this self-serving coterie to weaken national and racial borders. The patriot’s duty was to fight back.
Aside from the pub meetings, most communication among group members took place in the digital realm. Even before N.A. was banned, members were encouraged to be mindful of operational security: they rarely used one another’s surnames, and in some cases didn’t know what they were. Mullen went by North West Robbie. Almost every member created a pseudonymous e-mail handle, such as firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com; Mullen chose firstname.lastname@example.org. In encrypted chats, which flowed in a torrent, night and day, members discussed extreme subjects: rape fantasies, genocidal ideology, niche porn. N.A. felt like a place where these young men could say anything, without consequence.
The group had an equally obnoxious public dimension. Every few weeks, a few dozen members put on black outfits and ghoulish face masks, then gathered in the center of a northern city, making offensive speeches and marching behind banners bearing such slogans as “Hitler Was Right.” At Mullen’s first event with National Action, a so-called White Man March, in Newcastle, in March of 2015, he watched one member, Matthew Hankinson, give a speech about reclaiming Britain for white people while others gave Sieg heil salutes. Hankinson was good-looking, well spoken, and middle-class. At the end of the speech, he shouted, “Blood must be shed! The blood of traitors!” Dozens of anti-fascist protesters crashed the event, and scuffles later broke out. An Israeli flag was burned, and the police arrested nine fascists for a variety of offenses.
Mullen returned to Runcorn having experienced a jolt of adrenaline unlike any he had felt before. He found it thrilling to be hated. He continued to have a few “normal” friends in Widnes, with whom he watched soccer or played video games. But he saw National Action as a true brotherhood. “You believe you’re going to change the world with them,” Mullen told me. “You’d die for them.”
Mullen rose quickly within National Action, where he was viewed as trustworthy and discreet. Lythgoe, the organizer who had first invited Mullen to the Friar Penketh, supplanted National Action’s college-educated founders to become the de-facto national leader. In April, 2016, Lythgoe made Mullen his deputy. Mullen was included in almost all the group’s internal communications, and he knew its sources of funding. He told me that he never saw less than ten thousand pounds in the group’s PayPal account, and that some donations were made by white-nationalist sympathizers in the United States.
On June 16, 2016, the day that Jo Cox was murdered, Mullen was working at a warehouse in Runcorn, for a multinational company. He was happier with this job: his boss was reasonable, his hours flexible. Nobody at work knew that he was a neo-Nazi. Mullen remembers hearing about Cox’s death on the radio. None of his co-workers paid much attention to the news, and, as a result, neither did Mullen. But when he looked at his phone he saw that other members of National Action were ecstatic.
Within hours of the murder, one member had used an official National Action Twitter account to celebrate Cox’s death, linking the assassination to the forthcoming referendum on Britain’s membership in the European Union. One tweet read, “#VoteLeave, don’t let this man’s sacrifice go in vain. #JoCox would have filled Yorkshire with more subhumans!” Another read, “Only 649 MPs to go!” After Mair declared, in court, “Death to traitors, freedom for Britain,” National Action posted the phrase on its Web site. Lythgoe sent an encrypted message to other members which urged them to be inspired by Mair’s attack. The message was stored on a phone that has since been seized by the police, but Mullen remembers its content: If this is what a loner like Mair can do, imagine what we could do.
Mullen felt no joy about Cox’s death. He was convinced that nobody in the group had even known who Cox was before she was killed. Their celebration struck him as pure opportunism. But he also experienced what he later realized was a moral pang. When he read reports about Cox’s murder, and learned that she had been the mother of two young children, he understood her to be just “a normal person, doing her job.” She did not deserve her fate. Misogyny coursed through National Action. Mullen has never had a girlfriend, but he is close to his sister and his mother, and he does not hate women. He told me recently that the group’s embrace of Thomas Mair made him uneasy. “I thought, I’m connected to this person who’s tweeting it and celebrating it,” Mullen said.
Mullen did not betray any discomfort with the group’s reaction to the murder, although he noted to Lythgoe that the social-media posts about Cox were likely to land National Action in trouble with the police. He was right: the Home Office cited the group’s tweets when announcing that it had been banned. National Action was the first far-right organization to be outlawed since the Second World War. Mullen was worried about the proscription, and briefly stopped meeting with other members, but Lythgoe revelled in the group’s notoriety. Shortly before the ban went into effect, he sent an e-mail to his lieutenants: “The SUBSTANCE of NA is the people, our talents, the bonds between us, our ideas, our sustained force of will. All of that will continue into the future. We’re just shedding one skin for another. All genuinely revolutionary movements in the past have needed to exist partly underground. These are exciting times.”
The young men who had been members of National Action continued to meet. Two recent criminal trials have explored whether attending such gatherings confirms, beyond a reasonable doubt, membership in “a proscribed terrorist organization.” Some, but not all, of the former members have been found guilty of the offense.
Lythgoe predicted to Mullen and the others that a wave of Islamist terror attacks would soon hit Britain, and said that “white jihadis” would have a duty to strike back. They would wait for three Islamist atrocities before committing an atrocity of their own. No specific target was mentioned, but Mullen felt that this was not idle talk: the atmosphere in the group had darkened, and the members had begun to take their physical training more seriously. Someone in National Action, Mullen believed, would soon commit murder in the group’s name.
On March 22, 2017, Khalid Masood, a fifty-two-year-old British Muslim, deliberately drove a car into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge, in London, killing four people, before fatally stabbing a policeman outside the Houses of Parliament. Masood was shot dead by a minister’s bodyguard eighty-two seconds after the attack started. One of Lythgoe’s three inciting incidents had occurred. That evening, Mullen and other N.A. members met at a gym in a warehouse in Warrington, which the group used as its headquarters. Members expressed anger and excitement. Islamist attacks not only heightened the sense of an ongoing race war; they could also boost recruitment.
Mullen wanted to find a way to leave the organization without suspicion. He could not simply walk away; Lythgoe had shared too much damning information with him. Mullen was tormented. His politics were still broadly anti-immigrant—he remained worried about Asian gangs and the diminution of “white Britain.” Moreover, Matthew Hankinson, the National Action member who’d given the “Blood must be shed!” speech, had become his best friend. They sometimes went hiking together to keep fit, and Mullen had cheered Hankinson on when he boxed in an amateur bout. At the fight, Mullen learned Hankinson’s surname: a rare intimacy in National Action.
There was no chance that Mullen would talk to the police. In the working-class community where he was brought up, the greatest crime was being “a grass.” Struggling to find another option, he remembered that HOPE Not Hate published frequent articles about the far right, based on inside information. Members of National Action read these reports voraciously. Mullen decided that he might be able to give the organization sufficient evidence to expose the post-ban activities of National Action. This might lead to arrests, or to a more comprehensive crackdown on the network. In any event, the disruption would give Mullen a credible reason to leave the group.
He agonized for a week before contacting HOPE Not Hate. Adopting the pseudonym Lucas Harrison, he sent an e-mail containing secret information about National Action’s personnel and its headquarters. Within hours, Matthew Collins e-mailed back. When Mullen saw Collins’s name on the e-mail, he knew that he had crossed a permanent divide.
“Everyone in the right knows who Matt is,” Mullen told me.
Matthew Collins has a stout frame and a lordly appearance that evokes Hans Holbein’s portrait of Cardinal Wolsey. The impression is dispelled when Collins opens his mouth. He speaks with an eloquence that is offset by a ribald wit and an unpriestly turn of phrase. Collins can explain Marxist theory like a political scientist; he also uses “Fuck me!” like a comma. He was born in 1972, and was brought up in a housing project in South London, the youngest of four boys, with a strict English mother and a bibulous Irish Catholic father. Before he started elementary school, his father left home with a young woman of color who had been working as Collins’s babysitter. She and her family were the only black people Collins knew.
“I brought my editor along in case my stories start going nowhere.”
In high school, Collins became, in the words of his teachers, a “racist” and a “bully.” At a library, he began to research the National Front and other fascist groups. When he was fifteen, he watched news coverage about the funeral of Rudolf Hess, Hitler’s deputy, on television, and was impressed by footage of black-clad neo-Nazis. “I was leaderless and I was bored,” Collins writes, in his 2011 book, “Hate: My Life in the British Far Right.” “Where was my Rudolf Hess?”
As if answering his call, a free copy of the newspaper British Nationalist came through the letter box one Saturday afternoon. Collins “pored over the pages in awe,” then wrote to the chairman of the British National Party, John Tyndall. Weeks later, a B.N.P. official invited Collins to a meeting, where he was given literature about the “Jewish problem.” Collins spent his late teens oscillating between the B.N.P. and the National Front. (Sometimes the N.F. even asked him to spy on the B.N.P.) In the community of the far right, Collins found men whom he admired and an ideology that explained his meagre lot in life. The older neo-Nazis fondly called him Maff—short, in the muffled South London consonants of his upbringing, for “Maff-hew.”
In 1989, Collins joined a B.N.P. gang that violently disrupted an anti-fascist meeting at Welling Library, in South London. A dozen people, mostly Asian women, required hospital treatment after the attack. A pregnant woman locked herself in a toilet, and B.N.P. members tried to break down the door. The raid was, in Collins’s recollection, a “bloody massacre.” In nationalist literature, the violence at Welling Library was framed as a victory, but Collins felt ashamed. In “Hate,” he writes, “I was a fucking coward to have done such a thing. I began to realise that this was what race wars were about, the innocent attacked and their dignity destroyed.”
Collins stayed in the far right, but his mortification lingered. At night, in front of a mirror, he attempted to reassure himself by saying, out loud, “I am still a National Socialist, I am still a white Aryan, part of the master race.” But he also came to feel that his behavior was indefensible “at a person-to-person level.” Shortly after the Welling Library attack, he made an anonymous call to Searchlight, an anti-fascist magazine, from a phone booth. During the next few months, Collins made several more calls. Each time, he heard the same man’s Newcastle accent on the other end of the line. The man noted down his information, about leadership struggles in the National Front, or its financial mismanagement, and then hung up.
The calls palliated some of Collins’s guilt, but not all of it. Eventually, he decided to change his life. He became a spy for Searchlight, and in doing so unwittingly joined a long tradition of fascist turncoats. As the journalist Robert Hutton’s recent book, “Agent Jack,” recounts, in the thirties and forties the far right in Britain was quelled, in large part, by the infiltration of Eric Roberts, an agent for the domestic security service M.I.5, who had joined the British Fascists as a teen-ager. “As long as there have been fascist parties in Britain, they’ve had spies inside them,” Hutton told me.
Before Collins was debriefed by Searchlight, he was put through an elaborate security routine that included changing cars and getting into a taxi with two minders. At a London hotel, he was interviewed for an afternoon. Collins found the experience terrifying. The journalists made clear to him the stupidity and the danger of his time in the far right. When Collins began to name fascists with whom he had associated, he realized that he may already have ruined his life. As he later wrote, these people were “men with no lives, no compassion. . . . They were not going to go away, I would know these people for the rest of my life and, from this day on, live in fear of them.” He noted, “I was really scared. What the fuck had I been doing?”
Collins’s colleagues in the National Front were infuriated by the leaks to Searchlight. One neo-Nazi associate told him that, the moment the informant was exposed, “we’ll fucking bury him, no questions asked.” Even though Collins feared that his life was in peril, he continued to pass on information. He trusted Searchlight. With the organization’s blessing, he began to associate with members of both Combat 18, the National Front offshoot, and the Ulster Defence Association, a Northern Irish paramilitary group.
In 1991, Collins obtained information about a journalist at the Sun who secretly supported the National Front. This led to a front-page story in Searchlight. The journalist subsequently filed a libel suit against the magazine. Searchlight’s editor, Gerry Gable, had not told Collins when the story was to be published, and Collins was shocked when it came out. After the libel action was initiated, Gable took Collins to a West End hotel and asked him if he would give evidence in the court case. Doing so would have outed Collins as the magazine’s informant. In Gable’s recollection, the prospect caused Collins to burst into tears and vomit in the hotel bathroom.
“There was no way,” Collins writes in his book. “I could name ten people who would not hesitate to kill me.”
The libel case was settled out of court, and Collins’s identity remained safe for the moment. But in 1993 Collins told Gable that he was uncomfortable remaining involved with violent groups. He did not want to be implicated in someone’s murder. Gable agreed to help Collins leave the far right, but suggested that he first give information to a documentary team that hoped to expose Combat 18’s activities. Collins complied. The film was shown on British television in April, 1993, shortly after Collins’s twenty-first birthday. Although his words were spoken by an actor, people in the far right believed that some of the information could have come only from him—and that he was also most likely Searchlight’s mole. A senior figure in Combat 18 ordered Collins’s murder. Weeks later, with a passport and a visa hastily expedited by Scotland Yard’s Special Branch, Collins left London for Melbourne, Australia.
Collins remained in the country for ten years, picking up a slight accent. He married and divorced an Australian woman. He was employed for a long period in the clothing industry, alongside low-wage Vietnamese workers. “I learned to respect immigrants, and how hard they work,” Collins told me. Eventually, feeling lonely and disconnected from his family in London, he returned to Britain. His old contacts at Searchlight offered him a job at the magazine, and a journalist asked him to star in a documentary about returning home. The resulting BBC film, “Dead Man Walking,” which aired in 2004, documented Collins’s role in both the fascist and the anti-fascist movements. Collins appeared on camera without a disguise. He was no longer willing to let a fear of reprisal constrain his life.
Collins continued working for Searchlight, and in 2007 he began collaborating with Nick Lowles, a journalist and activist, on a social-campaign division called HOPE Not Hate; it split from the magazine in 2011. Gable still edits Searchlight, but its work has been eclipsed by HOPE Not Hate. He and Collins are not on friendly terms. Among other issues, Collins thinks that, when he was a Searchlight informant, Gable was cavalier about his safety. Gable denies this; for his part, he believes that Collins overstates the importance and the bravery of his work. When I spoke to Gable, he referred coolly to Collins’s refusal to “out” himself as Searchlight’s mole in the libel case. “When push came to shove, Collins bottled it,” Gable said. “He was no hero.”
Since 2010, Collins has coördinated an intelligence network for HOPE Not Hate, with the aim of disrupting the far right’s activities. HOPE Not Hate is not universally admired. Its advocacy arm is sometimes accused of overstepping its mandate. A campaign to encourage booksellers not to stock titles by far-right authors, which began last year, was considered illiberal even by people who respect the organization. Ian Dunt, who edits politics.co.uk, tweeted, “This is not a road you should be going down.”
Collins’s posts on HOPE not Hate’s Web site are a potent weapon: they poke fun at British nationalists while also revealing their secrets. His tone alternates between earnest and puerile, depending on the target. In a typical recent article, he described so-called unity meetings, which bring together various far-right groups. “These non-party types get together in a secret location, have a few sausage rolls and pints of Proletarian lager and then discover/remember how much they hate each other,” Collins wrote. “Get pissed, make threats, blame the Jews and go home.”
Collins told me that he runs some dozen regular informants, and maybe eight more on a less regular basis. Nick Lowles, HOPE Not Hate’s chief executive, also runs several moles. Many informants are “walk-ins,” like Mullen, and others are recruits, but some are plants—anti-fascists placed inside far-right groups. Lowles told me that one source was an anti-fascist campaigner who went undercover nearly twenty-five years ago.
The British government considers the infiltration of extremist networks to be the domain of M.I.5, or of such law-enforcement agencies as the Metropolitan Police’s Counter-Terror Command (C.T.C.). Collins feels that his organization’s work is a provocation to these state bodies. Official intelligence operatives may even view HOPE Not Hate’s activities as reckless. (A Metropolitan Police spokesperson declined to comment on HOPE Not Hate’s intelligence-gathering.)
Collins is patient and empathetic with sources. He builds relationships through Indian food and soccer. He has a nose for lies. Crucially, because of his notoriety within the far right, Collins’s moles don’t have to explain themselves to him. Their story is his story. Mullen told me that when he e-mailed HOPE Not Hate, in April, 2017, he didn’t particularly care who responded, but Collins believes different: “He knew I knew a way out. It was me he wanted.”
Collins was riveted when he read Mullen’s e-mail. According to Lowles, who received a briefing shortly afterward, the police believed that National Action had been all but dismantled in the wake of the ban. Collins thought that the group was actually still active, but he didn’t know how many members were in National Action or how, exactly, it was organized. Even the initial information that Mullen passed on—the names of members, the gym where they were training for race war—was revelatory. Collins sensed that he’d hooked a fish, and he began to turn the reel.
Mullen and Collins exchanged phone numbers, and in a brief conversation Collins elicited Mullen’s real identity. To insure that Mullen’s name wasn’t leaked, Collins discussed the new walk-in only with Lowles, and even in that case described him using a pseudonym, Nigel.
Mullen had no desire to become an active informant. He wanted to leave the group without grassing on people he considered friends. Collins knew that he needed to advance gingerly. He and Mullen, in their initial texts, talked more about Manchester United than about National Action. More than fifty texts later, they agreed that Mullen would travel to London, so they could talk in person.
On May 18, 2017, two employees of HOPE Not Hate waited for Mullen at the train station in Liverpool and followed him onto an express to London: a journey of two and a quarter hours. On the train, the employees watched Mullen from a nearby table, to confirm that he was alone and that he stayed on board. Mullen stared at his phone the entire way to London. On arriving at Euston Station, Mullen walked to a Thistle Hotel, where Collins was waiting in the bar. Mullen’s phone was taken from him. He and Collins then talked for four hours.
Collins remembered how frightened he had been, eighteen years earlier, at his debriefing by Searchlight. His primary goal now was to gain Mullen’s trust. Mullen struggled to describe the moral journey on which he had embarked. Collins thought that Mullen displayed a deficit of empathy; it was as if his time in the far right’s bubble had cauterized him to emotion. Collins understood this. In “Hate,” he explains that, while he was a Nazi, “nothing got me upset,” adding, “I’d talked, bullied and convinced the life out of myself and consumed my thoughts and emotions with hatred. This way, nothing could harm me.”
By the end of the meeting, Collins had persuaded Mullen to work for HOPE Not Hate, for no money, as an informant. In return, the organization would protect his identity and help him change his life. Mullen still held, in Collins’s recollection, “horrendous views” about immigrants, and he constantly used offensive language: “slag,” for a promiscuous woman; “nonce,” for a pedophile; and “retard,” for a disabled person. But the two men had begun to form a bond.
“Right here’s fine.”
The next day, Mullen went to a National Action meeting at the Piccadilly Tavern, in Manchester. “It was very strange,” Mullen told me. “You just kind of don’t think about what you did the previous day.”
Mullen met Collins again the following week, at a Vietnamese restaurant in Manchester. Mullen had rarely eaten in formal restaurants. Collins felt that part of his job, as a handler, was to “socialize” Mullen by exposing him to new experiences, and by impressing good habits on him. When I met both men for drinks last summer, Collins scolded Mullen for texting at the table, telling him, “Phones away, Robbie—the grownups are talking.” Mullen stashed his phone without complaint. (Collins said that, as a working-class man himself, he would “never sneer” at Mullen’s manners; he also remembered that, when meeting with Searchlight employees as a young man, he had enjoyed the rare opportunity to engage in polite conversation, and to have “the occasional posh cup of tea, served on a saucer.”)
After the Vietnamese meal, Mullen went to Manchester Piccadilly station. While his train was leaving the platform, he saw police vans and ambulances driving at high speed, their sirens wailing. At home, he turned on the news, and saw that there had been an explosion at the Manchester Arena, following an Ariana Grande concert. An Islamist terrorist named Salman Abedi, who lived in south Manchester, had detonated a suicide bomb, killing himself and twenty-two concertgoers, and injuring hundreds more. Many of the dead were young; one girl was eight years old.
Mullen isn’t prone to tears—he told me that he didn’t cry at his father’s funeral—but he said that the bombing had upset him in a way that other terrorist attacks had not: “There’s little kids killed, and that’s obviously wrong.”
Lythgoe and the other neo-Nazis were electrified by the attack. Mullen began to document excited chatter from the group, taking screenshots of encrypted texts before the app’s timer erased them. He sent the images to Collins, who was horrified—if unsurprised—that white racists were celebrating a terrorist who’d killed children in the name of Islam. He already understood, through Mullen’s information, that National Action venerated the propaganda campaigns and the secretive structure of Salafist terrorist groups such as the Islamic State. According to Mullen, Lythgoe urged N.A. members to read the Quran, because he thought that it made a persuasive justification for terrorism. After the Manchester bombing, it became clear to Collins that members of National Action had become interested in violence for its own sake. “It turned them on,” Collins recalled.
A few days later, Mullen went with Lythgoe and a group of neo-Nazis to central Manchester, where floral tributes filled the public squares and many people were grieving. Lythgoe’s crew sneered at anyone displaying emotion. But, Mullen recalls, the group was also impressed by the scene. Armed police filled the city—an unusual sight in Britain, where few officers carry guns. The young men of N.A. had an almost erotic interest in weaponry. On the same trip, Mullen told me, Matthew Hankinson predicted that when National Action finally pulled off a terrorist attack—on a mosque, or a synagogue—it would create a similar outpouring of grief, “except it won’t be white people standing around crying.” In conversations with the group, Mullen agreed with the sentiment. But in private he comforted himself with the thought that he would be out of National Action by the time any such atrocity took place.
On June 3, 2017, three men inspired by the Islamic State drove a white van into pedestrians on London Bridge, then emerged from the vehicle and stabbed passersby. Eight people were killed, and forty-eight were injured. The excitement within National Action grew. The three Islamist provocations had occurred. Lythgoe’s decision on how to “strike back” was keenly anticipated. On June 19th, however, Darren Osborne, a man unconnected to National Action, drove a van into a group of Muslims outside a mosque in North London, killing one worshipper. Osborne said later that he had been inspired by the writings of Tommy Robinson, the former English Defence League leader. Lythgoe celebrated Osborne’s attack, not least because it took the pressure off him to order a retaliatory killing. In Mullen’s view, Lythgoe was a man of words, not action.
By the time of the June 3rd atrocity, Mullen was sharing almost every communication he received from National Action. Collins felt that he was getting a flood of “very, very good” information, which detailed the group’s paranoia and its lust for violence. His goal was to expose and damage National Action while embarrassing the police and the security services, who appeared to have taken their eye off the group after banning it.
Collins told me that the far right is usually underestimated in Britain, because its numbers are so small and its members have often seemed pitiful. The idea of a handful of young men preparing for a race war by boxing in a Warrington gym can seem grimly comic. Collins explained that it was wrong to judge the far right on its size, because “danger and terrorism isn’t based on how big a group is, it’s based on how nasty it is.” Moreover, the case of Jo Cox’s murderer, Thomas Mair, a middle-aged loner who had decorated his bedroom with Nazi paraphernalia, had made it clear that a racist Briton could be both risible and lethal. Robert Hutton, the author of “Agent Jack,” told me, “You can always look at these people and say that they’re a bunch of losers, but losers can stab people, and losers can plant bombs. The line between loser and successful terrorist is often how soon they’re caught.”
By the summer, Collins thought, he’d have enough information to publish an article that would be picked up by national newspapers, leading to arrests and, possibly, to political resignations. Mullen could then, with the help of HOPE Not Hate, abandon extremism. Collins’s plan was upended, however, when Jack Renshaw entered the Friar Penketh and said that he was going to murder an M.P. and a police officer.
When Collins spoke to Mullen from his hotel in Portugal, he was both alarmed and confused. He’d never heard of Rosie Cooper. He asked Mullen if the plot might actually be targeting Yvette Cooper, a former Labour Cabinet minister. But Mullen was clear on the facts.
“How urgent is it? Is it tomorrow?” Collins asked.
“It’s as soon as he can,” Mullen replied.
Collins took Mullen seriously. He’d been monitoring Renshaw for some time, and felt that he was heading “in a really dark direction.” Collins called Lowles, who told him to keep gathering details from Mullen. The next day, July 3, 2017, Lowles called Ruth Smeeth, a Labour M.P. who was a former employee of HOPE Not Hate. He asked her to notify Rosie Cooper. Smeeth told me, “It’s a very difficult thing to ring one of your mates and tell them there’s a viable death threat about them. I was very candid with her.”
Earlier that day, Renshaw had been interviewed in Lancashire by Detective Victoria Henderson—who did not then know that she was one of Renshaw’s murder targets. Henderson told Renshaw that she was charging him with stirring up racial hatred, citing two anti-Semitic speeches that he had made in 2016. But that was not all. At the Friar Penketh, Renshaw had implied to his friends that Henderson had merely been taunting him by calling him “a pedo.” But, in fact, police officers had compiled substantial evidence that he’d been going online and grooming underage boys for sex, and were preparing to arrest him. At the end of the interview, Renshaw was released, on bail.
That night, Renshaw posted messages to Facebook under a pseudonym, Jack Renstein. One read, “It will all be over soon.” A picture posted at nearly midnight was accompanied by the phrase “A broken man is invincible.”
Meanwhile, the police in Lancashire had just learned of the threat to Rosie Cooper’s life, and counterterrorism officers scrambled to find Renshaw. He was not at his bail address. The officers searched the house of Renshaw’s uncle, where they found the gladius sword, inside a laundry cupboard. Two days later, the police found Renshaw at another address in Lancashire. They arrested him for violating his bail conditions, and subsequently charged him with “making threats to kill.” This time, bail was not granted, so Renshaw could not warn other N.A. members.
Cooper was safe, but Mullen was not. Two weeks before Renshaw announced his terrorist plot, members had begun voicing suspicions that there was an informant within the group. Renshaw, using the encrypted app Telegram, had sent a message to a chat group for fourteen N.A. adherents in northwest England. “This Telegram is compromised,” he wrote. “This group, rather.”
“In here?” Mullen replied.
“Yes,” Lythgoe said.
“Who’s the grass then?” another member of the Telegram chat group, Andy Clarke, asked.
One of the results of Mullen’s foiling the murder plot was that his stay within National Action was prolonged: it would be impossible to walk away now without raising suspicion. He therefore continued to attend meetings at the Friar Penketh, and at pubs in Manchester and Preston. A part of him still enjoyed seeing his friends. Yet rumors of a spy grew. Three weeks after Renshaw was arrested, his father sent an accusatory Facebook message addressing the men who met at the Warrington pub: one of them, he said, was a mole. Mullen’s mother told me that, during this period, her son slept with a knife under his pillow, “in case they came to the house for him.”
The police had no idea who the informant was; Lowles and Collins would not reveal Mullen’s identity without his permission. Collins remembered Gable’s asking him, as a teen-ager, to put his life at risk to protect Searchlight in the libel case. Collins had learned, he told me, to “look after people, to do everything that Gerry didn’t do for me.” If Mullen did not want to reveal himself, Collins would do whatever he could to protect him.
“That dream means you’re hungry—how about a hot dog?”
Before long, though, it seemed that Mullen had no choice but to coöperate with the authorities: if the police began to make arrests, Mullen was vulnerable to being prosecuted for belonging to a banned terrorist organization. HOPE Not Hate hired a lawyer to represent Mullen. Mullen said that he did not want to give evidence to the police unless he had an offer of immunity. In Britain, unlike in the United States, it’s rare for information to be exchanged for legal immunity, but in “exceptional circumstances” it can be done. The lawyer advised Mullen that his case might merit the provision. Mullen decided to hold out for immunity.
In July, 2017, HOPE Not Hate was contacted by a senior officer from the C.T.C. According to Lowles, the officer intimated that the staff might be in legal jeopardy of its own. Under the Terrorism Act, it’s illegal for journalists to secretly handle sources within proscribed organizations. HOPE Not Hate had been instrumental in dismantling a terrorist plot, but it had unwittingly broken the law by running Mullen as an informant. Lowles and Collins explained the situation to Mullen. The organization was at risk if he refused to reveal himself, and his evidence might not be admissible unless he came forward. On July 27, 2017, Mullen, who had an indication that he might receive immunity but no formal assurance of it, agreed to coöperate with the police.
In the course of the next seven weeks—during which he continued to work at the warehouse in Runcorn and to meet with other neo-Nazis in his habitual way—Mullen, the police, and HOPE Not Hate engaged in a delicate dance. At a central-Manchester hotel, Mullen attended a “scoping interview” with several police officers. He was asked about the extent of his knowledge of National Action, and about Renshaw’s intentions. The objective was to establish how much Mullen could assist the police.
“Do you have information about a plot to murder Rosie Cooper?” an officer asked Mullen.
“Yes,” Mullen replied.
“Were you present when this plot was arranged?”
Prosecutors offered him limited immunity, on the condition that his story remain consistent and truthful. The police urged him to enter a witness-protection program, and to move far away from the northwest of England. To their surprise, he refused. Mullen couldn’t imagine life without his sister and his mother. Moreover, the police had said that he could not take an animal with him, and he did not want to be separated from his dog, a Staffordshire bull terrier named Milly.
The police continued to pressure HOPE Not Hate to reveal everything it knew about National Action. According to Collins, the police were embarrassed by his blog posts about National Action’s headquarters, which made clear that he knew more about the group than they did. (Two police spokespersons, in Lancashire and in London, declined to comment.) The posts also upset N.A. members. In several group chats, they vowed to murder the mole, then burn his body. At the end of August, Lythgoe wrote Mullen an e-mail saying that he was “pretty certain” the informant was Garron Helm, an unpopular former member: “No-one else had access to all the info passed over to HOPE not Hate, or the personality to even contemplate doing something like this.” Mullen wrote back that Helm was indeed the most likely informant.
That September, Mullen, under conditional immunity, met with counterterrorism police for three days, at a hotel in Newcastle. Mullen had thought that his information would be used to incriminate only Renshaw. He could justify Renshaw’s jailing—he was actively plotting murders, and he was an alleged pedophile. But the police now had enough evidence to arrest and charge several current and former members of National Action, and Mullen was informed that the crackdown would be more wide-ranging. The news upset him, but it was too late. He was offered another chance to enter witness protection. The government would even pay him his current salary for two years. Mullen refused.
The next day, September 27, 2017, eleven suspected National Action members were arrested. Lythgoe was detained, as was Hankinson. It would soon become obvious that the police had arrested everyone who attended the Friar Penketh meetings but Mullen.
At around 5 p.m., the police visited Mullen at home. Officers seized his phone and other evidence. They then issued an Osman warning, a formal notice given to someone who faces a “real and immediate” threat of being murdered. It was the first of five such warnings that Mullen received. Two hours later, HOPE Not Hate helped him move to a hotel in the Manchester area. He was reluctant to go, but Collins had no doubt that someone from National Action would try to kill Mullen if he stayed. Before he left home, Mullen asked his sister to pick up his dog. In torrential rain, Mullen was driven, with Collins, toward the “safe” hotel. The party changed vehicles once, at Runcorn Station, in case it was being followed. There was no police escort. Mullen lay flat in the rear footwell the whole way.
At the hotel, Mullen could not bring himself to call his mother. In June, he’d told her that he had become mixed up with National Action, and she had Googled the group to find out more. What she had seen chilled her, and she had said to him, “I don’t like them—they’re nob-heads.” Mullen had also recently informed her that he was in contact with HOPE Not Hate, but she had no idea how much danger he was in. Collins made the call for him. He told Georgina that her son had helped to stop a terror attack, that he was now safe, and that he would ring her when he could.
Georgina recalls, “I was still disappointed in him. But I was also so proud of him. It could have been a million times worse.”
Mullen’s time in hiding was largely miserable. After the police confiscated his phone, he felt bereft. “You don’t realize how much you’re on it until they take it away,” he told me. He stayed in one hotel for three weeks, then spent three weeks in another. He had nothing to do. The neo-Nazis had been an integral part of his life—perhaps the only thing beyond his family, his dog, and Manchester United that he truly cared about. Going into hiding had forced him to relinquish one of the first jobs he had actually enjoyed. The prospect of giving evidence against his old friends in court filled him with anxiety.
Collins and Lowles took him to soccer games and bought him meals when they could. (In Mullen’s first week in hiding, he visited the Old Trafford stadium and watched Manchester United defeat Crystal Palace.) But Mullen was depressed. Eventually, HOPE Not Hate moved him into a tiny house in an anonymous neighborhood in northwest England. He was now far away from his old network, and the organization hoped that the move would give him enough space to consider his future. Collins asked him questions about what larger ambitions he had for his life, but Mullen did not seem to want much, apart from earning money, walking Milly, and seeing his family. There was one thing that he yearned to do: Mullen had never been abroad, or even on an airplane. Collins took him to Dublin, and, later, to Amsterdam for a long weekend. The trips did little to lighten Mullen’s mood. (Collins has recalled that, in Amsterdam, Mullen stared “aimlessly at tits in a shop window, missing his dog”; he also took a tour of the Anne Frank House.) Mullen then mentioned wanting to see America. Collins promised that, once the trials were over, they would visit New York together.
Paying for Mullen’s upkeep and travel taxed HOPE Not Hate’s finances. Collins told me that he had paid, up front, for many of Mullen’s expenses himself, at a considerable strain to his relationship with his partner. (Once, after seeing Collins’s credit-card bill, she cut up the card.) Mullen was eager to resume working, but, when he applied for jobs, background checks revealed that he was on a list of terror suspects. He found it difficult to gain even menial employment. Lowles eventually found Mullen a position as a researcher for HOPE Not Hate.
In January, 2018, at a court in Lancashire, Renshaw was convicted of “incitement to racial hatred.” He was sentenced to three years in prison. In June, he was convicted of four counts of inciting a child to engage in sexual activity. Later that summer, Renshaw appeared with five other suspected members of National Action at the Old Bailey, London’s oldest and most important criminal courthouse, in the murder-plot trial. On the first morning, Renshaw unexpectedly pleaded guilty to preparing an act of terrorism, but he and the others remained on trial for membership in a proscribed terror organization. From the witness box, Renshaw told the court that his plot was intended to “send the state a message—if you beat a dog long enough, it bites.”
When it was Mullen’s moment to give evidence, he entered the witness box wearing a navy-blue suit and a red tie bought for the occasion. The press box was full of journalists; rows of barristers, in gowns and horsehair wigs, were arranged behind long wooden benches; and there were six defendants in the dock, staring at him. He looked at his former best friend Matt Hankinson, who shook his head. Until that point, Mullen had felt that his actions had been justified. But when he saw Hankinson his stomach turned.
“It’s the ultimate betrayal, isn’t it?” Mullen told me recently.
Mullen testified for three days. At times, he told his story with clarity. He recounted that, when Renshaw had unveiled his murder plot in the pub, Lythgoe had told him, “Don’t fuck it up.” (Lythgoe denies saying this.) But Mullen was riled by the leading defense barristers, who were all Queen’s Counsel, the finest trial lawyers in Britain. Mullen believed that they were using “big words” to patronize him. One of them interrupted Mullen while he was testifying to complain that she could not understand his northern accent. Another barrister, Crispin Aylett, who represented Lythgoe, suggested that Mullen had trouble reading.
Aylett also said that Mullen was untrustworthy and corrupt: “You’ve exaggerated aspects of your evidence, told lies, all to get Christopher Lythgoe and others convicted and to bolster your credibility with your paymaster, HOPE Not Hate.” Mullen reacted so angrily that the judge told him he was close to being found in contempt of court.
Mullen kept himself in check for the rest of the trial. On July 18, 2018, Lythgoe was found guilty of membership in National Action, but not guilty of encouraging Renshaw to murder Cooper. Hankinson, too, was found guilty of membership. The jury was unable to reach a decision on the question of Renshaw’s membership. He and two other suspected N.A. members were ordered to return to the Old Bailey for a retrial in 2019, which meant that Mullen would be required to give evidence again. His heart sank.
“I identified most with the popcorn-loving protagonist who hosted a monthly book club in her home.”
In April, I took a long drive with Mullen. We passed the pub where the plot was hatched, the houses where he had lived, his mother’s new house, his school, his places of work, and his new safe house. His mood seemed much brighter. A few weeks earlier, at the Old Bailey, I had watched him testify at the retrial. Wearing the same navy-blue suit, he spoke clearly, and did not take the bait from the barristers. He never looked at the defendants. He told me that he had made peace with the fact that the people in the dock were no longer his friends.
During cross-examination, a defense barrister, Alan Kent, asked Mullen about his political views.
“Are you racist?” Kent asked.
“No,” Mullen replied.
“Are you anti-Semitic?”
“And previously you would have said you held those views?”
As this exchange ended, a look of contentment appeared on Mullen’s face, as if he were considering his transformation afresh. Lowles told me that Mullen, even at his lowest moments, would say, “Whatever else happens in my life, I’ve saved someone’s life.” But it was increasingly clear that Mullen also felt pride in his subsequent moral courage. Even if he still had an incomplete understanding of his own politics, he knew what he stood against. Collins told me that, at a recent Manchester United match, Mullen had noticed a man openly displaying swastika tattoos. Mullen wanted the man to be ejected, and alerted other fans, who were similarly outraged. The man left the stadium.
On the drive, Mullen told me how strange it was that he had ever been a neo-Nazi. As a child, he had never knowingly met a Jewish person. How had he got it into his head that a Jewish cabal controlled powerful institutions to the detriment of white Englishmen? He recalled bleakly humorous incidents from his past in National Action. At one rally, in St. Helens—a town whose population is overwhelmingly “white British” and Christian—one member with a megaphone had shouted at passersby, “Your enemy is the Jew!” Mullen told me, “People in St. Helens were, like, ‘What’s a Jew?’ ”
Mullen and Collins had co-written a book, “Nazi Terrorist: The Story of National Action,” which was published this month in the U.K. But Mullen still wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his life. He was taking things “month by month.” He suspected that he would move back to Widnes one day. If he could secure a visa, he and Collins planned on visiting New York in June.
During our drive, for the first time in the seven months we’d known each other, Mullen asked me several unprompted questions. The deficit of empathy Collins had first noticed in him seemed to be evaporating. He told me a story about going to a café in London, across the road from the Old Bailey, and bumping into the female barrister who had commented on his accent. Out of court, he said, she was “really nice” and “really friendly.” He bore her no ill feeling. “I know it’s her job,” he said.
Mullen also told me excitedly about a plan to take his ten-year-old nephew on a surprise vacation to Malta. He had saved up his salary from HOPE Not Hate to buy tickets. The arrangements had been made, and Mullen had stashed his nephew’s suitcase at his house. He would reveal the surprise only when they arrived at the airport. Not long afterward, I received a text from Mullen in Malta. It was about how much he had delighted in his nephew’s joyous reaction. “He didn’t have a clue ahha!” he wrote.
Around this time, I also met with Collins, who seemed burdened by the events of the previous two years. He was vexed that, at the retrial, a jury had been unable to reach a majority verdict on any of the charges. Although Renshaw was sentenced, on May 17th, to a minimum of twenty years in prison, Collins was worried about Andy Clarke, the former N.A. member, who was now free. Clarke’s uncles, some of Liverpool’s most notorious gangsters, are currently serving long sentences for drugs and for gun offenses. Collins feared for Mullen’s safety.
Collins told me that the risk to his own life remained high—both from people he betrayed in the nineties and from far-right figures whose activities he had disrupted more recently. He noted that, not long ago, the police had visited his partner at their house, to tell her they had credible information that she and her family were in danger. Nevertheless, Collins told me, he was more certain than ever that tracking white supremacists was urgent work. The attack on mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, had just occurred, killing fifty people. Rosie Cooper had made a statement to Parliament, thanking Mullen and HOPE Not Hate for saving her life. Collins also enjoyed the acclaim that accompanied his work with HOPE Not Hate. Since the Renshaw trial, he had become a minor celebrity in leftist circles. Recently, at a fashionable restaurant in Manchester, Conrad Murray, the manager of the Stone Roses, came to our table, hugged Collins, and told him, “Well done, mate.”
Yet Collins was exhausted and in debt. The phone in his pocket never stopped buzzing. Collins’s partner had said to him recently, “I can’t live like this.” Collins told me, semi-seriously, that he had considered applying to become a train driver. I said that this sounded like an improbable change of career. Collins agreed, but noted, with a thin smile, “I’m not going to live forever doing this job. Either the life style will kill me or a Nazi will.” ♦